What can be expected of each club in the 2019 season?
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For the past two years, the Adelaide Crows were the highest-scoring team in the competition, making them a scary prospect for even the AFL’s best defences.
In 2017, they bullied teams into submission, kicking more than 20 goals in a match six times and exposing fellow top-four rivals the GWS Giants, Richmond and the Geelong Cats as premiership pretenders, in that order, on their home turf at the Oval.
The 2,415 points they scored in the regular season was 247 points more than the second-best team, Port Adelaide, and their percentage of 136 was 6.3 points more than the Power.
Having finished as minor premiers with sixteen wins, five losses and a draw, the Crows went on to make the grand final on the back of dominant victories over the Giants and Cats in their qualifying and preliminary finals respectively.
Their form in those two matches made them the prohibitive favourites to take out its third premiership against a Richmond side they had thrashed by 76 points at the Oval in Round 6.
All appeared to go to plan when the Crows kicked four goals in the opening quarter, including the first of the match to Rory Sloane, to take an eleven-point lead into quarter-time.
But from there, all the hard work they had put in throughout the season, and their efforts in getting to the grand final, quickly turned to dust as they could only manage only four more majors for the rest of the match as Dustin Martin and co. ran amok, eventually leading the Tigers to a 48-point win.
What followed was a long summer of soul-searching at West Lakes, as the players and officials mulled over what exactly went wrong in the match that mattered the most.
During the pre-season, which came under scrutiny in recent weeks and ultimately led to the club parting way with Collective Minds, players were forced to listen to the Richmond club song on repeat.
2018 started moderately for the Crows as they won five of their first seven matches, with the losses being against Essendon and Collingwood in rounds one and four respectively.
But just when it seemed everything was starting to come together for the Crows, key players such as Taylor Walker, Brad Crouch and Rory Sloane started missing matches through injuries, to the point where they have fallen out of the eight with a 7-8 record with seven rounds still to play.
Half-forward Tom Lynch has also missed a couple of games through injury, and without him and Walker in the side the Crows’ attack has diminished to a point where they are now struggling to regularly kick large scores.
They have not kicked over 100 points in any match since their Round 7 win over Carlton, when they managed their highest score for the season, kicking 19.11 (125).
It was also the closest they’ve come to kicking 20 goals in one match since their Round 10 win over Fremantle last season – the last of six occasions on which they did it in 2017.
But while the margin in their loss to Richmond at the MCG last Friday night was one point less than what it was in the grand final some 40 weeks ago, the gulf between the two sides remain the same.
Now, the Crows find themselves in a dire situation, essentially having to win all of their remainders if they are to have a chance of qualifying for their fourth consecutive finals series.
Next Thursday night’s clash against the Geelong Cats looms as a mini-elimination final; after that, there are clashes against the Brisbane Lions, Melbourne, Port Adelaide, the GWS Giants, North Melbourne and Carlton to look forward to as the season starts to wind down.
They should start favourites in at least four of those matches, but they will also face a Port Adelaide side which is in good form, as well as a Giants side which will have Jeremy Cameron back from a five-match suspension incurred for his crude hit on the Brisbane Lions’ Harris Andrews in Round 14.
That clash against the Giants could also loom as a virtual elimination final for both clubs, with the Sydneysiders also facing a challenging draw during the period in which Cameron is sidelined.
It is thus possible that both the Crows and Giants could be outside the eight by the time they face off in Canberra in Round 21.
Thus, it will now remain to be seen whether the Crows, who many had pencilled in for premiership redemption this year after their embarrassing display on grand final Day last September, can salvage their season before it is too late.
Later this week, I will provide a run home for each of the 18 clubs, outlining their chances of finishing with the double chance, making the finals, or even battling to avoid the wooden spoon, which Carlton is destined to claim.