CFL Betting: Working Your Way Through a Volatile Season

by Aaron Brooks
on September 13, 2017

This is one of the more topsy-turvy Canadian Football League seasons that I can remember as both a fan and a bettor.

Some teams that came charging out of the gate early, like the Edmonton Eskimos and B.C. Lions, now find themselves searching for answers as we enter the second half of the season. Other squads that were left for dead, such as the Ottawa RedBlacks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, have found life again by earning a few victories over the past month.

With all of the volatility that’s gone on in the CFL this year, I thought it’d be useful to review what the Grey Cup picture looked like at the start of the season. Just like the bloom is off the Los Angeles Dodgers’ rose and everyone suddenly likes the Cleveland Indians to win the World Series in Major League Baseball, recency bias can cause us to lose perspective of how good or bad we expected these teams to be just a few short months ago.

How The 2017 Grey Cup Odds Have Changed

Nothing illustrates how much the landscape can change over a long season more than the futures market.

The Calgary Stampeders have held onto the role of Grey Cup favorite all season, but the Edmonton Eskimos were hot on their heels as recently as a month ago. However, after starting the season 7-0 and holding a lead over Calgary atop the West Division, the Eskimos have hit the skids big time, losing 4 straight and in danger of falling into third place on the CFL futures board.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats started the year tied for fourth on the Grey Cup odds but now reside at the bottom of the league as stunning +3300 longshots. And the biggest roller coaster ride this season has been the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who were +800 darkhorses at the start of the year, plummeted to +1600 a month ago and have now ascended back to fifth on the Grey Cup odds at +800.

Here’s a full comparison of each team’s 2017 Grey Cup odds from before the season started, from a month ago, and going into Week 13 (all odds courtesy of Bovada).

Grey Cup Odds At The Start Of The Year

  • Calgary Stampeders +350
  • Edmonton Eskimos +500
  • C. Lions +500
  • Hamilton Tiger-Cats +700
  • Ottawa RedBlacks +700
  • Montreal Alouettes +750
  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers +800
  • Saskatchewan Roughriders +800
  • Toronto Argonauts +1200

Grey Cup Odds After Week 8

  • Calgary Stampeders +250
  • Edmonton Eskimos +275
  • British Columbia Lions +500
  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers +900
  • Toronto Argonauts +1000
  • Montreal Alouettes +1000
  • Ottawa RedBlacks +1200
  • Hamilton Tiger-Cats +1600
  • Saskatchewan Roughriders +1600

Grey Cup Odds After Week 12

  • Calgary Stampeders +200
  • Edmonton Eskimos +450
  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers +500
  • British Columbia Lions +650
  • Saskatchewan Roughriders +900
  • Toronto Argonauts +1000
  • Ottawa RedBlacks +1000
  • Montreal Alouettes +1100
  • Hamilton Tiger-Cats +3300

The Most Volatile Teams In The CFL This Season

Out of the 9 teams in the CFL, the Stampeders and Blue Bombers are the only ones that I could say have been consistent from a week-to-week standpoint this year.

After opening the season with a tie against the defending Grey Cup champion RedBlacks, Calgary has steadily made its way up to where we all expected the Stamps to be at the start of the year. Their Week 4 loss in Montreal is still a bit of a puzzler, but all teams are entitled to a mulligan or two over the course of a long season. Other than that, Calgary has been every bit as dominant as its 9-1-1 record suggests. Especially on defense, where the Stampeders have held 6 of their last 9 opponents to 20 points or less.

Though Winnipeg’s been a bit more of a surprise, the Bombers’ stock has really only gone up as well. A league-leading rushing attack has helped Winnipeg produce the most points per game in the CFL this season and was the big reason the Bombers rattled off 5 straight wins after opening the year 2-2. After that winning streak was snapped on Labor Day with a loss in Saskatchewan, the Blue Bombers bounced right back by whipping the Roughriders 48-28 in a rematch 6 days later.

Other than Calgary and Winnipeg, every CFL team has gone through some serious ups and downs.

Montreal has gone into the toilet after a 2-2 start, losing 6 of 7 (resulting in the firing of coach Jacques Chapdelaine); the Roughriders posted 3 straight double-digit victories following losses in 4 of their first 6 games; and the Tiger-Cats have won their last 2 games after losing their first 8, including a 60-1 pounding in Calgary.

Here’s a look at 3 other teams that stick out even more for their volatility in 2017.

1. Edmonton Eskimos

Even when the Eskimos were 7-0, many saw regression on the horizon. 6 of Edmonton’s first 7 wins were by a touchdown or less, including a pair of 3-point victories. They had also fattened up on weak East Division competition in 5 of those contests.

