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The Roar



The AFL finals equation: Every contender's best and worst case scenarios

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15th September, 2020
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The final round of the 2020 AFL season has arrived and the permutations for the make-up of the top eight are many once all is said and done by Monday night’s full-time siren.

Today I’m taking a look at every team still in the race for finals – what’s the best thing that could possibly happen to them, and what’s the worst.

Plus I’ll give my tip for ladder positions and first finals match-ups.

1. Port Adelaide Power

13 wins, three losses, 136.4 per cent
vs Collingwood Magpies, Gabba, Monday 7:15pm

The best thing that could happen for Port Adelaide is for Brisbane to lose their Saturday night match with Carlton, which would allow the Power to go into Monday night with the knowledge that the minor premiership is secure.

What seems more likely though is that the Lions will get the win and put the pressure on Port to win or give up top spot on the ladder – which they’ve held at the end of every round so far this season, and it would be a shame to let it slip.

Either way though, Port are guaranteed a top-two finish, which means they’ll be hosting a home qualifiyng final at Adelaide Oval, most likely against Richmond or Geelong. Given how they’ve gone against those teams so far this year, there’s an argument to make that slipping to second and therefore likely playing the Tigers wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Predicted finish: first, with a qualifying final at Adelaide Oval vs Geelong.

Robbie Gray of Port Adelaide celebrates a goal

Robbie Gray (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

2. Brisbane Lions

13 wins, three losses, 124.7 per cent
vs Carlton Blues, Gabba, Saturday 7:40pm

The Lions are in a simillar position to Port – top two is locked in, and it comes down to this round whether they finish on the top of the ladder or not. However, because of their inferior percentage, they will need the Power to lose if they’re to finish on top and they won’t know if the opportunity is there until after their match finishes.

Either way a home qualifying final at the Gabba is locked in, so it’s really only the pride of finishing on top of the ladder that’s on the line. And Brisbane wouldn’t mind that – the merged club has never once won the minor premiership, as is true for the Brisbane Bears, while Fitzroy most recently achieved the feat in 1913, so the achievement would be historic.

Predicted finish: second, with a qualifying final at the Gabba vs Richmond.

3. Richmond Tigers

11 wins, four losses, one draw, 125.8 per cent
vs Adelaide Crows, Adelaide Oval, Saturday 5:10pm


The Tigers are in a must-win situation – if they drop this week’s game, there’s a good chance they’ll fall out of the top four and lose the benefit of the double-chance, but so long as they win, they’ll lock up third.

Luckily they have a relatively easy assignment in 18th-placed Crows. They’ve shown some improved form in the last fortnight, but realistically, it should prove a simple task for the Tigers – especially with so much incentive to motivate them.

Predicted finish: third, with a qualifying final at the Gabba vs Brisbane.

4. Geelong Cats

11 wins, five losses, 138.9 per cent
vs Sydney Swans, Metricon Stadium, Sunday 3:35pm

Geelong, like Richmond, need the win to keep their spot in the top four. If they don’t, they risk being overtaken by West Coast – who have the first game of the week on Thursday night, and assuming they win that, will have leapfrogged both of the feline flag-fancies by the time their fixtures arrive.

The Cats’ best scenario would be that Richmond lose their match against Adelaide, allowing them to move up into third spot with a win over Sydney. At the other end of the scale, if they lose to the Swans, they’ll most likely slide into fifth and lose the double chance.

Predicted finish: fourth, with a qualifying final at Adelaide Oval vs Port Adelaide.

Sam Menegola of the Cats celebrates kicking a goal

Sam Menegola (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

5. West Coast Eagles

11 wins, five losses, 116 per cent
vs North Melbourne, Metricon Stadium, Thursday 7:10pm

West Coast’s narrow loss to the Western Bulldogs could prove costly, with the Eagles now relying on other results if they are to squeeze into the top four at the last moment. They can and should put the pressue on Richmond and Geelong with a win over North on Thursday night, but from there it’s up to Sydney or Adelaide to spoil those teams and provide the Eagles with a miracle.

The good news for West Coast is that regardless of other results they can’t possibly fall lower than fifth. And, given that they won’t be able to host a final in Western Australia unless it’s in the first week, finishing fifth and having a home elimination final would still be a pretty exciting outcome for them and especially for their fans.

Predicted finish: fifth, with an elmination final at Perth Stadium vs Collingwood.

6. Collingwood Magpies

Nine wins, six losses, one draw, 112.2 per cent
vs Port Adelaide Power, Gabba, Monday 7:15pm


The Magpies have their finals position locked up after a crucial win over Gold Coast on Monday night and it leaves them with surprisingly little to play for when they go up against Port Adelaide.

A win there would guarantee that they finish sixth and have ‘home’ advantage, but given the unusual circumstances of the season, that will only mean hosting a fellow Victorian team at the Gabba or Metricon Stadium, which isn’t really much of a prize to lust after.

