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Blue Bombers can become first CFL team to clinch home playoff game

Zach Collaros and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are eyeing another CFL first. Winnipeg (12-1) is the only team to have cemented a playoff berth this season.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros (8) throws against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during the first half of CFL football action in Winnipeg Saturday, September 10, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Zach Collaros and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are eyeing another CFL first.

Winnipeg (12-1) is the only team to have cemented a playoff berth this season. On Saturday afternoon, the Bombers can become the first club to clinch a home post-season game with a road win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (3-9) and Calgary loss to B.C. later Saturday night.

It will be the second meeting of the season for the 2019 and '21 Grey Cup finalists. The Bombers earned a 26-12 home win June 24.

The Bombers have won three straight, including a home-and-home Labour Day sweep of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. After earning a 20-18 victory at Mosaic Stadium, Winnipeg captured a convincing 54-20 home win Saturday over the Riders.

Collaros finished 21-of-25 passing for 273 yards and four touchdowns, and Winnipeg also ran for 131 yards in the contest. As many as 15 Riders players and eight coaches were stricken with the stomach flu.

Hamilton comes off the bye having lost three straight, including a home-and-home series with archrival Toronto. With veterans Dane Evans (shoulder) and Matt Shiltz (wrist) both out, rookie Jamie Newman made his first CFL start in the Ticats' 28-8 Labour Day loss to the Argos, completing 14-of-25 passes for 171 yards and an interception.

Jalen Morton was two-of-six passing for 13 yards and an interception as Hamilton committed four turnovers in its first Labour Day loss at Tim Hortons Field (7-1). Two bright spots were linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox (game-high 10 tackles) and defensive back Jumal Rolle (pick-six TD).

Evans has been a full participant in practice this week and is expected to return under centre for Hamilton. Canadian offensive lineman Chris Van Zeyl (hip) also resumed practising with the Ticats.

Evans leads the CFL in interceptions thrown (13), fumbles (seven) and fumbles lost (six). And Hamilton is 0-5 versus West Division competition.

By comparison, Winnipeg is 5-1 versus the East and a stellar 7-0 on the road.

The Ticats have struggled offensively, standing eighth overall in offensive points (19.8 per game) and tied for last in offensive touchdowns (20). While the unit is fifth in net offensive yards (346.4), it's a distant eighth in second-down conversions (41.2 per cent) and last in turnovers made (41), fumbles lost (12) and interceptions (17).

Winnipeg counters with a defence that's ranked first in fewest offensive points allowed (18.6) and offensive TDs (18) and tied for first in fewest TD passes allowed (12).

Collaros, the CFL's outstanding player last year, has also thrown a league-high 26 TD passes and is ranked third overall in passing yards (3,236). Most importantly, he's won 12 of the 13 games he's started.

Winnipeg's Brady Oliveira stands second in CFL rushing (697 yards, 4.6-yard average) while rookie Dalton Schoen has a league-best 10 receiving TDs. The Bombers also lead the league in passing touchdowns (28).

Pick: Winnipeg.

Edmonton Elks versus Saskatchewan Roughriders (Friday night)

At Regina, the Roughriders (6-7) look to sweep the three-game season series. More importantly for the Elks (3-10), they'd be eliminated from post-season contention with a fourth straight loss. The Riders are coming off consecutive defeats to Winnipeg. Cody Fajardo has thrown for 377 yards, two TDs and an interception versus Edmonton but did run for two TDs in a 34-23 win Aug. 13. Canadian Tre Ford returns and will back up Taylor Cornelius for the Alberta squad, which is 3-4 on the road but 0-9 versus West Division rivals.

Pick: Saskatchewan.

B.C. Lions versus Calgary Stampeders (Saturday night)

At Calgary, Vernon Adams Jr. makes his first start for B.C. (8-3), which is 0-2 minus starter Nathan Rourke (foot). Adams played sparingly in last week's 31-10 loss to Montreal, completing one-of-three passes for 17 yards as Antonio Pipkin drew the start. The two teams are tied for second in the West Division with the Lions having a game in hand. Calgary (8-4) has won two-of-three with Jake Maier as the starter. He has completed over 76 per cent of his passes with six TDs and one interception over that span.

Pick: Calgary.

Last week: 3-1.

CP's overall record: 43-12

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press