AFL Finals Countdown: Dream scenarios and worst nightmares

With nine games of the home-and-away season to go, the 2022 finals series is far from set in stone just yet.

Six teams remain in contention for precious top-four finishes, ensuring the double chance; while at the other end of the eight, Carlton and the Western Bulldogs will jostle for the final spot in September all the way to Sunday.

From dream scenarios, biggest nightmares and everything in between, here is what each team needs to do in Round 23 to get where they want:

1. Geelong

17 wins, 4 losses, 139.7%

Plays: West Coast @ GMHBA Stadium, Saturday 4:35pm

If they win: 1st

If they lose: 1st

The Cats wrapped up the minor premiership in style with a 60-point win over Gold Coast in Round 22. Safe atop the ladder, two games and percentage clear of Sydney, it’s all about the ‘home’ qualifying final at the MCG now.

However, the Cats would certainly be keen to keep their winning streak going – heading into September off the back of a shock loss to the Eagles wouldn’t exactly make for ideal preparation. And the controversial pre-finals bye will likely stop them from resting too many key players, which would see them play just one match in a month should the Cats win their qualifying final.

Ultimately, though, Chris Scott’s men have earned the right to sit back, relax, and have a light training run at the Cattery on Saturday.

prediction: 1st

Tyson Stengle celebrates a goal.

(Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

2. Sydney

15 wins, 6 losses, 128.3%

Plays: St Kilda @ Marvel Stadium, 4:40pm

If they win: 2nd, provided they maintain a percentage advantage over the winner of Melbourne (127.7%) and Brisbane (124.1)

If they lose: 3rd if Collingwood and Fremantle both lose; 4th if one of them loses; 5th if both win, 6th if both win and their percentage takes a hammering

The Swans have a pair of crucial advantages over the three other teams – Melbourne, Brisbane and Collingwood – stuck in the logjam on 60 points between second and fifth.

The first is their percentage gap, which thanks to their win over Collingwood, grew enough to shoot past Melbourne to second on the ladder. It means the Swans officially have their destiny in their own hands.

The second is playing St Kilda in the very last match of the season, meaning they will know exactly how much they need to win by in order to keep ahead of the winner of the Dees and Brisbane on Friday night. (That’s assuming Collingwood don’t beat Carlton by a trillion points to make up their near-24 per cent gap).

That being said, the Swans are guaranteed to fall to at least third if the Saints spring a late upset, and could even miss the top four if Collingwood and Fremantle defeat Carlton and GWS respectively. Get thumped by the Saints, and the loser of Melbourne and Brisbane could even sneak ahead of them on percentage if their defeat at the Gabba is only narrow.

The Swans, though, are good enough that even maintaining their excellent percentage shouldn’t be a problem – and much like how the Lions snuck into the top four last year, they will know exactly how much they need to win by well in advance.

prediction: 2nd

3. Melbourne

15 wins, 6 losses, 127.7%

Plays: Brisbane @ the Gabba, Friday 7:50pm

If they win: 2nd if Sydney lose or lose their percentage differential, 3rd if not

If they lose: 3rd if Sydney lose AND lose their percentage differential AND Collingwood and Fremantle both lose, 4th if two of those things happens, 5th if one of those things happen, 6th if Sydney, Collingwood and Fremantle all win

The good news for the Demons is that their last-gasp win over Carlton has left fate in their own hands for a top-four spot and precious double chance.

The bad news is that a five-point win saw them leapfrogged by Sydney into second, and facing an almighty challenge against Brisbane this week just to cling to third.

Lose, and the Dees will have to fight for back-to-back flags the hard way: with the Magpies and Dockers both favored to beat Carlton and GWS respectively, losing to Brisbane would see Simon Goodwin’s team finish as low as sixth, and face the final elimination crunch against Richmond.

At best, they might be able to cling to fifth, but one thing is for sure: Friday night is Melbourne’s most important match since last year’s grand final.

Prediction: 3rd

4. Brisbane

15 wins, 6 losses, 124.1%

Plays: Melbourne @ the Gabba, Friday 7:50pm

If they win: 2nd if Sydney lose or lose their percentage differential, 3rd if not

If they lose: 3rd if Sydney lose AND lose their percentage differential AND Collingwood and Fremantle both lose, 4th if two of those things happens, 5th if one of those things happen, 6th if Sydney, Collingwood and Fremantle all win

The Lions’ situation is virtually identical to Melbourne’s heading into their blockbuster clash at the Gabba. The only difference is that Melbourne’s 3.6 percentage superiority gives them a slightly better chance of usurping Sydney should they only narrowly beat St Kilda on Sunday.

But the Lions can’t be worried about that. Take care of the Dees at home, and home qualifying final or not, they’ll be placed well enough for a serious crack at their first grand final since 2004. Lose, though, and it’s an elimination final, with the menacing Richmond looming ominously as an opponent. Gabba or not, that’s far from ideal.

Three teams have made grand finals from outside the top four under the current finals system – all, as it happens, since the pre-finals bye was introduced in 2016 – but only one went on to win it all, with the other two (GWS in 2019 and the Western Bulldogs last year) losing by 89 and 74 points.

It’s simple: win on Friday, or it’s season over.

Prediction: 5th

5. Collingwood

15 wins, 6 losses, 104.4%

Plays: Carlton @ the MCG, Sunday 3:20pm

If they win: 3rd if Sydney lose, 4th if Sydney win

If they lose: 5th if Fremantle lose, 6th if Fremantle win

The Pies’ percentage is basically one fewer win at this point, which makes my job a lot easier. So thanks, narrow wins!

The Magpies head to the MCG on Sunday knowing already half the stakes at play: they are guaranteed top four ahead of the loser of Melbourne and Brisbane on Friday (they could finish second if they draw, but let’s not get into that), and will know if the Dockers have got enough done to force them to win or finish sixth.