But I’m not sure anyone expected the Eskimos to fall apart the way that they have over their last 4 games. After Winnipeg handed the Eskies their first loss in Week 9, Edmonton proceeded to lose at home to Saskatchewan and then in Calgary by a combined total of 44 points.

Though the offense has sputtered a bit to put points on the board consistently in recent weeks, the Eskimos still have an elite quarterback in Mike Reilly and the top-ranked passing attack in the league. I’m a lot more concerned about their defense, where Edmonton is sixth against the run and has allowed the third-most points in the CFL.

The Eskimos could start to turn things around soon, however, thanks to the schedule maker. 3 of Edmonton’s next 4 contests will be against either the Argos or Alouettes, who are a combined 7-15 on the year. If the Eskimos can build a bit of confidence going up against the weaker sisters of the East once again, they could once again resemble the challenge to Calgary that we thought they were at the start of the year.

2. Ottawa RedBlacks

You don’t find many more misleading records than the 4-7-1 mark the RedBlacks carry into Week 13.

Ottawa had to endure a horrible start to the season, going without a win until its fifth game of the season and not managing to earn another victory until Week 9 against the winless (at the time) Tiger-Cats. Making things even more difficult for the RedBlacks to stomach was the fact that its first 6 losses came by a combined margin of 20 points.

Ottawa was able to maintain a flicker of hope, however, because it plays in the awful East Division. A 37-18 victory in Hamilton on August 18 finally lit a spark under the RedBlacks, who jumped out to a 31-7 lead over the B.C. Lions en route to victory in their next game, then pounded the Alouettes 32-4 the following week in Montreal.

Even after a baffling 26-22 loss at home to the Tiger-Cats last week, Ottawa still holds a share of first place in the East with a mediocre Argonauts squad. The RedBlacks also have the third-best point differential in the league (+35), which is often a truer indication of a team’s ability than its record is.

3. B.C. Lions

Viewed as a serious contender for the Grey Cup at the start of the year, B.C. lived up to that billing through its first 5 games. The Lions went 4-1 in that stretch, including 3-0 on the road, and their lone loss came by 3 points against a tough Edmonton squad.

Then, inexplicably, the Lions went into the tank. A 37-26 loss in Edmonton was forgivable, especially after the Leos rebounded the next week to beat Saskatchewan 30-15. But getting humiliated 41-8 by the Roughriders in mid-August, then following that up with losses at home to Calgary and then in Ottawa dropped the Lions’ record to 5-5 and raised some serious concerns about what was going on in Vancouver.

Still, any long-time follower of the CFL knows better to give up on a team coached by Wally Buono, the league’s winningest coach of all time. And Buono got his team back on track in its most recent game, as the Lions slaughtered the visiting Alouettes 41-18 despite the fact that B.C. starting quarterback Travis Lulay was injured on the first play of the contest.

At 6-5 and sitting fourth in the tough West Division, the Lions are in a unique position of being a potential Grey Cup contender while also being in danger of missing the playoffs. The top 3 teams in the West are guaranteed post-season spots, though the fourth-place team will almost certainly cross over to the East to play the second-place finisher in that division. If B.C. can at least finish ahead of the 5-5 Roughriders to earn that cross-over spot, the Lions may actually have a better chance of getting to the Grey Cup than if they had to go through Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg in the West.

2017 Grey Cup Betting Prediction

With all the volatility that there’s been in the CFL this season, it’s easy to overlook the fact that one thing hasn’t changed: the Calgary Stampeders are the team to beat.

If anything, Calgary’s case to hoist the Grey Cup this fall looks even stronger. While some strong Stampeders teams in the past have faltered in the playoffs, I absolutely love how strong their defense is this year.

They rank third across the board in rushing yards, passing yards and total yards allowed, and the fact that they have surrendered the fewest points in the league shows how much their defense steps up when opponents get into the red zone. Finishing first in the West, which the Stamps seem almost certain to do, would get them a first-round bye in the playoffs, followed by a home game in the division final. Calgary’s 6-0 at McMahon Stadium this year, and its last 5 victories at home have all come by 16 points or more.

However, the current +200 price on the Stampeders is almost half of what Calgary was paying to win the Grey Cup at the start of the season. If you want better value, I think +1000 on Ottawa is dollar-for-dollar the best bet on the CFL futures board right now.

That’s because, for all the RedBlacks’ early struggles this year, they’re still tied for first in the East and trending upward. If Ottawa can just win the division, it would only have to win the East final – which it would host – in order to get to the Grey Cup.

This year’s Grey Cup game, by the way, just happens to be in Ottawa.

The last 3 times a host team played in the Grey Cup, they’ve posted double-digit victories.

Just sayin’.

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