Darren Jolly of Collingwood celebrates a goal during the 2010 Toyota AFL Grand Final replay between the Collingwood Magpies and the St Kilda Saints at the MCG, Melbourne. Slattery Images

Darren Jolly of Collingwood celebrates a goal during the 2010 Toyota AFL Grand Final replay between the Collingwood Magpies and the St Kilda Saints at the MCG, Melbourne. Slattery Images

This coming 2011 AFL season has an uneven look about it in more ways than one. With at least one team not having a game most weeks, and more than half the competition to miss out on finals for the first time since 1993, there are elements of the unknown that make predictions a challenge.

The interesting question was asked by Mick Malthouse after Collingwood won the replayed grand final against St Kilda last year; if the ball had bounced into Stephen Milne’s path and he kicked a goal, would the Saints be favourites this year?

There has to be some truth in that, although only recently the favourites going into 2009 were Geelong, who had lost to Hawthorn the year before.

Despite this Collingwood are my favourites to go back-to-back for the first time since 1935-36 and be premiers in 2011, beating the success starved Western Bulldogs in the big dance.

Picking a wooden spoon winner with a new team in the competition should be straightforward, although poor form in the pre-season from the neighbour’s of the debutant Gold Coast Suns has many pundits suggesting that Brisbane Lions are set to claim the dreaded wooden spoon.

I disagree, however.

Brisbane should win more games than the Gold Coast this year. The spoon will be a tight battle, though, and unfortunately for the AFL the bottom four will all originate from outside of Victoria.

The Suns are still very young and will tire throughout a long season, but I think that Port Adelaide might challenge them for the spoon.

The Brownlow medalist will come from the premier’s, although it won’t be Dane Swan. Scott Pendlebury will beat Gary Ablett.

The makeup of the finals is tricky. Invariably a team or two will drop out as teams that have missed in recent years put it all together.

I have tipped Sydney, under a new coach (John Longmire), to be the ones to take time to adjust.

Normally one to ignore pre-season form, we must acknowledge Essendon, who did beat some good sides last year including two of the top four. They can’t be as bad as they were at times last season, and if James Hird does more than provide the inspiration of a club legend and manages to tighten the Bomber defence, then I can see them sneaking into the eight. It’s a big punt.

North Melbourne showed more than the Bombers last year and I have them delivering about the same as 2010, a ninth place finish, just missing out on eighth to Essendon.

We forgot how quickly the fall can be sometimes for top sides when they have run high for so long – think Brisbane, West Coast and Port Adelaide this past decade and even Hawthorn in 2009 after a premiership the year before.

Whilst I don’t see Geelong or St Kilda missing the finals, I don’t feel they are the sure things for the top four like many other pundits have them. Geelong will be worst hit and take seventh, with St Kilda dropping to fifth.

Geelong won’t have to travel far in their first final and I have them playing a side that has troubled them in recent years in week one of the finals. Carlton will earn a home final this year and are a big chance to get the finals win that Brett Ratten needs to ensure a contract for 2012.

That leaves Fremantle as the sole non-Victorian club in the finals of a national competition. Only five seasons ago we witnessed all the non-Victorian clubs in the finals.

Despite their poor preseason form, I think Freo can sneak into the four. If that happens then second spot and the potential of two home finals with one the preliminary is not out of the question.

However, the obvious scenario for the Dockers is a first up final against the Pies at the ‘G. The resurgence of Hawthorn that many are expecting is the unknown.

But, let’s face it, the Hawks have match-winners everywhere. A third place finish will scare a few, none more so than Collingwood.

Beating them to second, however, will be the Western Bulldogs. I have tipped them to make the grand final and to do this second spot seems the most likely launching pad.

The Magpies are favourites for the flag and whilst it’s easy to pick the favourites to finish on top, they showed last year with a first minor premiership since 1979, that they perform enough over the season to claim top spot after 22 games again.

The dangers for me are Adelaide and Sydney, who for no reason other than a change of coach and losses of older star veterans, have not come into consideration.

So, here is my ladder with the odds for a finals berth in brackets next to the team. Let me know your thoughts.

1. Collingwood [Top 8 – $1.05]
2. Western Bulldogs [$1.30]
3. Hawthorn [$1.25]
4. Fremantle [$1.65]
5. St Kilda [$1.22]
6. Carlton [$1.65]
7. Geelong [$1.33]
8. Essendon [$2.60]
9. North Melbourne [$3.25]
10. Adelaide [$1.80]
11. Sydney [$1.95]
12. Melbourne [$1.80]
13. West Coast [$5.25]
14. Richmond [$3.50]
15. Brisbane[$5.00]
16. Gold Coast [$7.50]
17. Port Adelaide [$5.50]

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