TORONTO — For the Saskatchewan Roughriders, a first place finish in the highly-competitive West has been a decade in the making.
It was 2009 the last time the Riders won a division title, but a one-game lead and an upcoming battle with second-place Calgary puts Saskatchewan on the brink of a first-round bye and home field in the Western Final.
The Riders are getting it done on both sides of the ball this season, with a smothering, opportunistic defence and a dual-threat quarterback in Cody Fajardo. But can they outlast the CFL heavyweight Stampeders, who have won the West five of the last six years?
While the Riders are trending up, the BC Lions are now the CFL’s hottest team, entering Week 18 on a four-game winning streak. Hamilton holds strong at No. 1, while Montreal is also headed in the right direction after a triumphant home win over the Stampeders.
More in the Nissan Titan Power Rankings.
1. Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Record: 12-3 Last Week: 1
The Ticats have only lost twice since Dane Evans became their starting quarterback, which speaks to a deep roster and an experienced coaching staff. And they made it look easy against Edmonton, cruising to a 42-12 victory and moving one step closer to hosting the Eastern Final in November.
2. Saskatchewan Roughriders
Record: 10-4 Last Week: 3
The Riders avenged their Banjo Bowl blowout, sacking Chris Streveler three times and holding the Bombers’ backup to just 6.4 yards per attempt. Just as impressive is receiver Shaq Evans, whose 18.3 yards per catch rate him among the most explosive receivers in the three-down game.
3. Calgary Stampeders
Record: 9-5 Last Week: 2
Despite seeing their four-game winning streak snapped, the Stamps had a productive visit to Montreal in Week 17, especially from quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. Any concerns regarding the franchise quarterback have been alleviated following his 464-yard outburst vs. the Alouettes.
4. Montreal Alouettes
Record: 8-6 Last Week: 5
The Alouettes could win a Grey Cup if they can tighten up a secondary that’s allowed 9.5 yards per attempt over the last seven games. Either way, there was an unmistakable playoff atmosphere at Percival-Molson Stadium on Saturday, as the Alouettes booked their first trip to the post-season since 2014.
5. Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Record: 9-6 Last Week: 4
Will the Bombers trade for a quarterback? That’s the question after another tough outing from Chris Streveler. There’s no question this team has the talent to play late in November, but a 2-4 record since Matt Nichols‘ season-ending injury isn’t much reason for optimism. A home date with the Als is on deck.
6. BC Lions
Record: 5-10 Last Week: 7
The Lions still have playoff aspirations after extending their winning streak to four. And suddenly, after Mike Reilly threw a career-high five touchdowns vs. Toronto, the Leos look like the contender many envisioned going into the season. Maybe it’s too little too late, but either way, this is a team playing with confidence.
7. Edmonton Eskimos
Record: 7-8 Last Week: 6
The absence of Trevor Harris looms large as the Eskimos have now lost five of their last six games. While the post-season is still a near certainty — just one win or a BC loss clinches a crossover spot — the Esks will need more from backup Logan Kilgore if they hope to advance past the first round.
8. Toronto Argonauts
Record: 2-12 Last Week: 8
The damage was already done, but McLeod Bethel-Thompson provided some glimpse of light during a 55-8 loss in BC. Of course, many are wondering whether he’ll still be on the roster on Wednesday following the trade deadline at 4 p.m. ET. The Argos are out of the playoffs for a second year in a row.
9. Ottawa REDBLACKS
Record: 3-11 Last Week: 9
It’s next man up in the REDBLACKS’ huddle, as Will Arndt gets the start in place of the injured Dominique Davis. Fans in the nation’s capital aren’t used to missing the playoffs, but it’s been a forgettable season for Rick Campbell and Marcel Desjardins, who hope their new quarterback can cause a spark.