With seven rounds remaining, the race for finals positions is heating up.
In this two-part analysis, I will detail the run home, predict where your team will finish at the end of 23 rounds and the first week of the finals series.
Part 1 will detail the teams currently in the top eight, while Part 2 will look at what chance the rest have of reaching the finals, or avoiding the wooden spoon.
Currently first (12 wins, 3 losses, 140.6per cent)
Matches to play: St Kilda (GMHBA), Hawthorn (MCG), Sydney Swans (SCG), Fremantle (Optus), North Melbourne (GMHBA), Brisbane Lions (Gabba), Carlton (GMHBA)
Although they have lost two of their last three matches since the Round 13 bye, Geelong’s run home is a dream, seeing them face just one team currently in the eight, and three of seven matches at Kardinia Park.
The Cats’ loss to the Western Bulldogs saw their lead at the top of the ladder reduced to just one match, though given their next four opponents are teams that are unlikely to qualify for September, they can establish a comfortable buffer before they head to the Gabba in Round 22 to face the Lions.
The trip to Brisbane will be the last of three interstate trips Chris Scott’s side will have to make; they will also have to travel on either side of a six-day break when they face the Swans in Sydney, and Fremantle in Perth, in Rounds 19 and 20 respectively.
Apart from the match against the Lions, their showdown against North Melbourne at home in Round 21 looms as a tricky clash, given the Roos’ form has lifted since Rhyce Shaw took over as their caretaker coach.
In the end, the Cats should finish as minor premiers for the first time since 2008, though it remains to be seen whether their first final will be at the MCG or Kardinia Park.
Predicted finish: first
West Coast Eagles
Currently second (11 wins, 4 losses, 114.3per cent)
Matches to play: Collingwood (Optus), Melbourne (TIO Traeger Park), North Melbourne (Optus), Carlton (Marvel), Adelaide Crows (Optus), Richmond (MCG), Hawthorn (Optus)
After a shaky start to their premiership defence, the Eagles have won three consecutive matches since the Round 13 bye, including a 91-point annihilation of Fremantle in the 50th Western Derby.
With the Pies and Giants both losing over the weekend, the result saw Adam Simpson’s side jump up to second on the ladder, ahead of a mixed run to September, with matches against Collingwood, Adelaide and Richmond on the horizon.
The match against the Tigers looms as the trickiest, with the yellow and black playing their sixth (of seven) consecutive match at the home of football to finish their season.
That is one of two matches the Eagles will get in Melbourne in the run home, the other being against Carlton at Marvel Stadium in Round 20. They finish off with home matches against the Adelaide Crows and Hawthorn on either side of the said match against Richmond.
If the Eagles can keep up their good vein of form in the final seven weeks, then another home qualifying final looms.
Predicted finish: second
Currently third (10 wins, 5 losses, 118.3per cent)
Matches to play: West Coast Eagles (Optus), GWS Giants (Giants), Richmond (MCG), Gold Coast Suns (MCG), Melbourne (MCG), Adelaide Crows (Oval), Essendon (MCG)
Having lost their last two matches, this Friday night the Pies head west as underdogs to face the Eagles, then to Sydney to face the Greater Western Sydney Giants.
The Pies only have to travel once more after that, when they play the Adelaide Crows at the Oval, with their remaining matches at the MCG, including blockbusters against Richmond (Round 19) and Essendon (Round 23).
Given their recent poor form, I can’t see them finishing any higher than seventh.
Predicted finish: seventh
Currently fourth (10 wins, 5 losses, 111.5per cent)
Matches to play: Port Adelaide (Oval), North Melbourne (Gabba), Hawthorn (UTAS), Western Bulldogs (Gabba), Gold Coast Suns (Gabba), Geelong Cats (Gabba), Richmond (MCG)
One of the most improved teams this season, the Lions are only a win or two away from finally ending their decade-long finals drought.
Brisbane scored their third straight win since the bye last Sunday, when they led from start to finish to defeat GWS in Sydney, breaking a six-match losing streak against the Giants and a seven-match losing streak in the Harbour City.
They’ll be on the road for a second consecutive week on Sunday when they face the hot-and-cold Port Adelaide at the Oval, where the Lions have yet to taste success – their last trip to the City of Churches ended in a heartbreaking, five-point defeat to the Power.
They’ll enjoy home matches against North, the Western Bulldogs and Gold Coast – teams unlikely to feature in September – while they can also look forward to a blockbuster home-game against Geelong in the penultimate round.
