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Stampeders, Bombers looking good heading into stretch run of CFL regular season

It will be an interesting stretch run in the CFL's West Division.

Calgary (CFL-best 12-1-1 record) has already clinched a home playoff game. The Stampeders are off this week before visiting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Oct. 13.

The defending West Division champions control their own destiny with a 17-game home win streak, league-best 5-1-1 road record and 7-0 conference mark. After facing Hamilton, Calgary concludes its regular season against Saskatchewan, Edmonton and Winnipeg.

What's really intriguing, though, is the race for second, third and fourth. Winnipeg (10-3) currently has a six-point cushion on Saskatchewan and Edmonton (both 7-6) with the B.C. Lions (6-7) fifth.

All four of those teams have five regular-season games remaining but Saskatchewan will play three East Division clubs (Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal). West Division squads are 24-5-1 against their Eastern counterparts this year.

In addition to playing Hamilton and Toronto, Winnipeg will face B.C. twice and Calgary. Edmonton, which has dropped six straight after opening the season 7-0, plays its next two games against Montreal and Toronto before finishing with B.C., Calgary and Saskatchewan.

The Riders' final two division games will be against Calgary and Edmonton. B.C. hosts Ottawa this week, then faces Winnipeg (twice) and Edmonton before finishing the regular season hosting Toronto.

Winnipeg, Edmonton, Saskatchewan and B.C. will all play three of their final games at home. That bodes well for the Bombers, who are 5-1 at Investors Group Field.

Toronto (7-7) holds a three-point lead over Ottawa (5-9-1) atop the East Division. The Argos play their final four regular-season games against Western clubs, hardly ideal considering they're 1-5 versus the West Division.

But Toronto has a game in hand on Ottawa, which faces B.C. and Saskatchewan before playing its regular-season finale Oct. 27 against Hamilton.

Amazingly, the third-place Ticats (3-10) remain in playoff contention. But losing 43-35 to Toronto in overtime on Saturday was costly as the win would've pulled Hamilton to within three points of Ottawa with two games in hand while also cementing the season series against the Argos.

Hamilton's next faces the CFL's top two teams (Winnipeg, Calgary) before finishing up with three East Division contests (Montreal, Ottawa, then Montreal again).

The CFL playoff picture could clear up dramatically this weekend.

Toronto can clinch a home playoff date with a win over Saskatchewan. An Argos win combined with an Ottawa loss or tie against B.C. would give the Argos top spot in the East and home-field advantage for the division final Nov. 19.

A Hamilton loss to Winnipeg would give Toronto a home playoff date regardless of how the Argos fared against Saskatchewan.

A Montreal loss to Edmonton on Monday, along with an Ottawa win over B.C. would eliminate the Alouettes (3-11) from playoff contention for the third straight year.

Winnipeg would clinch a playoff berth with a win over Hamilton combined with losses by Saskatchewan and Edmonton. The Bombers would secure a home playoff date with a victory and losses by the Riders, Eskimos and Lions.

A West Division team would be guaranteed of a crossover if Hamilton loses and Saskatchewan and Edmonton both win.


SOLID NICHOLS: Quarterback Matt Nichols is a big reason why the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (10-3) sport the CFL's second-best record.

The veteran quarterback signed a three-year deal this off-season reportedly worth $1.25-million. Nichols has been money in the bank this year with a 70.5 per cent completion average, CFL-high (and career-best) 26 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions.

And while Nichols, 30, stands fourth in CFL passing with 3,844 yards, that's another career high.

The six-foot-two, 215-pound Nichols took over as Winnipeg's starter last season. He guided the club on a seven-game win streak, the longest for a Bombers quarterback since Khari Jones in 2001, en route to posting a 10-3 record.

This year, Winnipeg leads CFL in offensive points (30.5 per game), pass completion (69.9 per cent) and rushing (110.8), is tied with Calgary for first in offensive TDs (39) and stands second in net offence (395.7 per game).

Nichols has a 28-18 record through 46 career CFL starts.


POSEY SHINES: There's something about playing the Hamilton Tiger-Cats that agrees with DeVier Posey.

The former Ohio State star had seven catches for 104 yards and two TDs in Toronto's 43-35 overtime win over Hamilton on Saturday. Posey's 25-yard touchdown grab helped force overtime.

In the extra session, Posey hauled in Ricky Ray's 13-yard scoring strike that, combined with James Wilder Jr.'s two-point convert, provided the Argos with their winning margin.

In three games this season versus Hamilton, Posey has 19 catches for 298 yards and five TDs.


PRACTICE DECISIONS: There's two interesting practice scenarios brewing this week.

Running back Trent Richardson is scheduled to practise this week with the Saskatchewan Roughriders as they prepare to visit the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday. Richardson signed with the CFL club last week but didn't play in its 18-17 road win over Ottawa.

The Redblacks should have much clearer idea this week whether starter Trevor Harris and/or backup Drew Tate can return in time for Saturday night's contest with the B.C. Lions. Harris has missed three games with separated shoulder while Tate has been sidelined for the last two with shoulder-rib issues.

Former NFLer Ryan Lindley started Ottawa's last two games, losses to Winnipeg and Saskatchewan.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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