They will also know if Richmond have, as expected, got the job done against Essendon to lock in seventh, or whether losing to Carlton will see the Pies face the Blues again in week one of the final. Either would make the city of Melbourne just about unbearable for the next week and a half.

The Pies have more to gain with a win than any other side in the eight, and just as much to lose. Beat the Blues, and a shock top-four finish, a precious double chance, and a likely shot at Geelong at the ‘G, is their reward. Lose, and she gets ugly.

Over to you, Craig McRae.

Prediction: 6th

6. Fremantle

14 wins, 1 draw, 6 losses, 116.4%

Plays: GWS @ Manuka Oval, Saturday 1:45pm

If they win: 3rd if Sydney AND Collingwood lose, 4th if Sydney OR Collingwood lose, 5th if both win

If they lose: 6th

It seemed at the time that Richmond were the big losers out of their Round 20 draw with Fremantle; now, it’s seemingly like it’s the Dockers who have cost themselves more.

Freo could have been in the Pies’ position right now, and guaranteed top four with a Round 23 win over the loser of Melbourne or Brisbane. Instead, they’ll need the Magpies or Sydney to lose as well as earn the double chance.

Nevertheless, the Dockers will still be out to beat the struggling GWS, and ask the question of the Magpies and Swans and retain their strong form leading into a first September since 2015.

From there, it’s up to the footy gods whether ‘Flagmantle’ will happen.

Prediction: 4th

7. Richmond

12 wins, 1 draw, 8 losses, 118.7%

Plays: Essendon @ the MCG, Saturday 7:25pm

If they win: 7th

If they lose: 7th if Carlton loses, 8th if Carlton wins

After their draw with Freo and incredible losses to Gold Coast and North Melbourne, the Tigers needed to win three of their last four to be locked into September. Tick, tick, and tick.

Finals secured, it’s now all about whether they face sixth or fifth in week one. A Bombers outfit on the verge of collapse seems like an ideal opponent to gear up for finals, ideally avoid any major injuries, and wait and see who they play.

With a Tigers win, whoever out of Melbourne and Brisbane loses will be very, very nervously watching Collingwood play on Sunday. Nobody in their right mind is going to want to play Richmond this September.

Prediction: 7th

Dustin Martin

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

8. Carlton

12 wins, 9 losses, 108.8%

Plays: Collingwood @ the MCG, Sunday 3:20pm

If they win: 7th if Richmond loses, 8th if Richmond wins

If they lose: 8th if the Western Bulldogs lose OR win but fail to make up percentage differential, 9th if not

The Blues had one foot in September when Charlie Curnow gave them an eight-point lead in the dying minutes against Melbourne.

Instead, long-suffering fans will have to wait until at least 3:30pm on Sunday to know whether their nine-year finals drought is at an end.

For starters, the Blues will be donning brown and gold early on Sunday, hoping Hawthorn can take down the Bulldogs and get them in without needing to lift a finger. (Woo-hoo! Default!)

If the Bulldogs win by more than about three goals, removing their current 0.9 percentage disadvantage, then it becomes simple for the Blues: beat the Pies and they’re in, lose and they’re gone.

But if the Dogs win in a tight game, then the Blues can still go down to the Magpies and squeak into the finals – but by gee, the lines will be painstakingly tight.

Ultimately, the Blues showed tremendous ticker and spirit to come so close to Melbourne in Round 22, and with one last chance to get the four points they needed, I’m backing them to get it done.

Prediction: 8th

9. Western Bulldogs

11 wins, 10 losses, 107.9%

Plays: Hawthorn @ University of Tasmania Stadium, Sunday 1:10pm

If they win: 8th if Carlton loses AND they overcome the percentage differential, 9th if not

If they lose: 9th if St Kilda loses, 10th if St Kilda wins

The Bulldogs were ghastly in scraping over the line against GWS in Round 22, and while it has still left them with a serious chance of finals action, they failed to remove percentage from the equation.

It won’t matter if either the Dogs lose to Hawthorn on Sunday in Launceston – sayonara finals if that happens – or if they win by more than about three goals – over to you then, Carlton. Anything in between there, and Dogs fans will be scrambling for the calculator as the Blues take on Collingwood.

The Dogs still need plenty to go right, and while both individual results remain odds-on to happen, having everything go their way might still prove too far. Their one-point loss to Adelaide in Round 6 now feels oh so crucial.

Prediction: 9th

10. St Kilda

11 wins, 10 losses, 100.1%

Plays: Sydney @ Marvel Stadium, Sunday 4:40pm

If they win: 8th if Carlton get mauled by Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs lose or a top-eight team is found guilty of a club-wide doping program, 9th if one of those things happen, 10th if neither of those things happen

If they lose: 10th

The Saints’ percentage gap to Carlton sits at 8.7, meaning to make finals, they’d need to see Collingwood beat the Blues by 70-odd points, then do the same to the Swans, AND see the Bulldogs either lose or win narrowly.

Yeah. It ain’t happening.

Prediction: 10th

Dejected Carlton players walk from the ground after losing to Melbourne.

Dejected Carlton players walk from the ground after losing to Melbourne. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

The Roar’s predicted top eight

  1. Geelong (18-4)
  2. Sydney (16-6)
  3. Melbourne (16-6)
  4. Fremantle (15-1-6)
  5. Brisbane (15-7)
  6. Collingwood (15-7)
  7. Richmond (13-1-8)
  8. Carlton (13-9)

The Roar’s Predicted Finals Week One

Geelong vs Fremantle

Sydney vs Melbourne

Brisbane vs Carlton

Collingwood vs Richmond

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