AFL Round 18 Preview

Treats from Oz

Not many people thought we'd be here, but here, in fact, we are.

The 18th and ultimate round of the 2020 AFL men's season is here, albeit during a week where we'd normally be preparing to watch the final four teams trying to contest for the two places at the Grand Final table at the MCG.  But alas, this is not a normal year, and that should go without saying.

Instead, nine games stand between us and knowing which eight teams will do battle on the road to the Gabba in Brisbane, to play under the lights on October 24th.  By the time the sun rises this Monday on the east coast of the US, the finals bracket will be set.

Of the eight playoff-bound clubs, the top four will receive a "double chance" in the first round.  That is, they can lose the first game but can still win the premiership by winning their next three.  The fifth-through-eighth placed teams will require four straight wins, with one loss along the way sending them packing.

Six teams have already punched their tickets.  The minor premiership -- the top seed in the finals -- will go to either Port Adelaide or Brisbane (52 points each).  Since joining the AFL in 1997, Port has finished tops three times, 2002, 2003, 2004.  Of those three years, the only won the premiership in '04.  Coincidentally enough, the Brisbane Lions won the premiership the other two years.  Since the Lions' creation in 1997 (thanks to a merger between the Brisbane Bears and Fitzroy Lions), they have never ended the season with the league's best record.  In fact, you have to for all the way back to Fitzroy's 1913 campaign for the last minor premiership in the club's heritage.

The Richmond Tigers (46 points), Geelong Cats (44), and West Coast Eagles (44), will end up occupying spots three through five.  One of these teams will miss out on the double chance, while the other two will open with Brisbane or Port Adelaide on the road.  Collingwood (34) can finish no better than sixth but no worse than eighth.

Of the four teams who are still in limbo, the St Kilda Saints and Western Bulldogs have their destiny in their own hands; win-and-in.  The ninth-placed Melbourne Demons and the tenth-placed GWS Giants must win their matches by big enough margins to be in contention.

Here, then, is a rundown of all of the games, and the implications of each on the finals series.

North Melbourne Kangaroos (3-13) v West Coast Eagles (11-5)
Thursday, Sep 17 @ 5:10am EDT on Fox Sports 2 and WatchAFL - Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast

Of the three teams fighting for the two remaining shots at the double chance, the Eagles are in the weakest position.  They're two points behind the Tigers and almost 23 percentage points arears of Geelong.  A loss almost assuredly locks them into 5th place and a home game against one of the four clubs fighting it out for eight.  To assure a spot in the top four, they would need to win and hope either Richmond or Geelong lose.  As for North, losers of seven straight, they will want to win this game in order to ensure that they aren't saddled with their first wooden spoon since 1972.

St Kilda Saints (9-7) v GWS Giants (8-8)
Friday, Sep 18 @ 5:50am EDT on Fox Sports 2 and WatchAFL - The Gabba, Brisbane

This is the only game in Round 18 where both teams' fates are still to be decided in terms of whether they will be playing footy in October or not.  For the Saints, it's simple.  Don't lose.  If they do, they would need to do so by a slight margin in order to ensure that the Giants and Demons don't catch them on percentage with victories.  One team surpassing them is fine, two of them would be lethal for their season.  GWS's position is more complicated.  Win, and get some help, either with losses by the Doggies and/or Demons, and then by percentage.  The would need to win by enough (somewhere above the 6-7 goal mark) to cover a Bulldogs loss and the Demons, should they win.  Either way, it's a lot of ifs-and-buts-and-candy-and-nuts in order for the big orange dudes to play finals football in 2020.

Essendon Bombers (6-9-1) v Melbourne Demons (8-8)
Saturday, Sep 19 @ 12:10am EDT on ESPN2 and WatchAFL - Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast

Though Melbourne are tied with GWS outside the eight, they are in a much better percentage position than the Giants.  They are ahead of the 'Doggies in that column, so a win and a loss by the Bulldogs would see them through, somehow, as they try for their first flag in 56 years.  The 'Dons season will come to a disappointing end no matter what happens, having slid from seventh to thirteenth in the middle of a string of nine games where they went 1-7-1.

