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Playoff Primer: Struggle for third Eastern berth continues, with three teams in the mix

Andrew Bucholtz
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Henry Burris and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats still have a slim shot at the playoffs.

The CFL's playoff picture was still relatively messy heading into this past weekend's action, but it's now cleared up along the initially-projected lines: the remaining questions are all about the third playoff spot in the East. However, there are still plenty of options for who gets that spot, and intriguingly enough considering the previous state of play, it's now the Western side that's more chaotic. With Toronto's victory in Saskatchewan and Winnipeg's loss in Hamilton, the Tiger-Cats are the only Eastern team that could finish third and make the playoffs. To do so, though, they're going to have to win in Toronto and have Edmonton lose at home to Calgary. If they can't accomplish both, they're out.

That's a tough situation for a Hamilton team that came into this season with such high expectations, but the Tiger-Cats are responsible for their own peril. Despite being just 6-11 on the year, they controlled their own playoff destiny as recently as two weeks ago, but the comedy of errors that led to their Snow Bowl II loss meant their chances of making the playoffs instantly became a rather long shot. It's one that's paid off thus far, though; Hamilton took care of business at home against Winnipeg in the final game at Ivor Wynne Stadium, and they got some major help from the Montreal Alouettes' win over Edmonton Sunday. The Tiger-Cats still won't have an easy path, as they'll have to win a road game against Toronto Thursday and hope that the Eskimos fall flat against the Stampeders (who have nothing to play for beyond pride), but having any chance of making the postseason at all isn't bad considering how this season's gone for them. Don't get those hopes up too high yet though, Hamilton fans; yes, we're telling you there's a chance, but the odds here might be up there with those of navigating asteroid fields.

Regardless of what happens in the Hamilton-Toronto game Thursday, the West picture's going to remain a little complicated until Friday and perhaps Saturday. The Eskimos host the Stampeders Friday, and there's going to be something on the line in that one. If the Tiger-Cats lose to the Argos, the Eskimos will have already clinched a playoff spot, but a win Friday would temporarily put them into third place instead of fourth, and they'd stay there if Saskatchewan falls to B.C. Saturday. That would mean that the Riders cross over to the East instead of the Eskimos.

Of course,  there's a strong argument that the Riders would be better served by doing that given the weakness of the East and the strength of the West, and that argument applies to Edmonton as well. The Eskimos may well be better off crossing to the East and taking on Toronto in the first round instead of staying in the West and playing at Calgary. If Hamilton loses Thursday, an Edmonton loss Friday would clinch fourth for the Eskimos. If the Tiger-Cats win, though, the Eskimos are in an interesting spot; they'd have to win to get into the playoffs, but if Saskatchewan then loses, Edmonton has that tough road date with the Stampeders and the Riders get the Argos. Hamilton and Edmonton victories both seem quite plausible, as their opponents have nothing at stake, and that could make it very interesting to watch just how hard Saskatchewan tries Saturday night.

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