Publicly, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are saying exactly what you'd expect them to say. And really, with a regular-season record of 3-9, what else are the players going to say except things exactly like this:
"For us, every game is a playoff game. If you lose you go home -- that's how we're approaching it. This is Week 2 of our playoff run and we need this just as much as we need the last one."
That little gem came Friday from cornerback Jovon Johnson, who nailed down three straight clichés in three straight sentences in summing up the daunting task facing this squad if they're going to avoid missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four years.
Which is not to pick on Johnson. Linebacker Henoc Muamba dropped an "every game is a must-win" into his interview, while Buck Pierce went with the always reliable, "We're taking it one week at a time."
But really, is winning all six remaining games the only path Winnipeg can travel to make the playoffs?
Not necessarily. There appear to be two distinct scenarios in which Winnipeg can still make the playoffs this season and neither would necessarily require them to finish 9-9:
Scenario One is the more unlikely of the two, calling for the Bombers to catch the Toronto Argonauts for second place in the East Division. That's a tall order, given that the Argos are 6-6 and the Bombers are 3-9 heading into tonight's clash at Canad Inns Stadium.
But it's also not impossible. After tonight's game, the Bombers and Argos also face each other in Toronto on Oct. 19. If the Bombers were to win both those games, they would move within just one win of Toronto -- all other things being equal -- and would also own the tiebreaker between the two teams.
The problem is the Argos have the easier schedule for the final five regular-season games after tonight, with four of their five games at home and Montreal the only remaining opponent with a record above .500.
The Bombers, on the other hand, must play three of their final five games after tonight on the road, where they remain winless at 0-6 this season. And their remaining opposition is also tougher. In addition to a home-and-home series against Montreal, the Bombers also have to host Calgary, in addition to their remaining game with Toronto and an Oct. 27 date at Ivor Wynne against the Ticats.
Which brings us to Scenario Two, wherein the Bombers don't catch Toronto for second place but do finish ahead of Hamilton for third place in the East and also hold off a challenge from the West Division for a crossover spot.
Finishing ahead of Hamilton appears right now to be very doable. The Ticats won Friday night for just the second time in their last seven games, beating Montreal 41-28 . That's two wins better than the Bombers, but Winnipeg could cut that margin back in half with a win over Toronto tonight. And the Bombers also hold the tiebreaker advantage between the two teams because Winnipeg has beaten Hamilton twice this season.
As for the crossover situation, the Eskimos were last in the West at 5-7 heading into Friday night's late game in Calgary against the Stampeders. That was also two wins better than Winnipeg but it could fall to just one win, however, if the Eskimos lost in Calgary Friday night and the Bombers win tonight. And it bears reminding that Winnipeg wouldn't have to finish ahead of the last-place West team -- they would just have to tie them to prevent the crossover.
What's more, Edmonton still has a difficult schedule, with road games still to play in Montreal against the Als and in B.C. against the Lions, as well as home games against Calgary, Saskatchewan and Hamilton.
Saskatchewan, meanwhile, is 6-6 but probably has the toughest remaining schedule of all, with a home game tonight against B.C. as well as a road game against B.C. remaining, as well as road dates in Toronto and Edmonton and home games against Montreal and Toronto.
And so it is less than accurate to say that the Bombers absolutely must win every game the rest of the season. But what no one can dispute is that they do have to start stringing wins together and there would be nothing quite like making it two in a row tonight against Toronto to create the sound of footsteps for their opponents.
"I think we can make the whole league nervous," said linebacker Marcellus Bowman. "Because if we get clicking with our talent, we're one of the most dangerous teams in the league."