Sizing up the other 3 playoff pairings


November 03, 1995|By Gary Lambrecth | Gary Lambrecth,SUN STAFF

The road to the Grey Cup championship game in Regina, Saskastchewan, on Nov. 19 begins this weekend with the

divisional semifinals. Baltimore opens the playoffs by playing host to Winnipeg tomorrow at 1 p.m. Here is a look at the other three games:

* Hamilton (8-10) at Calgary (15-3), tomorrow, 4 p.m.

The Calgary media have been warning fans about another late-season swoon, recalling the Stampeders' playoff losses of the previous two years, despite having the CFL's best regular-season record. And the Stampeders fed that speculation dropping two of their last three regular-season games, to Saskatchewan and Toronto. Then again, Calgary had the North Division title wrapped up early last month.

"The pressure we want the players to feel for every game is not there in games like those. We might not like it, but it's human nature," Calgary coach Wally Buono said. "You hope your skill can get you over the hump. But we played half asleep against Toronto."

Calgary will be wide awake tomorrow, more so if quarterback Doug Flutie starts the game. Flutie, just seven weeks after having major elbow surgery that was supposed to sideline him for the season, played nearly half of Calgary's 31-22 loss in Toronto. Considering his lengthy layoff, Flutie was outstanding, completing 11 of 16 passes for 130 yards, while showing his usual mobility.

"After the game, it was a little sore, and it was stiff for a few days after that, but it's getting better," said Flutie, the CFL's Most Outstanding Player for the past four years. "I don't know if I can go four quarters, but I expect to start."

Buono will decide today, or possibly wait until game time, to name a starting quarterback. And if he had to turn the ball over to Jeff Garcia, that wouldn't be so bad. Garcia replaced Flutie, threw for 3,358 yards and 25 touchdowns and won eight of nine games. The offense, especially with the return of slotback Allen Pitts, who missed three games with the flu, will be in capable hands, no matter who is calling the signals.

Hamilton, which lost seven of its last nine regular-season games, will be overmatched, especially since running back Kalin Hall is out with a knee injury he suffered in Baltimore last week.

* Birmingham (10-8) at San Antonio (12-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.

Expansion Birmingham gave San Antonio a major scare last week behind No. 3 quarterback Kelvin Simmons before falling, 48-42. But the Barracudas will wish they had quarterback Matt Dunigan -- out with a broken index finger on his throwing hand after throwing for 4,911 yards and 34 touchdowns -- in the big game.

Simmons surprised the Texans by rushing for 136 yards last week, and he has a marvelous group of receivers to work with, led by rookie sensation Marcus Grant (1,559 receiving yards, second in the CFL), but expect San Antonio to find ways to contain both of them.

After dropping back-to-back games to Baltimore in July, San Antonio went 11-4 the rest of the way, and quarterback David Archer was in a zone for pretty much the whole time. Archer finished the regular season as the league's top-rated passer, with 4,471 yards, 30 touchdowns and only eight interceptions in 458 attempts.

The defense, with the experienced Maurice Miller as an anchor at middle linebacker, will frustrate Simmons. The offense, despite losing running back Troy Mills to a knee injury last month, has barely missed a beat. And the acquisition of running back Heath Sherman to complement the proven Mike Saunders gives the Texans insurance. Look for San Antonio to earn a trip to Baltimore next week for the Southern Division final.

L * British Columbia (10-8) at Edmonton (13-5), Sunday, 4 p.m.

The B.C. Lions combined some luck with their best football while winning the Grey Cup title last year. The Lions' best football of 1995 is long behind them. They closed out the regular season by losing five of their last six games. Their top offensive threat, running back Cory Philpot (22 touchdowns), is ailing, as is offensive tackle Jim Mills and pass rushing specialist Daved Benefield.

Edmonton, meanwhile, is the CFL's most dangerous team. The Eskimos have won six in a row, their defense is every bit as tough as Baltimore's, and their offense has become dynamic over the second half of the season.

Quarterback Kerwin Bell could not finish a game for the season's first two months. Now, Bell (3,064 yards, 21 touchdown passes) is the league's fourth-rated passer. And since Eric Blount (1,178 yards from scrimmage) took over in the offensive backfield, the Eskimos have the most offensive balance in the North Division. Edmonton wins this one in a walk.

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