Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 08/26/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
When you are 6-3 at the midway point of the season, it's not often you find yourself without the absolute respect of your opponents.
Even though not a single team in the West Division is more than a single win up on Winnipeg, the prevailing assessment from many who aren't buying what the Bombers are selling, is that, "they aren't nearly as good as their record suggests."
So how does one not get full credit for winning twice as many games as they have lost? It turns out the one thing this team could not control this season -- the schedule -- is the straw many are clinging to and what is preventing this team from getting the adulation they deserve.
Even though the 2014 edition of this franchise has already doubled their win count from 2013, and tied their win total from 2012, so far five of those six wins have come against East Division teams, and two out of their three losses have come against West Division teams.
In most any other year in the CFL, you would still get full credit for your victories no matter what division they occurred in -- but not this year. While it seems there has always been a degree of imbalance between the two divisions, the gap has widened in 2014 to the extent where men appear to be playing against boys.
Though Eastern teams have won three of the last five Grey Cups, the odds of that happening in 2014, where the East will most likely be won by a 7 and 11 team, are about the same as Reebok winning a fashion award for their third jersey creations.
When you are in fourth place in the West, but already have as many wins as the entire East combined, it gives critics a reason to reserve their opinion as to how much weight your victories carry. Yet if the first half of this season did little to convince the masses this team is more than a squad inflated by inferior competition, they won't have to wait long for the real proving ground to begin.
In the second nine-game stanza of the season, the Blue Bombers will be facing West Division teams seven times, and only two more soup-can Eastern teams. They play the Lions twice, the Eskimos once, the Stampeders twice, and they kick it all off with back-to-back games against the defending champion Roughriders.
Based on how they have competed in every game this season, save for one, it says here five more wins are available to the Blue and Gold in the second half of the schedule.
Judging from how well they played Saskatchewan the first go round, a split of the next two games is more than a realistic expectation. They already outclassed B.C. in B.C., and even with a return of Travis Lulay, should be able to win at least one of the two remaining contests.
No one knows how they will match up with the Stampeders, so another division of wins is not out of the question. Then, if they can win two of the remaining three against Hamilton at home, and Edmonton and Ottawa on the road, that brings us to five, and an 11-7 season.
A 6-3 mark can be a dangerous record for some teams. It isn't such a dominant mark it spurs you to protect a first-place berth, yet it is accomplished enough for players to start patting themselves on the back, and to set the speedometer to cruise control.
What should prevent the attitude of this 6-3 team from faltering is the fact they are aware many have already categorized their achievements as "fortunate," and are in large part due to the favourable schedule.
While we can't disprove that five of the Bombers' six wins this season have come against a division that is embarrassing itself, discounting their win and competitiveness in their Western games does this team a disservice. If they operate best with a chip on their shoulder, there is enough skepticism remaining both inside and outside of this province to keep them focused on a second-half schedule filled with tier-one rivals.
After all, no one believed they would be where they are at the midway mark of the season. It only makes sense they surprise everyone, yet again, with their performance in these final nine games.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 26, 2014 D2
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