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How often do CFL division champs win the Grey Cup?

After looking at standings data for the last few weeks, I came up with yet another standings-based question: What position in the standings is the most likely to win the Grey Cup?

For this work, I went through every Grey Cup since 1954 (the same starting point I’ve been using from the beginning), and added a tally for both the winner and the loser of the game. As usual, my initial question led me down a path I wasn’t expecting to go on. Also, as usual, 1995 messes with the West-East dynamic of the league. Since it was a Baltimore-Calgary Grey Cup, I made the executive decision to count Baltimore as an Eastern team and Calgary as a Western team for that season, even though the divisions didn’t exist like that in 1995.

First, let’s go over the basics. Since 1954, the West has a 35-27 lead over the East in the Grey Cup. Also, every place in the standings in both the West and East from first place to third place has won at least one Grey Cup. No team placing 4th or lower has ever been to a Grey Cup, including those teams that have made the playoffs as a crossover team.

Let’s first look at the West.

First-place teams in the West have gone to 37 Grey Cups, and have gone 25-12 in those games, a 67.57% win percentage. First-place teams in the West go to the Grey Cup 59.68% of the time.

Second-place teams have gone to 17 Grey Cups, but have only won 6, a 35.29% win percentage. Second place teams have gone to the Grey Cup 27.42% of the time.

Third-place teams have gone to eight Grey Cups, and have won four, an even 50% winning percentage. They have gone to the Grey Cup 12.9% of the time from this position in the standings.

Now, for the East.

First place in the East is a very likely Grey Cup visitor, advancing to 46 of 62 Grey Cups covered in this study, a 74.19% percentage, but have only won 20 of them, a 43.48% winning percentage.

Second place in the East covers the vast majority of the times that the first-place team doesn’t go, going 15 times and winning six. They get to the Grey Cup 24.19% of the time and win it 9.68% of the time.

Fans of the team in third place in the East shouldn’t make their Grey Cup reservations based on expecting to see their team in the game: It has only happened once since 1954, for a 1.61% chance – but this sole Grey Cup appearance was a win, with Montreal defeating Calgary, another third-place team, in 1970.

Of course, now I’m curious about the numbers when considering each place in the standings, regardless of division.

First-place teams have gone to the Grey Cup 83 times out of the 124 potential slots available (62 Grey Cups x 2 teams in each game). At a rate of 66.94%, this makes just over a 2-of-3 success rate. Division champions have won 45 of 62 Grey Cups for an even higher percentage of 72.58%. This tells me that just over once every four years can you expect a team which finished lower than first to hoist the Grey Cup. When they make the game, they tend to win, winning 45 of 83 visits for a 54.22% win rate.

Second-place teams have made 32 visits out of the 124 possible times, a 25.80% rate, and have won 12 of the 62 Grey Cups, a 19.35% rate. When they get there, they don’t fare well, having won only 12 of 32, or 37.5% of the time they make the game.

Third-place teams don’t get to the game often, as would be expected. They have visited only nine times out of a possible 124 (including the aforementioned Montreal-Calgary final of 1970 featuring two third-place teams), only a 7.26% rate. They have won five times out of 62 total Grey Cup games, a percentage of 8.06%. When they get to the game, though, they’re dangerous, having won 5 of 9, or 55.55% of the time.

Just a little something more to keep in mind when making your predictions for the upcoming season…

– written by Joe Pritchard