There’s just eight teams left in the premiership race, and by Saturday night it will be season over for two more clubs.
It’s all on the line for Richmond, Brisbane, Fremantle and the Western Bulldogs in the two elimination matches.
While for Geelong, Melbourne, Sydney and Collingwood, they could book themselves a preliminary final berth with victory in week one.
Watch every match prior to the AFL grand final Live & Ad-Break Free In-Play on Kayo. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
Fox Footy’s Leigh Montagna and David King preview where the matches will be won and lost this weekend.
BRISBANE V RICHMOND
6th v 7th, Thursday night, Gabba
The Lions and Tigers will clash in an elimination final that pits the two top scoring teams of the competition against each other.
But Montagna warns the match won’t be the shootout many are predicting.
“The talk about this game being a shootout doesn’t stack up. In the last five finals series, only one game has had two teams kick 80 points or more,” he said.
Statistics show both Brisbane and Richmond are struggling defensively, with the Lions ranked 11th in opposition defensive 50 to inside 50 and the Tigers in 12th.
Opposition scores per entry sees Brisbane in 12th and Richmond 13th.
“Both those numbers are really poor for both those teams playing in finals,” Montagna lamented.
“We know these two teams can score on offence, but who is going to stand up defensively in a final?
“That’s where the game is going to be won and lost.
“It’s the team that can knuckle down defensively and stop a team scoring on turnover that will win the game.
“The only way I think Brisbane can really get a hold of Richmond is really dominate clearance.”
When the two teams last met, the Tigers managed to score at over 60 per cent when they went inside 50 in the second half.
King said the Lions were struggling to stop opposition scores – and it was an ongoing issue.
“Their whole back six are struggling. In their defensive 50 they are 18th in the competition over the last six weeks at winning a contest,” he said.
“Richmond right now will take control in their forward 50 against Brisbane’s D50 – absolutely no doubt.”
MELBOURNE V SYDNEY
2nd v 3rd, Friday night, MCG
The statistics show both Melbourne and Sydney are at the top of the competition in the midfield, with clearance and contest numbers off the charts for the past six weeks.
But offensively, King says is where the Demons have issues.
“Offensively they are broken. They haven’t got one area that’s rated in the top six (in attack),” he said.
“I think the way the Swans defend is going to make it very difficult for Melbourne to move the ball.”
King was full of praise for not just Sydney’s back six, but their entire defensive set up. Vision of their midfield setting up a defensive zone highlighted how switched on they were when it came to locking the ball in their front half.
“They are the honest Swans,” King said.
“It’s like getting blood from a stone or blood from a Swan.
“They stay defensive side of their opponents … everything is about the way they defend – they don’t give an inch.
“They stop you at the pass. They give you no option.
“It was down the line long to Max (Gawn, the last time the two teams met) – I think Sydney’s defensive game is underrated and undersold.
“They are so honest, it’s frightening.”
Montagna predicted the second final of the weekend to turn into a “low-scoring arm wrestle”.
GEELONG V COLLINGWOOD
1st v 4th, Saturday, MCG
The second qualifying final will ensure two contrasting game styles come together at the MCG.
But it’s the Cats under the most pressure given their recent run of finals without any silverware to show for it.
Montagna said the final would see a fast-starting Cats outfit clash with a fast-finishing Magpies team.
“Collingwood have to match the Cats at quarter time,” he said.
“(Geelong) are playing with even more speed at the start. They are taking on the opposition, averaging more than 30 points in the first quarter.
“It’s two contrasting styles.”
Statistics show teams win two out of three games on average when leading at quarter time.
Compared to the AFL’s win rate average of 67.5 per cent, the Cats are sitting at 87.5 per cent when leading at the first change.
“Geelong have 16 first quarter wins – only Melbourne are above them with 17 (for the year),” Montagna said.
“This is a different Geelong team this year.
“They have won 15 of their last 17 first quarters; they are a very fast starting team.”
Collingwood meantime are the competition’s remarkable finishers, winning 63.7 per cent of matches when trailing at three quarter time – well above the competition average of 17.3 per cent.
“We all know they are the fast finishers – what they have done is off the charts,” Montagna praised.
“Eleven times they’ve trailed, they’ve won seven out of 11 – it’s ridiculous.
“The concern? Since 2020, Geelong are 43-4 if leading at three quarter time.
“They are not going to get overrun.”
FREMANTLE v WESTERN BULLDOGS
5th v 8th, Saturday night, Optus Stadium
The Bulldogs may have just snuck into the top eight by 0.6 per cent, but the Dockers aren’t a sure thing at home in 2022, and have big injury concerns heading into the elimination final.
“It’s obvious to see these two teams are really battling,” King said.
While Freo are trying to put together a forward line, the Bulldogs are battling the loss of Tom Liberatore – who is ranked in the top six midfielders of the competition for 2022.
King said one of Bailey Smith, Josh Dunkley or Adam Treloar could play inside mid as cover.
“They’ve just got to get their hands dirty,” he warned.
The last time the two teams met, it was the Dockers who broke the game open with their chip-kick game.
Despite the Bulldogs having +29 contested possessions and +7 clearances, it was Fremantle who came away with victory.
But King warns Fremantle won’t be able to get away with the same game plan in a final.
“The clearance and contest game heavily favoured the Dogs. If they get an opportunity – Fremantle are a defensive side, but those numbers if they repeat, they win,” he said.
“Once it left contest, they didn’t defend the Dogs.
“(Fremantle) kicked six goals walking the ball out of the defensive half. It was almost like half court basketball.
“It was crazy.
“The Western Bulldogs didn’t want to work.”
King said he doesn’t expect Docker Rory Lobb to be able to repeat his performance and said Fremantle needed to get off to a fast start if they wanted to stay in the finals hunt.
“They’ve won three of their last 12 first quarters. And they’ve only won the contested battle four times,” he said.