After winning five of their last six games the Riders came back down to earth a bit last Saturday when they were pasted 37-20 by the Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.
Die-hards were doubtlessly disappointed. But realistically, the result wasn’t that surprising. To begin with, the Riders rarely play well at Commonwealth. Since the Eskimos started playing there in 1978, the Green & White have won a mere nine games while losing 40. They’ve also lost two Grey Cups there in 1997 and 2010.
Also working against them was the schedule. After pounding the Argonauts 36-10 in Toronto on Thanksgiving Monday, the Riders had only four days to prepare for a second straight road game in Edmonton. The Eskimos, meanwhile, played Hamilton at home on Oct. 5, then had seven days to rest up and prepare before they hosted the Riders on Oct. 13.
So while the Riders faithful might have hoped for a better effort, the result wasn’t a huge upset. All season long the Eskimos have had a solid defense, and with veteran Kerry Joseph emerging as a steadying influence at QB, the Green & Gold have played reasonably well in recent weeks.
Today at 1:30 p.m. the Riders take the field at Mosaic Stadium for the first time since their stirring 27-21 win over the B.C. Lions on Sept. 29 (game photo above). Opposing them will be a banged up Montreal Alouette team that is missing several weapons on offense including receiver S.J. Green and running back Brandon Whitaker. Earlier this season, you’ll recall, the Riders dropped a 28-17 decision in Montreal in a game where Drew Willy went the whole way at QB in place of Darian Durant who had been injured the week previous against Winnipeg in the Banjo Bowl.
Sitting in third place in the West Division with an 8-7 record, this is a game the Riders should win. With Calgary sitting at 9-6, and holding the tie-breaking advantage over the Riders by virtue of winning two of three games against them this year, the odds of the Green & White overtaking them to finish second in the West and host a home playoff game are long.
Of more immediate concern is the possibility of Edmonton catching them for third. Heading into last night’s game in B.C., the Esks were only two points back, and they also hold the tie-breaking advantage over the Riders. As it stands right now, the team that finishes fourth in the West seems destined to qualify for the East Division playoffs thanks to the anemic performance of the star-studded Hamilton Tiger Cats.
Ironically, the team that finishes fourth in the West will face an easier road to the Grey Cup than the third place finisher. Whereas the latter will have to play road games against the Stampeders and, assuming they win that tilt, the rock-solid B.C. Lions; the former will be matched up against the Argos and Als, two teams that have struggled for most of the season.
Such is life in the CFL.