The Edmonton Eskimos can lock up a home playoff date Friday, by knocking off the Saskatchewan Roughriders – but they know it's a contest that will be won in the first quarter.
Take the game to the Riders from the opening whistle and it's likely game over.
Let them hang around and they may decide to fight hard to win one last time for their beloved retiring head coach, Ken Miller.
“It's imperative we come out with a good start and jump on these guys early,” Eskimos linebacker Rod Davis said after practice Thursday.
“I have been in that situation once, and we know that those guys' bags are packed. They don't really want to play. They're thinking about being healthy and going off home.”
On paper, the final game of the 2011 CFL regular season at Commonwealth Stadium is a ridiculous mismatch.
The 10-7 Eskimos can take first place and a first-round playoff bye with a win plus a Montreal Alouettes victory over the B.C. Lions on Saturday.
Saskatchewan is 5-12 and out of the playoffs.
The Riders have a slew of injuries to key players like quarterback Darian Durant, linebacker Barrin Simpson and receiver Andy Fantuz.
They're 0-9 against West Division rivals and haven't completed a pass for a touchdown in 61/2 games.
Edmonton has the league's stingiest defence (22 points a game), against Saskatchewan's league's worst offence (19 points per contest).
In the previous two games, Edmonton beat up on Saskatchewan by combined score of 59-29.
The Eskimos' biggest concern is themselves. They're a young team that has turned over half the roster from last season's non-playoff finish. They're also a team that got the yips last week, when it had a chance to lock up first place with a win over the Lions.
Instead, they missed tackles, blew assignments and found themselves in a first quarter 14-point hole they couldn't dig out of. Battering ram running back Jerome Messam ran up just 17 yards on nine carries. They lost 29-22 to set up a three-way tie in the West with B.C. and Calgary Stampeders.
Quarterback Ricky Ray said there's no such thing as a good loss, but it was better to get the nerves out of the way early.
“Sometimes getting a loss out of the way helps you get refocused and heading in the right direction,” he said. “We're a pretty loose team generally. That's what you want to see from week to week. But when it gets to game time, we've still got to have that looseness. We can't all of a sudden get tight.
“Guys are starting to understand you just go out there and do your thing.”
Messam said they must establish the run game early, put the Riders defence on its heels and maybe sap its will to compete.
“Those guys are going to be playing hard for their coach. They want to send him off with a win. It's going to be big for us to come out and shut the door early,” said Messam.
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