The Hamilton Tiger-Cats head into an important four-game stretch following their first of two bye weeks.
The East Division-leading Ticats (9-2) visit the Calgary Stampeders (7-4) on Saturday in the first of four straight games versus West Division clubs. Hamilton will also play Edmonton (6-6) and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (9-3) before returning to Tim Hortons Field to host the Eskimos on Oct. 4.
Hamilton is a solid 5-1 versus West Division rivals this season. But the Stampeders are 2-0 with CFL/Grey Cup MVP Bo Levi Mitchell back in the lineup and coming off a Labour Day sweep of the Eskimos.
Edmonton has dropped three straight but remains 4-2 at Commonwealth Stadium. And West Division-leading Winnipeg is a stellar 6-0 at IG Field.
The Ticats, under first-year head coach Orlondo Steinauer, are 3-2 on the road and 6-0 at Tim Hortons Field. Hamilton will have its final bye week following the home game against Edmonton then finish up against division rivals Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto.
The Ticats can't afford to stumble with second-place Montreal (6-4) just four points behind. But unlike the Ticats, the Alouettes won't have another bye week. After visiting Saskatchewan on Saturday, they'll face Winnipeg (twice), the B.C. Lions, Calgary, Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa.
DUBIOUS STREAKS END: The Toronto Argonauts ended two rather embarrassing streaks Saturday in their 46-17 win over the Ottawa Redblacks.
The victory was Toronto's first on the road since a 40-13 decision versus the B.C. Lions on Nov. 4, 2017 — a span of 15 contests. The Argos (2-9) were 0-9 away from BMO Field last season and had dropped their first five road contests this season.
The Argos also scored their first rushing touchdowns of 2019. Derel Walker had a one-yard TD run in the first quarter before James Wilder Jr. scored on a five-yard effort in the fourth.
Wilder Jr. finished with 42 yard rushing and the TD on eight carries while adding three catches for 45 yards and two touchdowns. Toronto still remains last overall in rushing scores, three behind eighth-place Ottawa.
Quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw for 411 yards and three TDs against Ottawa. It's the seventh time this season Bethel-Thompson has surpassed the 300-yard passing plateau and marked his second 400-yard performance after throwing for 464 yards in Toronto's 28-22 loss to Montreal on Aug. 25 in Moncton, N.B.
Bethel-Thompson leads the CFL in TD passes (19) and is second in passing yards (3,004).
HARRIS TO RETURN: When the Winnipeg Blue Bombers come off the bye next week, they'll have their offensive lynchpin back.
Running back Andrew Harris can return to the lineup Sept. 21 when the Bombers (9-3) visit the Alouettes (6-4). Harris missed Winnipeg's Labour Day split with Saskatchewan while serving a two-game suspension following a positive drug test.
Despite the two-game absence, Harris remains the CFL rushing leader with 908 yards. The 32-year-old Winnipeg native has a 93-yard advantage over Edmonton's C.J. Gable, with the Eskimos also on a bye week.
Montreal's William Stanback is third with 689 yards heading into the Alouettes' road game Saturday against Saskatchewan (7-4).
Winnipeg's rushing attack didn't suffer much without Harris. Johnny Augustine ran for 173 yards on 28 carries (6.17-yard average) in the two games against Saskatchewan.
This season, Augustine has rushed for 233 yards on 37 carries (6.6-yard average). He's also added six catches for 80 yards and a TD.
Chris Streveler remains at quarterback for Winnipeg with incumbent Matt Nichols (upper-body) on the six-game injured list. The Bombers are 2-1 with Streveler under centre.
GROUND TO MAKE UP: Brandon Banks headed into Hamilton's bye week leading the CFL in receiving, but returns standing third overall.
Banks had 10 catches for 109 yards in Hamilton's 38-27 home win over Toronto on Sept. 2. That put Banks atop the receiving standings with 65 receptions — one behind teammate Bralon Addison for most in the CFL — for a league-high 862 yards with five TDs.
But after last weekend's action, Calgary's Reggie Begelton leads with 66 catches for 930 yards with seven TDs. Toronto's Walker climbed into second with 52 receptions for 897 yards and five TDs.
Begelton and Walker have each played 11 games, one more than Banks, although the Ticats star has been targeted 96 times, seven more than both Begelton and Walker.
On Saturday, the CFL issued a tweet outlining Begelton had become its leading receiver. That prompted a response on Twitter from Banks stating: "Guess they broadcast it when I'm on a bye week they don't let it be known week to week that I'm in lead it's cool tho end of season will prove it."
BETTS SIGNS: The Eskimos signed Canadian defensive lineman Mathieu Betts on Monday.
Edmonton selected the former Laval standout No. 3 overall in this year's CFL draft but he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears. Betts was among the NFL club's final cuts.
The six-foot-three, 250-pound Betts won two Vanier Cups at Laval. He also became the first player in Canadian university football history to capture the J.P. Metras Trophy as top lineman three straight seasons (2016-18).
Betts was also Canadian university football's top rookie in 2015.
Also on Monday, veteran running back Tyrell Sutton was among four players the Tiger-Cats added to their practice roster. Sutton, 32, has previous CFL playing experience with Montreal (2013-18) and B.C. (2018), having rushed for 3,841 yards on 698 carries (5.5-yard average) with 17 TDs while adding 178 catches for 1,539 yards and three touchdowns.
The five-foot-nine, 217-pound Sutton began the season with Toronto but was released July 10.
Meanwhile, the B.C. Lions added five players to their practice squad, including Canadian offensive lineman Josiah St. John. The native of Ajax, Ont., was taken first overall by Saskatchewan in the 2016 CFL draft out of the University of Oklahoma.
St. John spent three seasons with Saskatchewan before signing in the off-season as a free agent with Toronto. He was among the Argos' final cuts.