Adelaide Crows (3-13) v Richmond Tigers (11-4-1)
Saturday, Sep 19 @ 3:10am EDT on WatchAFL - Adelaide Oval, Adelaide

Richmond are in the best position to make the top four of the three teams still battling for those two spots.  And even though they won't finish higher than third, they are in good form to possibly win their third flag in four years.  A win seals third for them no matter what, and the only way for them to miss out on the double chance is with a loss and wins by both West Coast and Geelong.  Two months ago, a fixture against last-placed Adelaide would be almost an assured "W", but the Crows come in winners of three in a row after dousing their 16-game losing streak, and with a win and North loss, could avoid their first-ever wooden spoon.

Brisbane Lions (13-3) v Carlton Blues (7-9)
Saturday, Sept 19 @ 5:40am EDT on ESPN3 and WatchAFL- The Gabba, Brisbane

What a season the Lions have had, huh?  Six wins on the trot now, and running in the shadows of first-place Port Adelaide.  A loss will consign them to second barring a Collingwood hiding of Port, but a win would put them in contention for their maiden minor premiership.  Either way, they're assured home-field advantage through their first two finals matches, and it's possible they will never have to leave the comfort of the Gabba for a possible premiership run.  Carlton's season will end with this match after being eliminated in Round 17, as they look to continue to make improving strides.

Hawthorn Hawks (4-12) v Gold Coast Suns (5-10-1)
Saturday, Sept 19 @ 11:05pm EDT on WatchAFL - Adelaide Oval, Adelaide

Oh what could have been for the Suns, had teenage sensation Matt Rowell not been injured in Round 4.  Instead, they'll wrap things up against Hawthorn, losers of seven straight, another team that will want a win to wash out the taste of a disheartening season and end the careers of Paul Puopolo and Ben Stratton on a good note.

Sydney Swans (5-11) v Geelong Cats (11-5)
Sunday, Sept 20 @ 1:35am EDT on Fox Sports 2 and WatchAFL - Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast

Geelong will have a chance to redeem themselves after not showing up against Richmond last week.  They are in a strong position to make the top four, given they have the best percentage of the three teams batting for the final two double chance places.  Irrespective of what the other teams do, a win will lock them in for at least fourth place.  Sydney's form over their last nine games have been WLLWLLWLL, so one would think a win is not out of the realm of possiblity on paper, but it will be tough against the determined Cats.

Fremantle Dockers (7-9) v Western Bulldogs (9-7) 
Sunday, Sept 20 @ 4:10am EDT on Fox Sport 1 and WatchAFL - Cazaly's Stadium, Cairns

Like the Saints, the Bulldogs' balls are in your court.  A win, and they're in, no muss or no fuss.  But they will have a good idea of what the consequences by the time the first bounce goes up in northern Queensland on Sunday.  Losses by both GWS and Melbourne will seal them into the eight, and a win and help could see them shoot up to as high as sixth.  In terms of percentage, they are behind Melbourne but ahead of GWS, so a Melbourne victory turns this game into a must win.  It would've been great to see the Dockers enter this game with their sliver-thin finals hopes from this past weekend still intact, but alas it is not to be for Freo.

Collingwood Magpies (9-6-1) v Port Adelaide Power (13-3)
Monday, Sept 21 @ 5:15am EDT on Fox Sports 2 and WatchAFL - The Gabba, Brisbane

Thanks to their Monday victory against Gold Coast, the Magpies' ticket to the big dance is punched.  Being in the last game of the season, they will know where they stand.  Irrespective of what happens elsewhere they will be assured sixth place and "host" an Elimination final in two weeks' time if they should defeat the powerful Power at the Gabba.  If they lose, and either the Dogs or Saints win, they finish seventh.  If they lose and boh teams win, it'll be eigth.  Port, meanwhile, will be looking for a victory to seal their fourth minor premiership, and become the first team to be go wire-to-wire since Essendon did it in 2000.  The Bombers won the premiership that year, and the Power will hope to replicate all of that.

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