The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats have the CFL's two worst records, but judging by the media coverage heading into Friday night's clash between the teams in Winnipeg (8 p.m. Eastern), you'd think they were in vastly different situations; the Tiger-Cats are largely optimistic and talking about building on last week's win, while the Winnipeg focus is on if the team's hit an all-time low. Of course, there are a few distinctions between the sides; the Tiger-Cats finally snapped their five-game losing streak last week with an emphatic 51-8 beatdown of the Edmonton Eskimos, while the supposedly-already-desperate Bombers delivered perhaps the year's worst performance and effort in a 44-3 pounding by Calgary, their fourth-straight loss. At 4-7, too, Hamilton's chances of a playoff spot aren't unrealistic (they'd only need to make up one game to prevent a West-to-East crossover at this point), while the 2-9 Bombers' chances of postseason play are much worse. Still, judging by their performances to date, there might be less between these teams than many would expect.
Yes, the Tiger-Cats won big last week, but that wasn't a win that erased every season-long question about their team. From this corner, that performance was far more about the offensive collapse of the Edmonton Eskimos. It was billed as the resistible Edmonton offence meeting the moveable Hamilton defence, and in the end, the puny force exerted by the Eskimos' attack wasn't enough to do anything against the league's worst defence (the Tiger-Cats were last in 21 of 25 statistical defensive categories tracked by the league heading into last week's action). That isn't necessarily a resounding endorsement of the Hamilton defence. Sure, they looked better, and sure, they held an opponent to eight points (well below the 33.9 they'd averaged heading into that contest), but it's a lot easier to look effective against Edmonton's committees of quarterbacks and running backs than it is against a solid offence. The Eskimos' offence currently has more in common with The Three-Headed Knight than Cerberus (not that one), so escaping from it's on a level with nearly standing up to the vicious chicken of Bristol.
Moreover, there are some things that bode well for the Bombers. For one, they finally get quarterback Buck Pierce back, which could be critical; Joey Elliott and Alex Brink have been less than impressive on the whole. For another, they're now healthier than they've been at any point in the season, and they finally have an offensive line that might be capable of protecting Pierce, which wasn't the case in the games he played earlier this year. (They've also seemingly settled on running back Chad Simpson now, which has been substantially more successful than The Bloi-Dei Dorzon Experiment, probably a better band name than running-game solution.) Even with all the problems (offensive line injuries, receiver injuries, running back injuries) the Bombers had while Pierce was their starter, they were substantially more successful with him. Perhaps most importantly, there's so much on the line for Winnipeg here. Pressure's building for organizational change, and if they don't start coming through on the field, it may reach critical levels. Of course, the Bombers still have to execute, and they definitely didn't do that last week. Don't write them off completely before kickoff, though.