This marks a very important stretch for Dane Evans and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Hamilton (1-5) will play six straight games, and seven of its next eight, against East Division competition, starting Thursday night at home versus the Montreal Alouettes (2-4). The Ticats will face archrival Toronto four times over that span with the other three being against the Als.
The abundance of East Division games is important ,given Hamilton is third in the conference standings, just two points behind second-place Montreal and four behind leading Toronto (3-2). But the Ticats are also just two points ahead of last-place Ottawa (0-6).
The way things are shaping up, East Division teams will have to finish either first or second to secure playoff spots. Currently, the Saskatchewan Roughriders (4-3, fourth in West) have more wins than Toronto.
It's been a tough start for Evans. Although the Ticats starter is second in CFL passing with 1,720 yards, just four behind Winnipeg's Zach Collaros, Evans has more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (eight).
Evans has also fumbled six times, losing five.
Offensively, Hamilton is ranked eighth in offensive points (18.2 per game), offensive TDs (nine) and time of possession (28 minutes, 44 seconds) and last in turnover ratio (minus-13). The Ticats have also committed a league-high 25 turnovers.
Hamilton is coming off a 17-12 road loss to the B.C. Lions despite accumulating 414 offensive yards and holding the ball for over 31 minutes. Evans finished 26-of-38 passing for 297 yards and a TD and an interception.
Hamilton leads the CFL in most two-and-outs (40) but has also forced a league-best 36.
A bright spot for Hamilton has been Lawrence Woods who leads the CFL in punt return yards (371) and average (14.3). Lawrence is on pace for 1,112 punt return yards, which would be the most since Calgary's Roy Finch had 1,200 yards in 2017.
However, Woods (illness) remains a game-time decision.
Montreal is coming off a 40-33 victory over Ottawa and is 1-1 under GM/interim head coach Danny Maciocia. Veteran quarterback Trevor Harris was solid for the Alouettes, completing 25-of-31 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns.
Receiver Hergy Mayala registered five catches for 102 yards and a TD.
Montreal is third overall in offensive scoring (26 points per game) and offensive TDs (15). Trouble is, its defence is ranked eighth in offensive points allowed (27.5 points per game), offensive TDs allowed (15) and net offensive yards allowed (357.5).
Despite its scoring difficulties, Hamilton's offence is ranked second in passing (299.2 per game) but last in rushing (73.3 yards). The Ticats will again be without linebacker Simoni Lawrence (groin), who was the CFL's top defensive player last season.
B.C. Lions versus Saskatchewan Roughriders (Friday night)
At Regina, the good news for the Riders (4-3) is quarterback Cody Fajardo (knee, illness) says he can play this week after missing Sunday's 31-21 loss to Toronto. Saskatchewan has won eight straight versus B.C. (4-1) and the last four at home. The Lions haven't won at Mosaic Stadium since 2016 but with Canadian Nathan Rourke under centre, the offence has scored a CFL-best 176 offensive points this season.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers versus Calgary Stampeders (Saturday night)
At Calgary, the Stampeders (4-1) have more to deal with than facing Winnipeg (7-0). Five players missed practice Tuesday with what head coach Dave Dickenson said were cases of COVID-19 and pneumonia. Among them were running back Ka'Deem Carey, tackle Derek Dennis and linebacker Jameer Thurman. The Bombers beat the Stamps 26-19 at IG Field on July 15 but haven't claimed a regular-season meeting at McMahon since '17. Calgary starter Bo Levi Mitchell has never lost consecutive starts against the Bombers.
Ottawa Redblacks versus Toronto Argonauts (Sunday night)
At Toronto, the Argos return to BMO Field after consecutive wins over Saskatchewan at Wolfville, N.S., and Regina. Canadian running back Andrew Harris ran for a season-high 143 yards (5.5-yard average) in Sunday's 31-21 win over the Riders while starter McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw for 336 yards and two TDs. Bethel-Thompson is also 6-0 versus Ottawa. Caleb Evans had 297 passing yards and a TD last week versus Montreal but Darvin Adams dropped a late Evans TD pass that could've forced overtime.
Last week: 4-0.
CP's overall record: 23-4.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 27, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press