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The Rouge: Who will win the East Division this season?

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Ben Fisher, TSN.ca
9/10/2013 6:12:52 PM
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It's not yet Week 12 and this year's six playoff teams are already all but determined thanks to the dreadful first halves of both the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Edmonton Eskimos (and you could argue the playoff seeds were clinched long before now).

What remains are the battles for home field advantage throughout the playoffs, still very much up for grabs in both the West and East Division.

First place in the West should be hotly contested down the stretch between the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders – with the BC Lions hanging around and hoping to strike as well – while in the East everything is still up for grabs.

The Toronto Argonauts currently hold first in the division with a 6-4 mark through 10 games, followed closely by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at 5-5 and the 4-6 Montreal Alouettes. Will it stay that way the rest of the season?

The Argos hope to preserve the lead in the East, or at the very least stay within striking distance of it, until Ricky Ray returns from a shoulder injury in five weeks and they make their final push for the top spot.

With impressive sophomore Zach Collaros filling in, that scenario seems entirely possible. Collaros has thrown for more than 1,200 yards and seven TDs in eight appearances (three starts) this season but there's no question the Double Blue are at their best when Ray is under centre.

Prior to his injury, the 33-year-old veteran was playing like a bona fide Most Outstanding Player candidate and if he returns playing at that same high level, will give Toronto a solid chance at a first-round playoff bye.

The next two games will be a test for the Argos as they visit both the Roughriders and Stampeders, but it gets a little easier than that with three of their final six against the Eskimos and Blue Bombers.

Working against Toronto's favour however, both the Tiger-Cats and Alouettes have looked like different teams after their early season struggles.

Hamilton started the year at 1-4 before fighting back to .500 with a modest win streak against the Blue Bombers and Eskimos. But it's been their last two performances, a series split with the Lions, that has teams more convinced the Black and Gold are to be taken seriously as contenders in the second half.

With Henry Burris under centre the Ticats offence has always been one of the league's best; what was encouraging for fans in Hamilton was the dominant play of the team's defence, routinely their weakness, in the Week 11 win over the Lions.

The Alouettes meanwhile, have been a better team under GM and interim head coach Jim Popp. Montreal started the season 2-3 under now fired head coach Dan Hawkins, and while they've only just matched that record in five games with Popp, signs of improvement – and the team looking like their old selves – are starting to show.

Not having Anthony Calvillo for at least the next eight games hurts however. (Calvillo, still recovering from a concussion suffered in mid-August, was placed on the nine-game injury list last week.)

That said, rookie Tanner Marsh, despite his ugly stat line through three appearances and two starts, has given the team a chance to win since taking over behind centre (they are 2-1 in games the xx has finished).

The Ticats' toughest games remaining on their schedule are dates with the Stampeders while Montreal still has the Lions and Roughriders on their schedule.

The division winner will almost certainly be determined in the whopping six head to heads the three teams encounter down the stretch.

The Argos face the Ticats twice more and the Alouettes once while Hamilton and Montreal still have all three of their meetings left to play, including a Touchdown Atlantic matchup two weeks from now.

The Rouge asks: Who will finish the regular season in first place in the East Division? You've heard what we've had to say, now it's your turn.

As always, it's Your! Call.

Dontrelle Inman  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)

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