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Head coach Mike O’Shea and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have more adversity to deal with.

The West Division-leading Bombers (8-2) will open an important home-and-home series against the Saskatchewan Roughriders (6-3) on Sunday in Regina. Winnipeg plays host to the Riders on Sept. 7 but will be without injured starter Matt Nichols (shoulder) and running back Andrew Harris (suspension) for both contests.

Nichols went on the six-game injured list following Winnipeg’s 32-16 win over the BC Lions on August 15. Harris was suspended Monday for two games after a positive drug test.

The absence of two pivotal offensive players is huge for Winnipeg, considering Saskatchewan has lost just one home Labour Day contest to the Bombers since 2005. The Riders also swept last year’s home-and-home series and come in as the CFL’s hottest team with five straight wins.

Nichols guided Winnipeg to five consecutive victories to start the season and a 7-2 record over all before being injured. The Bombers dispatched the Edmonton Eskimos 34-28 on Friday night for a third straight win despite backup Chris Streveler completing 7-of-17 passes for 89 yards.

Winnipeg was much more efficient on the ground as Streveler ran for a game-high 95 yards and a TD on 14 carries. Harris added 89 rushing yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.

Harris, who led the league in rushing the past two seasons, is tops again this year. The 32-year-old Winnipeg native has run for 908 yards and three touchdowns on 141 carries, averaging a stellar 6.4 yards an attempt.

But the CFL’s top Canadian in 2017 is much more than just a running back. Harris also has 46 catches for 337 yards and three touchdowns.

Harris anchored Winnipeg’s 23-18 win over Saskatchewan in last year’s West Division semi-final, rushing for 153 yards and a TD on 19 carries.

Cody Fajardo has firmly established himself as Saskatchewan’s starter. He opened the season as the backup to Zach Collaros, but was forced under centre when Collaros took a high hit early in the Riders’ 23-17 season-opening road loss to Hamilton.

Since then, Fajardo has completed 171-of-234 passes (73.1 per cent) for 2,112 yards with eight TDs and four interceptions. He’s also added 313 rushing yards and nine TDs on 57 carries.

Fajardo’s play allowed the Riders to deal Collaros to the Toronto Argonauts on July 31 for a conditional 2020 fourth-round pick. Saskatchewan has done a good job of protecting the football, currently standing tied with Montreal for fewest turnovers committed (13).

And that’s important considering Winnipeg’s defence has forced a league-high 30 turnovers that the Bombers have converted into 56 points, second-most in the CFL. Then again, Saskatchewan is right behind, having scored 55.

Pick: Saskatchewan.

Toronto Argonauts versus Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Monday afternoon)

At Hamilton, Dane Evans chases a fourth straight win since replacing injured starter Jeremiah Masoli. The Ticats (8-2) are 5-0 at home and unbeaten at Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day (5-0). They’ve also won seven of the last eight Labour Day games over all, including in 2017 when they were 0-8 at the time. That could be a source of inspiration for Toronto (1-8), which lost 28-22 to Montreal in Moncton on Sunday despite a 464 yards passing with two touchdowns from quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Pick: Hamilton.

Edmonton Eskimos versus Calgary Stampeders (Monday afternoon)

At Calgary, the Stampeders (5-4) have dropped two straight but will chase an eighth consecutive Labour Day win over Edmonton (6-4). The Eskimos had over 500 total offensive yards last week against Winnipeg but scored just one touchdown as Sean Whyte booted seven field goals. The Stamps won the first meeting 24-18 at McMahon on Aug. 3 but are 0-2 since. With veteran Bo Levi Mitchell back on the six-game injured list, Nick Arbuckle is expected to start following the bye week and face the Esks a second time.

Pick: Calgary.

Last week: 2-2

Over all: 28-15

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