Against the last couple of stretch runs, the 2012 season looks somewhat mild by comparison at this point. The standings are relatively stratified, meaning we don't have a huge cluster of teams with similar records jockeying for position, and at the moment, we don't appear set for a final-day finish. Based on where things stand right now, five of the six playoff spots seem largely locked up, with repositioning within those spots more likely than a team falling out of the postseason picture. The battle for the sixth and final spot, the third seed in the East Division, could be fascinating, though, and it's where a lot of the attention league-wide will be focused over the final five games.
At the moment, the favourite for that slot has to be the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Despite just a 5-8 record, they'd claim that third Eastern berth if the season ended today. The Tiger-Cats also seem to have a decent hold on it; thanks to their win over Montreal Friday and Winnipeg's loss to Toronto, they're two games clear of the Blue Bombers, and they're in much better form at the moment. It's even possible (if unlikely) the Tiger-Cats could even move ahead of the 7-6 Toronto Argonauts for the East's second berth if they go on a run and the Boatmen falter; that could come down to their Nov. 1 clash, both teams' final regular-season game. Still, before you start plotting Hamilton's post-season run, keep in mind that just making the playoffs isn't a certainty for the Tiger-Cats yet. Hamilton's remarkable inconsistency means anything can happen within the division, and the Bombers aren't quite out of it at the moment (although four of their five remaining games are against teams over .500, and the other's against the Tiger-Cats). What really bears watching is the possibility of a crossover, though.
The crossover rule has led to some of the league's most interesting finishes, including B.C.'s 2009 run to the East Division final. It doesn't happen all that frequently, though, as one division's fourth-place team has to have a better record than the other division's third-place team. However, that's far from out of the question this year; the worst-in-the-West Edmonton Eskimos are currently tied with the Tiger-Cats at 5-8, and although they just finished the worst September in franchise history and extended their losing streak to a dismal five games in the process, they're not out of it. While the Eskimos are a dismal 2-5 on the road, they're a respectable 3-3 in the friendly confines of Commonwealth Stadium, and that's where they get to host Hamilton Friday night. Moreover, the Tiger-Cats are just 1-5 on the road this year. That game's likely to play a huge role in determining if we have a crossover this year; a Hamilton victory puts them at 6-8 and Edmonton at 5-9, meaning the Eskimos would have to be two games better than the Tiger-Cats over the final four regular-season weeks to pull off that crossover, while an Edmonton win would put them back in position to cross over and only require them to keep pace with Hamilton down the stretch. Plenty of other playoff scenarios are still in play, of course, but the most likely seems to be either the Tiger-Cats or Eskimos grabbing that third spot in the East and the other one missing out on the playoffs altogether. If that turns out to be the case, Friday's game may play a vital role in determining who's in and who's out.