After 13 rounds for the 2021 AFL season, just which of the top eight teams are most likely to finish top four and get the double chance in the finals?
It’s as hard as ever to pick this season given five sides, from third to seventh, are within one game of each other.
Finishing in the top four is an obvious advantage. Since 1990 only two teams have won the grand final after finishing the season outside the top four: Western Bulldogs (2016) from seventh and Adelaide (1998) from fifth.
Only two other teams have made the grand final from outside the top four: Greater Western Sydney (2019) from sixth and Carlton (1999) from sixth.
In the following table, I mark bold for probable wins by the current top eight teams against the teams outside the eight, although I will later discuss possible upsets.
|R13||1 (44)||2 (40)||3 (36)||4 (32)||5 (32)||6 (32)||7 (32)||8 (28)|
|R14||GEE (A)||WB (H)||NM (A)||GCS (A)|
|R15||ESS (A)||WCE (A)||BL (A)||GEE (H)||SYD (H)||PA (A)||WB (H)||STK (H)|
|R16||GWS (H)||NM (H)||ESS (H)||ADE (A)||HAW (A)||WCE (H)||SYD (A)||GCS (A)|
|R17||PA (A)||SYD (H)||CAR (A)||STK (H)||MEL (H)||WB (A)||NM (H)||COL (H)|
|R18||HAW (H)||GCS (A)||FRE (A)||RCH (A)||STK (A)||GWS (A)||ADE (A)||BL (H)|
|R19||GCS (A)||ADE (H)||RCH (H)*||HAW (A)||COL (H)||FRE (H)||STK (H)||GEE (A)*|
|R20||WB (H)||MEL (A)||NM (A)||GCS (H)||GWS (A)||ESS (A)||COL (A)||FRE (A)|
|R21||WC (A)||ESS (H)||GWS (H)||FRE (A)||ADE (A)||STK (A)||MEL (H)||NM (H)|
|R22||ADE (H)||HAW (A)||STK (H)||COL (H)||CAR (H)||NM (A)||FRE (A)||GWS (A)|
|R23||GEE (A)||PA (H)||MEL (H)||WCE (H)||WB (A)||GCS (H)||BL (A)||HAW (H)|
*Round 19 match Geelong versus Richmond at MCG.
However, even when taking account of the harder matches between top-eight teams, I cannot see Melbourne not making the top four given it has a two-game advantage over the third and fourth-placed teams, even allowing for Brisbane and Port being favoured to beat North and Gold Coast this weekend.
But for Melbourne to hold on to a top-two position and hence a double chance with two home games, will depend very much on it winning a few of the four games against top-eight teams: Port Adelaide (A), Western Bulldogs (H), West Coast (A) and Geelong (A).
However, while the top-two finishers have won 19 of the last 30 flags with positions three and four winning nine, during the last ten years the top two teams have won four premierships with positions three and four winning five premierships.
In fact a top-two finish in the home-and-away season has won only one of the past six premierships.
I expect Melbourne to win at least two of these matches given its undefeated record against top-eight sides thus far.
Hence, allowing for the potential of three more losses, I predict Melbourne to have at least 68 points by the end of the season given it should win four of the five matches marked in bold against the bottom ten teams despite losing to Adelaide and Collingwood in the last four weeks.
If Melbourne does better than that, then it should finish in the top two.
The Western Bulldogs have five matches against top-eight sides: Geelong (A), West Coast (A), Sydney (H), Melbourne (A) and Port Adelaide (H).
I predict the Bulldogs to win at least two of the five matches, notwithstanding the loss of Adam Treloar for many weeks, and therefore challenge for the minor premiership with 68 points at least.
The Western Bulldogs have won all matches against lower-ranked teams thus far with the exception of Richmond.
Geelong has four top-eight matches: Western Bulldogs (H), Brisbane (A), Richmond (MCG) and Melbourne (H).
I expect Geelong to lose at least two of these matches, possibly three, so I predict that Geelong will finish on 68 points at best.
But if Geelong can win one of its next two matches against Western Bulldogs (H) or Brisbane (A), it may well challenge for a top-two position with one of the most potent forward lines in the competition.
Brisbane has three top-eight matches: Geelong (H), Richmond (A) and West Coast (H).
With Brisbane a good chance to win two of the three, I can also see Brisbane finishing on 68 points.
Port Adelaide has three top-eight matches: Sydney (H), Melbourne (H) and Western Bulldogs (A).
I expect Port to lose to Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, so I believe the Power will manage 64 points at best, assuming it wins the matches against the bottom-ten teams, which includes GWS away.
After all, Port Adelaide have a 1-4 record against top-eight teams so far, beating Richmond (H) narrowly and losing to West Coast (A), Western Bulldogs (H) and Geelong (H).
Sydney face three top-eight teams in their next three matches: Port Adelaide (A), West Coast (H) and Western Bulldogs (A).
While I expect Sydney to win one of these matches, their good run home against the bottom-ten teams leaves them with the potential to be at 60 points, assuming they win all of such matches.
However, Sydney have some tough away matches, including Essendon and St Kilda, which means they may struggle to get to 60 points.
West Coast has four matches against top-eight teams: Western Bulldogs (H), Sydney (A), Melbourne (H) and Brisbane (A).
I expect West Coast to win two of the four matches at best.
While the Eagles have the potential to finish on 60 points, I can see them losing a couple of the easier matches given they have away games against Adelaide and Collingwood.
I expect West Coast to finish eighth at worst given they are currently two games and percentage clear of ninth place, even if GWS was to win next week.
Finally, Richmond have the softest draw, with only two matches against top-eight teams: Brisbane (H) and Geelong at the MCG.
Richmond also now have a very good backup for the injured star forward Tom Lynch via Callum Coleman-Jones.
But even if Richmond were to win both matches against Brisbane and Geelong, a perfect record for their last nine matches will still leave them on only 64 points.
Given the above, I predict that the top four will be Western Bulldogs, Melbourne, Brisbane and Geelong, not necessarily in that order given that a few results may indeed change the fortunes of the top teams.
Outside the top four teams the best premiership chance is Richmond.
But we shall see.