The Winnipeg Blue Bombers can become the first CFL team to punch its 2022 playoff ticket.
Winnipeg (10-1) can secure a post-season berth Sunday with a road win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders (6-5) to open their annual Labour Day series. The two teams return to IG Field on Sept. 10 and will meet a third time Sept. 30 in Manitoba.
Even with a loss, the Bombers would be the first club to secure a playoff berth if the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Ottawa Redblacks and Edmonton Elks all lost their games this week. When Winnipeg clinches its all-but-assured spot in the post-season the defending Grey Cup champions (2019, 2021) will do so for a sixth straight year.
Last year, Winnipeg qualified for the post-season in its 10 regular-season game, but that was based on a shortened 14-game schedule.
Winnipeg is 5-0 within the West Division this season but faces Saskatchewan for the first time. The Blue Bombers are coming off a three-game sweep of the Calgary Stampeders with last week's 31-29 victory and also have wins over the B.C. Lions and Edmonton Elks.
The Riders announced Wednesday head coach Craig Dickenson has tested positive or COVID-19 but is expected to return to the team Saturday.
Against Calgary, Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros finished 19-of-26 passing for 294 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Winnipeg native Nic Demski had eight catches for 117 yards and a TD while defensive back Donald Rutledge had a game-high 10 tackles.
The Riders are also coming off a win. Cody Fajardo threw for 321 yards and two TDs in Saskatchewan's 23-16 victory over the B.C. Lions last week.
Granted, B.C. was without starter Nathan Rourke (foot) and backup Michael O'Connor (groin) was injured early. But the Riders held the Lions' offence to 251 total yards while Saskatchewan's offence had the ball for over 33 minutes in the contest.
Defence is a strength for both Winnipeg and Saskatchewan. The Bombers have allowed a CFL-low 16 offensive touchdowns while Saskatchewan leads the league in turnovers forced (33) and sacks (34).
Winnipeg's offence is tied with Calgary for first overall in fewest turnovers (15) and stands second in offensive TDs (30). Saskatchewan boasts the CFL's top ground attack (109.8 yards per game) but is seventh in rushing touchdowns (eight).
The unit is also tied for fourth in offensive points (22.6) and fifth in offensive TDs (26) but stands second-last in both passing yards (234.5) and net offensive yards (320.4).
What's more, Winnipeg is unbeaten in six road games this season while Saskatchewan is 3-3 at home.
Ottawa Redblacks versus Montreal Alouettes (Friday night)
At Montreal, the Alouettes (4-6) chase a third straight win and look to at the very least remain second in the East Division standings. The club has been off since rallying for an exciting 29-28 home victory over Hamilton on Aug. 20. The trade Wednesday of veteran Vernon Adams Jr. to B.C. only drives home the fact this remains Trevor Harris's team. Nick Arbuckle draws a second straight start for Ottawa (2-8) after completing 21-of-32 passes for 219 yards in its 25-18 road win over Edmonton last week.
Toronto Argonauts versus Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Monday afternoon)
At Hamilton, Toronto (5-5) can remain atop the East Division with a third win in the fourth and final regular-season meeting with its arch rival. Last week, Jamal Peters returned one of his three interceptions for a TD in leading the Argos to a 37-20 home win. Dane Evans remains under centre for the Ticats (3-8) with backup Matt Shiltz (wrist) reportedly out. Evans leads the CFL in interceptions (13), fumbles (seven) and fumbles lost (six) and is 2-7 this season as a starter. But it's Labour Day, after all.
Edmonton Elks versus Calgary Stampeders (Monday afternoon)
At Calgary, Jake Maier will make a second straight start for the Stampeders (6-4) after completing 23-of-28 passes for 294 yards and three TDs versus Winnipeg last week. Malik Henry was on the receiving end of seven of those passes for 122 yards and all three touchdowns. If there was a concern, though, it was the Bombers rushing for 171 yards on 25 carries (6.8-yard average). The good news for Edmonton (3-8) is they're not at home, where they've dropped 13 straight including last week's 25-18 decision versus Ottawa.
Last week: 2-2
CP's overall record: 38-9.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press