Berg vs. Ferg is back for 2019 as columnists Pat Steinberg and Marshall Ferguson debate over some of the league’s most contentious storylines. This week’s question: Is the crossover the better path in the post-season?
TORONTO — As the Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa REDBLACKS fall in the standings, the possibility of a crossover looms for a fourth straight season.
If the season ended today, the Edmonton Eskimos would occupy the sixth and final playoff spot by crossing over to the East and taking on the Montreal Alouettes in the Eastern Semi-Final.
With the logjam atop the highly-competitive West — just two points separate Winnipeg, Calgary and Saskatchewan — is the East the easier path to the Grey Cup?
In recent years the West has earned its reputation as the tougher division to play in. Yet teams crossing over to the East, historically, have not fared well:
CROSSOVER TEAMS AND RESULTS
Ottawa REDBLACKS; Toronto Argonauts
W 31-20; L 25-21
Hamilton Tiger-Cats; Ottawa REDBLACKS
W 24-21; L 35-23
Hamilton Tiger-Cats; Montreal Alouettes
W 34-27 (OT); L 56-18
Winnipeg Blue Bombers; Montreal Alouettes
W 29-21; L 36-26
Crossover teams are 4-11 since 1997, when the Lions crossed over to face the Montreal Alouettes but lost 45-35 in the Eastern Semi-Final.
An East Division team has never crossed over to the West, but it almost happened in 2001 when the fourth-place Toronto Argonauts finished one point back of the third-place BC Lions for the sixth and final playoff spot.
No crossover team has ever advanced further than the Eastern Final, however the Saskatchewan Roughriders came within a couple of plays in 2017 when they lost in the last minute to the Argos at BMO Field on a drive that included a third down conversion by James Wilder Jr.
Of course, there’s a first time for everything. Could this be the year of the all-West Grey Cup? Is the trip east more favourable for a team from the West?
Steinberg and Ferguson debate in the latest Berg vs. Ferg.
BERG VS. FERG: LAST TIME’S RESULTS
Last time, Berg and Ferg debated over Jon Jennings and James Franklin.
It’s the classic modern debate. Stay in your own end of the country and enjoy the familiarity of an opponent you likely know a bit better while enjoying some form of normalcy with travel and accommodations, OR take the perceived smoother path to the holy grail of the Grey Cup in Calgary?
While I study games across the league and enjoy talking about all teams, I feel like I have a slightly better sense for the East Division just based on my ability to chat with people from around the East’s four teams throughout the season with more regularity.
With Toronto and Ottawa down and out, the question of whether or not the crossover is the more suitable solution comes down to one big question: Who do you believe will be more dangerous come playoff time, the Stamps with Bo Levi, the Bombers with a deep, talented lineup in all three phases, or the Alouettes’ stingy defence and running game along with the Ticats’ aerial attack powered by former backup now entrenched starter Dane Evans?
While the Alouettes have proven a difficult out this season, which few saw coming, and the Ticats have shown flashes of greatness, the reality remains to me the Grey Cup runs through either the Bombers or Stampeders, especially Calgary as it has for many years of recent memory.
While I respect all teams, the fact is those playing in their home stadium theoretically for a Grey Cup have a whole lot more to play for, and Calgary, as a motivated group with the passing game finding its rhythm, feels so much more dangerous to me. Especially for the current crossover team of Edmonton with a quarterback in Trevor Harris who has never beaten the Stamps.
Every year we hear the argument of how being a crossover team is the easiest road to the Grey Cup. I’ve never been a proponent of that line of thinking, however, and this season is no different. In fact, I feel like 2019 is one of the worst years in recent memory for a West Division team to go through the East in the post-season.
The first problem with going through the East Division is the level of competition. Sure, Ottawa and Toronto have had their struggles this year, but that leaves two good teams in playoff spot. For a crossover team to succeed, they’ll have to win road games in both Montreal and Hamilton, which is no easy task.
The Alouettes are a very good football team with an explosive offence and a rapidly improving defensive unit. Montreal is no pushover and they’ve shown they can hang with any team in the CFL, regardless of division. And, even if a crossover team beats the Alouettes on the road, they would then be faced with the task of doing it again in Hamilton. All the Tiger-Cats have done this year is play good, sound, effective football, and at 9-3 they deserve to share the best record in the league. That doesn’t sound “easy” to me at all.
Look, I get it, the prospect of going through the West as a third place team doesn’t sound appealing. Having to win two games on the road in Winnipeg, Calgary, or Regina is a difficult task. But so is the alternative, which consists of far longer travel and comparatively tough games. There’s a reason we’ve never seen a crossover team advance all the way to the Grey Cup. Plain and simple, it’s not an easy way to get to the top of the mountain.
We know there’s going to be a crossover playoff team once again this season. We also know whichever team ends up finishing fourth in the West is going to have a very difficult task in knocking off Montreal in the Eastern Semi-Final. The best bet is for all four West Division playoff teams to go all out until the end of the season and then let the chips fall where they may.
DON’T SIT ON THE FENCE!
While both sides are pretty convincing, someone’s got to take it. Whose argument convinced you the most?
You can vote for this week’s winner both on CFL.ca and Twitter. Meanwhile, continue the conversation by tweeting @Fan960Steinberg and @TSN_Marsh.
The winner will be revealed in the following week’s Berg vs. Ferg.
Is a crossover to the East an easier path to the Grey Cup?