That said, if they lose then there’s a possibility they slip to eighth, which might see them needing to travel to Perth if St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs win their games on Friday and Sunday respectively. The Pies, playing on Monday, will know for certain what the stakes are before they take the field.

Predicted finish: eighth, with an elimination final at Perth Stadium vs West Coast.

Taylor Adams of the Magpies is congratulated by teammates

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

7. St Kilda Saints

Nine wins, seven losses, 111.4 per cent
vs GWS Giants, Gabba, Friday 7:50pm

The Saints stand a chance of playing in the finals regardless of how their match against Greater Western Sydney goes, but a win would not only make their first post-season appearance in nine years a certainty, it would also give them some valuable belief going in.


If they get that win then they will likely finish either sixth (should Collingwood lose to Port Adelaide) or seventh (assuming the Bulldogs don’t thrash Fremantle by an amount so significant as to make up the ridiculous percentage gap).

If they lose then it will mean GWS have won, and both the Giants and Melbourne will be level with them on points if they win this week. In that case, it’s the margins of those games and how much they affect each teams’ percentage that decides who will rise above who.

The Giants would need to win by nine or ten goals to overtake them on percentage, which is unlikely, but if the Demons put Essendon to the sword and the Saints lose by a couple of goals then they could easily fall behind. In that scenario, it would come down to whether or not the Bulldogs get up against Freo – if they do, the Saints would be pushed out of the top eight, but if not don’t, they’d be safe.

Overall, the balance of probability is in their favour – but they could make life a lot less stressful simply by getting the win.

Predicted finish: sixth, with an elimination final at the Gabba vs Western Bulldogs.

8. Western Bulldogs

Nine wins, seven losses, 103.9 per cent
vs Fremantle Dockers, Cazaly’s Stadium, Sunday 6:10pm

The Dogs are in a pretty straightforward win-or-die scenario. If they defeat Fremantle on Sunday night then they can lock finals in regardless of other results, but if they go down to the Dockers, they’ll most likely miss out.

If the Dogs lose then Melbourne would be certain to overtake them should they beat Essendon, while GWS would probably also overtake them with a win so long as the collective margin across both games is at least three or four goals.

Given theirs is the penultimate match, they’ll know the stakes going in. It seems likely it will finals or bust and in-form Dockers in difficult Cairns conditions could prove to be a surprisingly tough test.

Even if by some stroke of luck their finals chances aren’t on the line, winning would likely mean avoiding eighth and the road trip to Western Australia – although Dogs fans remember elimination finals played on the road against West Coast well, I suspect.

Predicted finish: seventh, with an elimination final at the Gabba vs St Kilda.

9. Melbourne Demons

Eight wins, eight losses, 106.2 per cent
vs Essendon Bombers, Metricon Stadium, Saturday 2:10pm

Melbourne’s slip-ups against Sydney and Fremantle have cost them the chance to decide their own destiny, and now they’re relying on other teams to give them a window of opportunity. If St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs both win, then the Dees can break as many scoring records as they like against the Bombers on Saturday and it won’t save them from finishing ninth.

They won’t know going into that game if the Dogs are giving them a chance, but they will know how the Saints have gone, and if that result falls in their favour they just might have a real spark of hope.

Helping them out is the fact they’ve got a decent percentage and a struggling opponent. Unless the Saints lose by a big margin then they’ll need something of a percentage boost to overtake them, but Essendon seem like a side who could easily give that up.

If they’d got just one of those easy wins in the past fortnight, they’d be certainities. As it is, they’re going to need to spend the week working over their Saint and Bulldog-shaped voodoo dolls as thoroughly as possible.

Predicted finish: ninth and missing out on finals.

10. GWS Giants

8 wins, eight losses, 100.6 per cent
vs St Kilda Saints, Gabba, Friday 7:50pm

GWS are in a simillar position to Melbourne, but without the launching pad of a good percentage. However, they have an advantage the Demons don’t – they can create an opportunity to move past a rival for themselves if they beat St Kilda on Friday night.

Lose that game and finals are completely off the table. But win and it’s going to be a matter of percentage and other results.

For example, should they win and have both the Bulldogs and Melbourne also lose their matches this week, they’ll slide into seventh or eighth. If the Dogs win, there’s no way the Giants can catch them, so they’d need to beat the Saints by enough to go ahead of them on percentage (likely need a win by nine or ten goals) and they’d still probably need the Dees to lose.

Should Melbourne win but the Bulldogs lose, the Giants again need to get that big percentage-boosting win if they’re to overtake both St Kilda and the Dogs to sneak into finals. If both the Bulldogs and the Demons win, GWS would need to hope that Melbourne only win by a couple of points, while they get a margin of at least 12 goals.

Since they play on Friday night, the Giants will know ahead of time who they’re barracking for or against. Lose and it doesn’t matter, win and they’ll be cheering on Essendon or Freo to help them out.

The odds aren’t great, but stranger things have happened.

Predicted finish: tenth and missing out on finals.