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Eskimos, Lions winning picks for East and West Division semi-finals

Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly (13) fakes a pass and holds the ball while under pressure from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Adrian Tracy during the first half of CFL football action in Hamilton on Friday, October 28, 2016.


It will be a historic first for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Edmonton Eskimos.

Hamilton hosts Edmonton on Sunday in the East Division semi-final. It will mark the first crossover playoff meeting between the two teams, set up by the Eskimos (10-8) moving into the Eastern playoffs after finishing fourth in the West but posting a better record than the third-place Montreal Alouettes (7-11).

Hamilton finished tied with Montreal in the standings but clinched second by winning the season series.

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Edmonton and Hamilton have met in the Grey Cup twice. The Eskimos earned a 48-10 victory in 1980 before the Ticats captured a 39-15 decision six years later.

The Eskimos make their third crossover appearance. In 2008, they became the first CFL team to win a crossover game, beating Winnipeg 29-21 in the conference semifinal before losing 42-26 to Toronto in 2012.

Eight times West Division teams have crossed over to the East but none has ever reached the Grey Cup.

Edmonton comes in having won five of its last six games and sports the CFL's passing leader (Mike Reilly) and top two receivers (Adarius Bowman, Derel Walker). Reilly threw for 5,554 yards with 28 TDs and had 12 300-yard games this season.

Bowman led the CFL in catches (120) and yards (1,761) while Walker was second with 109 receptions for 1,589 yards. They combined for 19 TDs and 22 plays of 30 yards or more and will put plenty of pressure on Hamilton's defence.

But the Ticats are pretty good at generating pressure themselves, having registered 50 sacks. And Hamilton was ranked third behind B.C. and Calgary for fewest offensive yards allowed (357.2 per game).

However, Edmonton allowed the second-fewest sacks (31) and Reilly was the CFL's top-rushing quarterback with 406 yards (four-yard average) with nine TDs. Hamilton must also respect an Eskimos ground game that was the league's second-best at 103.7 yards per game.

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The two teams split their season series 1-1. Backup Jermiah Masoli had a CFL-record 23 straight completions in rallying Hamilton from a 25-point deficit for a 37-31 road win July 23 before John White's 132-yard rushing performance anchored Edmonton's 29-26 victory at Tim Hortons Field on Oct. 28.

Zach Collaros starts for Hamilton but veteran slotbacks Andy Fantuz (101 catches, 1,059 yards, five TDs) and Luke Tasker (76 catches, 852 yards, five TDs) are both injured. That leaves Terrence Toliver (65 catches, 1,036 yards, nine TDs) as the Ticats' leading active receiver.

While Edmonton's ground game is ranked second in the CFL, Hamilton's is last (66.9 yards per game) although C.J. Gable can be a dynamic running back. The Ticats also have a big-play threat in kick-returner Brandon Banks.

Hamilton comes in having lost two straight and its last four home games to stand 3-6 overall at Tim Hortons Field. The Ticats are also 2-8 versus West Division teams.

Pick: Edmonton.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers versus B.C. Lions on Sunday afternoon

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West Division semi-final

It's the seventh all-time playoff meeting between the two teams but only their second since 1986 when B.C. beat Winnipeg 21-14 in the West semi-final. The Bombers (11-7) were 2-0 – albeit by just a combined five points – versus the Lions (12-6) en route to clinching their first playoff spot since 2011.

Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings threw for 749 yards in those games but also had five interceptions. Turnovers are key for Winnipeg, which forced nine turnovers versus B.C. and was 11-1 this season when winning the turnover battle but 0-6 when losing it.

Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris has been effective versus his former team. He's run for 139 yards on 24 carries (5.8-yard average) while adding 12 catches for 142 yards. Bombers' starter Matt Nichols has completed 49-of-70 passes for 534 yards with three TDs and two interceptions versus the Lions.

B.C.'s defence is anchored by linebackers Solomon Elimimian (129 tackles) and Adam Bighill (108). The Lions allowed a league-low 337.7 yards per game and were third in fewest points (25.2).

After suffering the home-and-home sweep to Winnipeg, B.C. ended the season with three straight wins. The Lions were also a solid 6-3 at B.C. Place, the CFL's second-best home record behind league-leading Calgary (9-0).

Winnipeg counters with not only a CFL-best 7-2 road record but kicker Justin Medlock (league-record 60 field goals). B.C. will go with veteran Paul McCallum, who came out of retirement to replace inconsistent Richie Leone.

B.C. has won six of the last 11 meetings since 2012 with seven having been decided in the last three minutes.

Pick: B.C.

Last week: 4-0

Overall: 48-32-1.

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