Eskimos trying to get back in playoff picture as season winds down
From the outside looking in, it’s exquisite.
From the inside looking out, it’s excruciating.
It has to be particularly insufferable in the case of the Eskimos, the team currently on the outside looking in during a season when the Grey Cup is in Edmonton and a year when next to nobody dreamed of something like this happening to a team projected to be at or near the top of the tables.
“When your job is on the line there is no such thing as fun. It’s fun if we win the Grey Cup. That’s fun,” said five-time CFL all-star defensive end Almondo Sewell who believes if this team manages to miss the playoffs there will be a multitude of changes here next year.
Sewell himself was extended through 2020, the Eskimos announced Friday.
“I wish we had a definite spot. Are we going to play in the West or go out East? But we’ve put ourselves in this predicament and have nobody to blame but ourselves.”
It’s a mad, mad scramble for playoff positions in the CFL and Saturday it’s a triple-header of games all with playoff implications lined up one after the other.
• Saskatchewan at Winnipeg.
• Ottawa at Edmonton. • B.C. at Calgary.
With 53,453 tickets sold to the 106th Grey Cup game — 61 per cent of them in the greater Edmonton region — everything isn’t just about the Eskimos. It’s about the Grey Cup and who will end up playing in it.
Ottawa at Edmonton isn’t going to be a Grey Cup preview like some might have imagined back when they bought all those tickets before the season had even started. But it might be an Eastern Final preview with the winner going to the Grey Cup like it was two years ago.
With the Redblacks here for the 3 p.m. sandwich session on the TSN menu, it’s an interesting combination.
The Eskimos you know about. They’ve lost three in a row, four of the last five and five of the last seven, thrown a preposterous percentage of interceptions and suffered sacks in equally unimaginable numbers.
When you get to game day, there’s no looking back.
“It’s definitely exciting for everybody else but we dug ourselves a hole by continuing to beat ourselves and make the same mistakes,” said kicker Sean Whyte.
“It’s things we can fix and control but everybody here has to recognize how important the next few games are and really focus up. Each guy has to find out what this means to them and what drives them.”
When it comes to the West, it’s a three-team scramble for the final two positions. Edmonton could still end up playing the Roughriders in Regina in the West semifinal, travelling East to play as the crossover team in the East Division playoffs or ending up as the only West Division team not making it into the post season.
Going into Saturday, Winnipeg sits third with an 8-7 record while B.C. sits fourth at 7-7 and Edmonton goes into the day at 7-8.
The Eskimos travel to Vancouver next Friday for maybe the most massive game of all with both teams having won a game against each other and this one to settle the season series and any tie in the final standings. Edmonton will finish up a home against Winnipeg.
The Lions have the toughest schedule with the away game at Calgary, home to Edmonton, away at Saskatchewan and home to Calgary.
The Bombers have home to Saskatchewan, home to Calgary and away in Edmonton.
In the East, only Ottawa and Hamilton will make the playoffs.
But they’re in a dogfight to settle first and second with the winner getting the bye to the final.
Ottawa headed into the weekend at 8-6 and Hamilton at 7-7 and the two teams have a home-and home series coming up the following two weekends.
Several pigskin pundits look at the most likely scenario now being the Eskimos going East as the crossover team.
Edmonton did it in 2016, defeating Hamilton in the semifinal but losing to Ottawa in a blizzard in the final.
Back in 2012 the Eskimos lost to Toronto in the semifinal and in 2008 won the semifinal in Winnipeg and lost the final in Montreal, repeating what happened in 2002.
In all the Eskimos have managed to get to within one win of getting to the Grey Cup game in three Eastern Finals. Think about it. Wouldn’t it make a whale of a story if the Eskimos had to go East and beat the Tigercats and the Redblacks to get back to a Grey Cup game — in Edmonton.
For that to have a hope of happening the Eskimos would likely need to win this one against the Redblacks to stay in the hunt.
Ottawa has played a Western team in a playoff game in each of the last three years, losing the semifinal to Saskatchewan last year, defeating Edmonton in the final and going on to win the Grey Cup the year before.
“You better believe I’m cheering for Winnipeg and B.C. to lose. Whoever they’re playing, I’m a fan of that team,” said middle linebacker J.C. Sherritt.
“All we can do right now is put our complete focus on this one game and concern ourselves with just one team — the Edmonton Eskimos.”
Eskimos defensive back Arjen Colquhoun at team practice on Friday. He might be all smiles, but his team has a tough road ahead.