All that then leads to a difficult final round showdown against Richmond – whom they haven’t beaten anywhere in over a decade – at the MCG.
On form alone, the Lions should win their next six matches, and will give themselves every chance of beating the Tigers in the final round with the double chance possibly at stake.
Predicted finish: third
Currently fifth (9 wins, 6 losses, 125.4per cent)
Matches to play: Richmond (MCG), Collingwood (Giants), Port Adelaide (Oval), Sydney Swans (Giants), Hawthorn (UNSW), Western Bulldogs (Giants), Gold Coast Suns (Metricon)
Last week’s loss to Brisbane could prove costly for GWS in the run home, as it dropped them to fifth on the ladder.
A tough run to September now starts on Sunday, when the Giants face Richmond at the MCG for the first time since the 2017 preliminary final, which brought about their equal-worst defeat in a finals match. GWS will have surely seen the Tigers demolish the Suns at Metricon Stadium last Saturday – and they’ll be hoping that they don’t fall prey to a side that seems to be gathering momentum.
That is then followed by a home clash against an out-of-form Collingwood side, Port Adelaide at the Oval in Round 19, then home games against the Swans, Hawthorn (Canberra) and the Western Bulldogs.
A final round trip to the Gold Coast to face the Suns ends all that before the Giants gear up for a fourth consecutive finals series.
Despite their recent poor form (4-4 since Round 7), the Giants can pick themselves up again and claim a double chance.
Predicted finish: fourth
Currently sixth (9 wins, 6 losses, 103.0per cent)
Matches to play: GWS Giants (MCG), Port Adelaide (MCG), Collingwood (MCG), Melbourne (MCG), Carlton (MCG), West Coast Eagles (MCG), Brisbane Lions (MCG)
After demolishing the Suns on the holiday strip last week, Richmond will not have to leave the MCG for the rest of the season.
Their seven-match streak at the home of football starts with a clash against GWS, one of four MCG clashes they will enjoy against interstate clubs – the others being against Port Adelaide, West Coast and Brisbane.
While Richomnd will just about start favourites in every match from here on in, I can’t see them beating the Eagles at the MCG, which could ultimately cost them a double chance.
Predicted finish: fifth
Port Adelaide Power
Currently seventh (8 wins, 7 losses, 110.3per cent)
Matches to play: Brisbane Lions (Oval), Richmond (MCG), GWS Giants (Oval), Essendon (Marvel), Sydney Swans (Oval), North Melbourne (Marvel), Fremantle (Oval)
Port Adelaide’s finals credentials will be put to the test in the next four weeks, when they face sides that are also jockeying for places in the top eight.
The Power produced easily their best performance of the season on Saturday, coming from behind early in the third quarter to thrash the Crows by 57 points at home to register – just their second win against the men from West Lakes since 2015.
However, they now face a tough run home, starting with a home game against the much-improved Lions in what will be their fourth consecutive match at the Oval, before they travel to face Richmond at the MCG.
They also tackle Essendon and North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium on either side of their first home game against the Sydney Swans since 2015, then finish off against Fremantle at the Oval.
Depending on how other results go, they could be playing for a berth in September, but I have them finishing short for a second straight year.
Predicted finish: ninth
Currently eighth (8 wins, 7 losses, 105.0per cent)
Matches to play: Gold Coast Suns (Metricon), Essendon (Oval), Carlton (MCG), St Kilda (Oval), West Coast Eagles (Optus), Collingwood (Oval), Western Bulldogs (Mars)
Coach Don Pyke will be wondering what’s gone wrong with his side in recent weeks, with the Crows having dropped their last two matches to the Geelong Cats and Port Adelaide, with their finals hopes now on knife’s edge.
The loss to the Power was particularly deflating; despite kicking the first goal of the second half, they conceded the final nine goals of the game to crash to their heaviest Showdown loss since Round 2, 2014.
They’ll be expected to bounce back when they face the last-placed Suns on the Gold Coast this week, as they stand as the only side that has yet to lose to the ninth-year club since they entered the AFL in 2011.
They have blockbuster home matches against Essendon and Collingwood to look forward to as well, while they will also get a run on the MCG when they face Carlton in Round 19.
On the basis of their good run home, I can see the Crows bouncing back and earning themselves a home elimination final.
Predicted finish: sixth
My predicted qualifying finals
Geelong Cats vs GWS Giants at GMHBA Stadium
West Coast Eagles vs Brisbane Lions at Optus Stadium
My predicted elimination finals
Richmond vs Essendon at MCG
Adelaide Crows vs Collingwood at Adelaide Oval