If the race to the finals was heating up last week, it is now reaching boiling point.
The equation was supposed to get simpler with one less round to play, but instead we saw three genuine upsets that brought the field closer together.
It has now become decidedly more difficult to predict what will happen in the home-stretch of this AFL season.
With six teams in the running for those two finals berths, let’s unpack where every contending team stands before Round 22.
West Coast Eagles
The Eagles have fallen out of their lone spot in the top tier and back to the pack after their loss to Melbourne, however they are still the betting favourite to make the finals and would have remained a clear one had GWS and Essendon not pulled off big upsets last round.
Because of those results and Richmond’s win, however, the gap has closed considerably and one win may no longer be enough to secure their finals spot (though it probably will be).
If Essendon beat Gold Coast, a loss to Fremantle this weekend wouldn’t just decrease West Coast’s chances, it may drop them back a tier to the Long-Shots.
The Bombers did themselves a huge favour with their win over the Western Bulldogs, as they have ever-so-slightly pushed their nose ahead of GWS and Richmond.
They can’t celebrate yet though, as they may have to beat both Gold Coast AND Collingwood to secure their finals spot.
It is notable, though, that their edge in percentage compared to West Coast and Richmond gives them a few more outs if either of those teams lose.
Greater Western Sydney Giants
The Giants did well to bank one of the two wins they needed with a brilliant win over Geelong last Sunday. The only problem is that Essendon and Richmond won too.
That means if GWS lose against Richmond on Friday night, they will have to pray that Essendon and West Coast also fall.
If they don’t, a loss against Richmond won’t be the end of the world if they can correct that mistake in Round 23 against Carlton. In any case, the winner of Friday night’s 2019 grand-final rematch will fancy their chances of making it into the eight.
GWS and Essendon’s Round 21 upset wins have significantly changed the equation for Richmond, perhaps more than anyone, as they now almost certainly must win both of their final two matches to jump into the eight.
This is due to the fact that they are four premiership points behind West Coast, two behind GWS and trailing Essendon on percentage. But, like Essendon, they will enter each of their last two matches as the betting favourite, and can therefore maintain some confidence in their position.
St Kilda Saints
The Saints did what they had to on the weekend with a win over Sydney, but still walk into a must-win situation as the heavy underdog against Geelong at GMHBA. On top of that, they are relying on other results falling their way as they remain unassailably behind the teams in front of them on percentage. It helps, however, that their last match of the season is now against another long-shot.
Both their own result and every other worked against the Dockers last round to push them back to The Long-Shots in place of Carlton.
They now sit in the same unenviable position as St Kilda, and will put it all on the line in the Western derby this weekend.
A win against rival West Coast would, however, light the spark under Freo and provide some momentum prior to their final-round clash with St Kilda.
While West Coast and Essendon rightly enter Round 22 as the betting favourites to make the eight, the winner of GWS vs Richmond will look to leapfrog them and take that mantle. Wins for either or both of Fremantle and St Kilda could further muddy the waters and set up a blockbuster clash between the two sides next week at Marvel Stadium.
In any case, all of these teams will be feeling the pressure to make their move this weekend before it comes down to a photo-finish in Round 23.