Collar just a bit tight, guys?

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

They're at the post. But handicapping the CFL Western Division playoff race isn't easy at this juncture.

One thing's for sure, the defending Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos can ill afford to throw a shoe and come up with a hoof-hearted effort down the stretch.

With four games to play and Saskatchewan and Winnipeg breathing down the champ's neck in the standings, the collars are more than a little tight in the Green and Gold locker room these days.

Team president and CEO Hugh Campbell's public declaration the team's string of 32 consecutive playoff appearances could be in jeopardy may have caused the collars to become even tighter.

"It was the same thing when we were 0-3-0 (to start the year)," offered linebacker Singor Mobley before the team hit the practice field to begin preparation for Friday's game in Hamilton.

"If people want to say we're not a good Eskimo team, that's fine. We know deep down inside that we are. We've just got to do it on the field."

LOSING SKID

Following last Saturday's home-field loss to Toronto, the Esks are mired in a two-game losing skid and saw their record slip to 7-7-0.

A worst-case scenario has the Esks going from favourites to finishing out of the playoffs, which is something that hasn't happened since 1971.

The next-worst scenario has the Green and Gold headed to the Eastern Division semifinal as the crossover team. Next in pecking order of peccadillos is a third-place finish that means playing every post-season game on the road, identical to what the crossover team has to look forward to.

"Any year you could miss the playoffs, but are we feeling that? No," said quarterback Jason Maas. I'm not even considering that as a possibility.

"I'm focusing more on Hamilton than anything. I know this four games is going to prove a lot. But if we start worrying about missing the playoffs, we're going to start missing our main objective and that's to play each game one at a time."

After Hamilton, the Esks face Montreal at home, Saskatchewan on the road and close out the season at Commonwealth versus Winnipeg.

Adding to the potential for disaster is the Green and Gold play their final three games in the span of 14 days.

Compared with B.C., Winnipeg and Saskatchewan, offensive lineman Kevin Lefsrud likes the Green and Gold's schedule the best.

PLAYING CARDS

"We have the cards in our hand," he opined. "Now, we just have to play them properly. We have Saskatchewan there and we've beat them. We don't have to worry about them. We've beat Winnipeg, we don't have to worry about them.

"We beat Hamilton and we're quite nicely in second place with a home (playoff) date and that's exactly what we want. I like where we are. I don't want to have another team have our destiny in their hands. I want it in our own hands."

LATE HITS: DB Darrel Crutchfield (knee) and LB Sheldon Benoit (knee) sat out yesterday's practice. Backup QB Bart Hendricks (flu) was told to stay home yesterday and centre Tim Prinsen (knee) had an appointment with team doctors and missed practice. Lefsrud and Glen Carson filled in at centre. Prinsen is likely doubtful for the Hamilton game, meaning there'll be some juggling of the O-line ... WR Ed Hervey (knee) did run a few routes but is a definite scratch ... WR Brock Ralph is coming off a bruised quad and practised yesterday, while receivers Scott Cloman and Trevor Gaylor got a little extra work after practice.


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