October 30, 2023

Head To Head: Who has the edge in the Eastern Semi-Final?

Peter McCabe/CFL.ca

With the 2023 regular season fading into the background the playoffs linger in front of us, with the Montreal Alouettes playing host to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for the second year in a row in the Eastern Semi-Final on Saturday.

The Ticats salvaged a 3-6 start to their season before going on a 5-2 run to qualify for the playoffs. The Alouettes, meanwhile, got out to a strong 6-3 start, dropped four straight and rebounded with a five-game win streak, marking their first 11-win campaign since 2012. Win No. 11 came this past Saturday, with the Als topping the Ticats 22-20, giving them a clean 3-0 sweep of their season series.

The Ticats are out to prove that they hit their stride late in the season and are capable of fighting their way back to home field, as they’re hosting the 110th Grey Cup this year. The Als want to show the league that despite that four-game slide against the league’s top-three teams, they can be elite and are Grey Cup contenders. Which team has the edge in Saturday’s game? Let’s dive in and find out.

» MMQB: Alternate end-of-season awards 
» Landry’s five takeaways from Week 21
» Matchups Set: Semi-Final Saturday heads to BC and Montreal



Throughout this season the Tiger-Cats were supposed to have a resurgence at the game’s most important position. Bo Levi Mitchell was signed to lead a Grey Cup charge. All things being equal that hope does still stand a reasonable chance of coming true for Hamilton fans who long for not just a Grey Cup championship, but one at home in which they could dash the historic season of their QEW rival Toronto Argonauts.

First, it’s a matchup between Montreal’s Cody Fajardo and — we think — Bo Levi Mitchell.

Mitchell has been turnover prone, injured and worked back in slowly over the last month as Hamilton gets set for its playoff charge. Meanwhile, Cody Fajardo and the Alouettes have been steadily building momentum toward a home playoff date while protecting the football.

All of those elements suggest Montreal gets the advantage here, but you know as I do that in one or two throws, the veteran eyes of Mitchell can change the game. The reality is, this game might not be about a throw or two if the Alouettes’ offence picks up a couple early gifts in the form of field position, turnovers from Hamilton’s offence or improved red zone efficiency.



The season of William Stanback has been a confusing one to me, and many others covering the CFL. After a major injury set him back in 2022, this year with Jason Maas leading the way as head coach and the run threat of Cody Fajardo, I assumed Stanback would explode.

He still might over the next three weekends and getting the assistance of Jeshrun Antwi or Walter Fletcher as running mates could be a major boost. I still believe, though, that James Butler’s breakout season in Black and Gold gets the hat tip here due to his versatility regardless of scheme and who is calling the shots.

If Mitchell has success early against the Montreal blitz it will come from the relief of James Butler on check downs and quick hitters.



Austin Mack vs. Tim White as a star vs. star matchup is one to behold. Both have great depths of average targets, plenty of run-after-the-catch ability and love to separate with sound route running processes.

As secondary options Terry Godwin vs. Tyler Snead is fun while Nationals Tyson Philpot and Kiondre Smith will be sure to get a handful of meaningful targets.

Due to the higher completion percentage and more balanced attack here without reliance exclusively on their top target I give the Als’ pass catchers the *very* slight upper hand.



Hamilton has done well over the past two seasons to rebuild ITS offensive line around mainstay and 2023 Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman Brandon Revenberg, but I love the veteran savvy of Kristian Matte and the overt physicality of Pier-Olivier Lestage.

For that reason and my belief that the Alouettes will use heavier sets more frequently than Hamilton in this game I believe Montreal has the better arrangement for success come Saturday.




Shawn Lemon has added so much to the Alouettes’ front since being signed and Almondo Sewell continues to eat up gaps, as will his adversary Ted Laurent will on the other side.

Neither of these teams are particularly adept at getting home to the quarterback but Malik Carney alongside Ja’Gared Davis create more issues off the edge than most tandems. Add in the potential roster spot of Jamal Davis II in a playoff revenge game against his old club and the Alouettes’ pass protection struggles this season and I believe you have a recipe for Tiger-Cats takedowns.



Darnell Sankey is an absolute tackling machine and Tyrice Beverette continues to be one of the more consistent and explosive linebackers in the CFL as an undersized, but proven weak side specialist.

On the other side Jameer Thurman and Simoni Lawrence form their own impressive duo. All four players give their defensive coordinators great scheme versatility and experience in high leverage situations. When it comes right down to it, the only advantage here might be Hamilton’s front four presenting more opportunities for Thurman and Lawrence.



Marc-Antoine Dequoy is one of the best defensive players in the CFL. He makes everyone around him better for wearing the same uniform snap after snap.

While I have much respect for his National counterpart Stavros Katsantonis on the other side, there is more experience and length in a Montreal secondary which helped the Alouettes create nine defensive scores this season.




If you watched Week 21 between these two clubs you saw that both teams are fully capable of putting together an explosive return on a moment’s notice.

There is little to no difference here and the only separation might be which team avoids taking a costly penalty on a long return, with Hamilton leading the CFL in regular season special teams penalties.




David Cote has struggled at various points this season and Marc Liegghio hasn’t separated himself much after a lengthy perfect start to the season.

The real difference here is Joseph Zema owning the net punting game which will be so key in nasty wet playoff weather.




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