OTTAWA — Despite their agonizing first third of the 2017 season, the Ottawa Redblacks can put themselves in playoff contention in the CFL East with a win at winless Hamilton on Friday.
But with a desperate 0-7 Tiger-Cats team providing the opposition, and given their troubling tendency to come up short in winnable games, the Redblacks know they will be under pressure to pick up a second victory in a season filled with near-misses.
The Redblacks (1-6-1) strongly believe they are much better team than their record considering they've lost six games by a total of 20 points, but in the end that means little in the standings.
"I think there's pressure on both sides," said Ottawa fullback Patrick Lavoie. "I can't speak for them, but I think we're starting to feel it. We can say we've lost close games, but that doesn't mean much. We need to start winning games, so yeah I think we're starting to feel pressure and that might not be a bad thing."
The Redblacks know this is a big week, and head coach Rick Campbell has tried to keep things in perspective by keeping things simple.
"I've said I don't want to make this thing too complicated," said Campbell. "It's about lining up, playing good football and playing hard."
The Redblacks have consistently spoiled solid efforts with one or two costly plays this season, but the Tiger-Cats won't wait for them to implode. Hamilton head coach Kent Austin told the team's website he believes the Redblacks could just as easily have six wins if they could find a little luck.
"Their record is not indicative of the quality of the team that they are," said Austin. "They're kind of like us. They need some breaks to go their way and they need to win the plays, those six or seven plays, they need to win the majority of those at the most opportune times of the football game."
The Redblacks know they are in no position to take Hamilton lightly. Other than a 60-1 thumping at the hands of Calgary, Hamilton has played stretches of good football this season. Like Ottawa, the Ticats just haven't found a way to steal a win.
Both teams still have a chance to make the playoffs if they can turn things around quickly. The division remains wide open as Ottawa trails the first place Montreal Alouettes and second-place Toronto Argonauts by just three points. The road would be harder for Hamilton, but the playoffs aren't completely out of reach.
The Redblacks are hopeful a few fresh bodies might provide a spark for a team that's searching for any advantage possible.
Receiver Kenny Shaw appears ready to return to the lineup after missing a month with a leg injury and could be a significant addition to the receiving corps.
"You bring in a guy like that for a reason and we haven't had him this year, even in training camp," said quarterback Trevor Harris. "He's a special talent so we're excited to have him."
Defensive back and linebacker Nick Taylor returns after missing a month and is also looking to make an immediate impact.
"Sitting down you have a different perspective watching things," said Taylor. "I just want to make sure I communicate well and bring some more energy and do whatever I can to help. The only thing we're all thinking about is winning and we'll do whatever it takes."
Notes: Ottawa will be without returner/receiver Quincy McDuffie, while RB William Powell will be back in the lineup. Hamilton will be without OL Xavier Fulton and Braden Schram.