MONTREAL - If the Montreal Alouettes really are better than their 8-10 regular season record, now is the time to show it.
The team that finished third in the CFL East Division will get that chance Sunday when they face the second-place Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East semifinal in Guelph, Ont.
"You're only as good as your record shows, but in our locker-room, we feel we are better than our record," linebacker Chip Cox said Thursday. "We know we still have to get better at some things and that we have to work to win games.
"They're not going to just happen for us. But we feel we're just as good as anybody."
Voters for the CFL awards seem to agree. They elected nine Alouettes, more than any team in the division, to the East all-star squad.
Coach and general manager Jim Popp has said repeatedly his team had talent that could easily have finished 12-6 if not for some discipline problems early in the season and lots of turnovers and mistakes.
There was also the carousel at quarterback after Anthony Calvillo was injured in August that saw Josh Neiswander, Tanner Marsh and, finally, Troy Smith take turns as the starting pivot. Between the four of them, they threw a league-high 28 interceptions.
And there was the upheaval of starting the season with coach Dan Hawkins, only to see him fired after five games while Popp took over at the bench.
The Alouettes hope the final third of the season, in which they went 4-2, gives them momentum going into the playoffs. Winning in the post-season would erase a load of bad memories from the regular season.
"You go 3-0 in the playoffs and no one remembers how we started, right?" said Cox. "That's the goal now.
"We go 3-0 and everybody forgets about this, that and the other thing. They'll say the Alouettes are the best team in the CFL. Again."
It will be the third time in the last four games that Montreal and Hamilton have met.
The Alouettes dominated 36-5 at home on Oct. 20 and were up 16-0 six days later in Guelph when turnovers and a spirited Hamilton comeback gave the Ticats a 27-24 win.
Montreal ended the season with a 23-20 win in Toronto last Friday, but the Argonauts had benched many of their key players. The first-place Argos have a bye to the East final.
Since winning consecutive Grey Cups in 2009 and 2010, Montreal has not won a playoff game. They lost an East semifinal to Hamilton at home in 2011 and lost the division final at home to Toronto last year.
Their last East semifinal away from home was a 24-22 loss in Winnipeg in 2007 during Popp's last stint as coach.
"Nine all-stars is great but we've got to win," said defensive back Jerald Brown. "We're focused on winning.
"The only way we can prove people right is by winning. No matter what people say, if we're better than what our record is, then we should show that this week. That's what will settle that score."
It's not even a real home game for Hamilton, who are playing in Guelph this season while work is done on their home ground.
"I don't care where we play," added Brown. "We're going to have to play in Saskatchewan (in the Grey Cup game) and that's going to be tough.
"There are no excuses. We were at home the last two years and lost."
The Alouettes defence led the CFL in several statistical categories, including fewest yards per game, fewest rushing yards and fewest first downs allowed. So it's no surprise that six of their nine all-stars are on defence.
They include Cox, Brown, defensive back Billy Parker, cornerback Geoff Tisdale, safety Mike Edem and defensive end John Bowman, to go with guard Josh Bourke, receiver S.J. Green and kicker Sean Whyte.
Cox is also the East nominee for outstanding defensive player after setting a team record of 115 tackles and leading the squad in sacks with 12.
"He deserves it and I hope he wins it," said Brown. "He was supposed to get it in 2010, but he's valuable for our defence.
"If you look at his stats — tackles, interceptions, sacks — he makes a lot of plays."
The defence could be missing a key linebacker as Kyries Hebert missed practice for a second day with a suspected knee injury. Popp is hoping he will be able to practise on Friday to see if he is fit to play. Hebert had 68 tackles and nine sacks.
Cornerback Byron Parker is highly doubtful to play with a groin injury, while receiver Eric Deslauriers is out with a cracked rib.