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Rick Zamperin: With 1st place secured, Hamilton Tiger-Cats eye a fork in the road

Hamilton Tiger Cats wide receiver Jaelon Acklin (80) celebrates his touchdown catch during first half CFL football game action against the Edmonton Eskimos, in Hamilton, Ont., Friday, Oct. 4, 2019.
Hamilton Tiger Cats wide receiver Jaelon Acklin (80) celebrates his touchdown catch during first half CFL football game action against the Edmonton Eskimos, in Hamilton, Ont., Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

Without even playing a down of football over the Thanksgiving weekend the Hamilton Tiger-Cats clinched first place in the East Division and have earned a bye into the CFL’s Eastern Final on Nov. 17.

Ticats players, coaches and fans celebrated the feat after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat the Montreal Alouettes 35-24 at IG Field on Saturday.

It is the first time since 2014 (the last time Hamilton played in the Grey Cup) that the Cats have finished first in the East and there are a ton of kudos to go around, from rookie head coach Orlondo Steinauer and his staff, to a deep roster of talented players that has been tested by the injury bug, to the fans who have urged them on.

READ MORE: Hamilton Tiger-Cats crush Edmonton Eskimos on Rob Hitchcock night

I can’t think of too many teams in this league who have lost their No. 1 quarterback and still put together the best record in the Canadian Football League. That’s a testament to Hamilton’s coaching and the team’s depth at multiple positions.

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With three games remaining on their schedule, including this Saturday’s home game against the last place Ottawa Redblacks, the Ticats have a decision to make — rest their best players so they are healthy when the playoffs roll around or continue to put the pedal to the metal and keep their winning momentum going.

Hamilton (12-3) has won their last three games and are one win away from establishing a new franchise record for victories in a season. I feel that record is important, not only for coach Steinauer, but for the players and front office personnel who have assembled this team.

If the Tiger-Cats achieve the record this weekend, and they should against a horrid Ottawa team, I suspect the Cats will give some players one of two games off down the stretch and I support that approach.

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Mike ‘Pinball’ Clemons named new GM of the Toronto Argonauts

Mike ‘Pinball’ Clemons named new GM of the Toronto Argonauts
Mike ‘Pinball’ Clemons named new GM of the Toronto Argonauts

I’d rather have a healthy team on the field for the Eastern Final as opposed to the alternative and I believe that this squad is talented enough — and has a solid veteran core of leaders — that any question of whether they can ‘flip the switch’ going into that playoff game isn’t an issue.

If the CFL Playoffs started today:

Western Semifinal: Winnipeg at Saskatchewan, Nov. 10
Western Final: WPG/SSK at Calgary, Nov. 17

Eastern Semifinal: Edmonton at Montreal, Nov. 10
Eastern Final: EDM/MTL at Hamilton, Nov. 17

107th Grey Cup: Western champion vs. Eastern champion, Nov. 24 (in Calgary)