July 4, 2024

Cauz: Which winless team has the best chance to win the Grey Cup?

Bailey McLean/CFL.ca

If misery does indeed love company then right now the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Edmonton Elks are hanging out in a super crabby rec room wondering just what is going wrong with three franchises all with high expectations coming into the 2024 season.

Yes, bad luck and injuries happen, but no one thought it would be the first week of July and their combined records would be 0-12.
Week 4 was particularly cruel for everyone involved.

Edmonton had tied the game at 21 on the strength of a 52-yard Boris Bede field goal only to see the Lions march down for the game-winning field goal.

Winnipeg saw their chances for a win get stolen by a late game interception courtesy of former teammate Demerio Houston, who’s end zone interception of Chris Streveler led to Calgary pulling off the 22-19 comeback victory. Think of the cruelty of the Bombers losing by three on a day where Sergio Castillo set a team record by hitting a 60-yard field goal.

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Finally, this tale of woes concludes with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats where resurgent Bo Levi Mitchell had put his team ahead on a touchdown strike to Shemar Bridges with less than 30 seconds left. Hamilton was about to beat the Ottawa REDBLACKS for the 11th straight time! However, in the blink of an eye Dru Brown connected on two passes and then Lewis Ward hit on his field goal attempt as time expired and the hat trick of gut punching, last second losses was complete.

There are two common denominators that stick out for me that link these three teams. The first one is obvious: turnovers.

Winnipeg and Hamilton are tied for last in turnover margin while Edmonton is second last. Only the elite teams can both win games while losing the turnover battle.

The other glaring statistic was average starting field position. This one is simple math, the shorter the distance to the end zone the better chance your offence is going to produce points and it reduces the possibility of your quarterback throwing an interception. In this case Edmonton is last, Hamilton is seventh with Winnipeg currently standing at a robust sixth in this overlooked but so important statistic.

The strangest subplot is what is going on at quarterback.

Bo Levi Mitchell has put up 300+ yard games in three of his four starts, is second in yardage and is tied with Cody Fajardo in total touchdown passes. Mitchell’s production in the first month is already better than what he did in 2023. He is swinging fantasy football leagues as not many people expected this hot a start.

Over in Edmonton, McLeod Bethel-Thompson isn’t going to lead the league in quarterback rush yards but he does stand third in passing yards and is on the silver medal podium in touchdown passes. I just give you their respective statistics and I seriously doubt you would have successfully predicted their win/loss records.

 

Meanwhile in Winnipeg, the Bombers offence was the envy of the league last season leading the CFL in yards and points. This year, they are dead last in both categories and Zach Collaros has yet to throw a touchdown pass. I went back to the official statistics page to make sure that last sentence was correct because it was so hard to believe.

The question now is which team has the best chances to turn their season around and win the Grey Cup?

The season is young, we have seen plenty of teams with records that hovered around .500 come back strong to win the Championship so it is not at all outlandish to say one of these three will be the last one standing.

I hate to say it, but I will give Edmonton the lowest odds which pains me as they are the most fascinating team on this list with two quarterbacks who can beat you in such different ways and a receiving group that could be the best if Eugene Lewis gets going. I love the fact that they are clearly aren’t tanking after forfeiting their 2025 first-round pick to take giant Zach Mathis, the super productive Canadian receiver from North Dakota State in the supplemental draft.

Teams that don’t feel they have a chance to win it all don’t sacrifice such high draft capital. The good news for all Elks fans who are angry at me is you can always push back at the fact that their four defeats have come by a combined 17 points. That is some serious army of black cats, walking under ladders back luck! The team is off until July 14, so maybe they can iron out some of the problems that has plagued this team.

Next up is Winnipeg which may seem like a shock with all the winning coach Mike O’Shea has been a part of over the past half decade. However, with Dalton Schoen out for the season, Kenny Lawler out with a fractured arm and Collaros in and out of the lineup, the injury bug has hit Winnipeg hard.

 

Two other questions linger, where is the mighty pass rush that has produced just three sacks and how come Brady Oliveria’s average yards per carry has dropped from 5.9 to 4.3? I understand we are less than a quarter of the way in the season and Winnipeg does deserve the benefit of the doubt but there are enough red flags out there to make you wonder if 2024 will end up being a year for this organization to forget.

By process of elimination that leaves Hamilton as the team I believe has the best chance to turn around their season.

They are a Tim White bobbled pass that led to a Saskatchewan interception in Week 2 and a Dru Brown incompletion last week from being 2-2. There are signs of encouragement with White, the 2023 CFL leading receiver, finally breaking out last week with 118 yards and one touchdown.

As mentioned earlier, Mitchell is off to his best start since his prime Calgary Stampeder years and his production should continue as long as he and White can stay in synch. Defensively Hamilton had their best showing against Ottawa and with the influx of talent in the off-season (Jamal Peters, DeWayne Hendrix and Brandon Barlow) it should be only a matter of time before they gel as a formidable unit.

So much has gone wrong for all three teams that positive regression will happen and victories are on the way sooner rather than later, but it is Hamilton who I think is the most likely candidate for a Cinderella finish.

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