The key questions for the AFL’s contenders

The minor premiership is Fremantle’s for the taking, even if the Dockers still lag well behind Hawthorn in premiership betting markets.

But the races for spots in the top two, top four and top eight are all wide open which should make for a thrilling concluding month to the home and away season.

So what are the best- and worst-case scenarios for the 11 teams still jockeying for finals berths?

1. Fremantle

What most needs to happen: Victory in Sunday’s WA derby. If the Dockers claim a seventh straight win against their arch-rivals, coach Ross Lyon can take the opportunity to rest some stars in the final three weeks, knowing top spot is in the bag.

Avoid at all costs: Any further injuries to Nat Fyfe. It’s not that the Dockers can’t win big games without the Brownlow Medal favourite – but it does make the task a whole lot harder.

2. West Coast

What most needs to happen: Hold off the challenge from Hawthorn and finish in the top two, potentially allowing the Eagles to remain in their western eyrie until grand final week.

Avoid at all costs: Any more of their tall defenders going down. Will Schofield simply has to stay fit and Jeremy McGovern needs to recover as quickly as possible from his latest hamstring setback.

3. Hawthorn

What most needs to happen: Win their last four games and hope West Coast slip up at least once, which would likely give the Hawks a rails run to a fourth straight grand final.

Avoid at all costs: Don’t let unsociable become unacceptable. After being fined twice this year, niggle kings Sam Mitchell and Josh Gibson are walking the disciplinary tightrope, with any further minor indiscretions earning automatic one-match bans.

4. Western Bulldogs

What most needs to happen: Keep doing what they are already doing. The fast-running, free-flowing Dogs are everyone’s second-favourite team right now.

Avoid at all costs: Slipping outside the top six. Their run and gun style works best under the roof at Etihad Stadium and they would dearly love to host a final there.

5. Sydney

What most needs to happen: Find their way back into the top four. Recent form is dodgy but they will start as favourites in their next four games.

Avoid at all costs: Any further back problems for Lance Franklin. Buddy was a rare shining light for the Swans on grand final day last year and it’s very hard to see them getting there again unless he is close to 100 per cent fit.

6. North Melbourne

What most needs to happen: Ruckman Todd Goldstein to continue his career-best form, which has him at unbackable odds to claim All-Australian honours for the first time.

Avoid at all costs: As is the case with Hawthorn, the MRP have two of their ever-present veterans in the gun, with skipper Andrew Swallow and defender Michael Firrito one minor charge away from one-game suspensions.

7. Richmond

What most needs to happen: Get Brett Deledio back on the park and keep him there. The multi-talented forward is the ultimate talisman. No coincidence that when he missed last Friday’s clash against Adelaide, the Tigers looked toothless.

Avoid at all costs: A winner-takes-all clash against North Melbourne in round 23. Richmond would want to have their spot in the finals sewed up by then because they boast a sorry recent record against the Kangas.

8. Geelong

What most needs to happen: The likes of Mitch Duncan, Cam Guthrie and Joel Caddy to continue making solid midfield contributions. As great as Joel Selwood is, he can’t do it on his own.

Avoid at all costs: Can’t afford for anything untoward to happen to Mark Blicavs. The former steeplechaser can play just about anywhere, but it is as a running ruckman that he is proving indispensable to the Cats.

9. Adelaide

What most needs to happen: Apart from a big letdown a couple of weeks ago against Sydney, the Crows have rallied admirably on-field since the tragic death of coach Phil Walsh. They need to keep it up.

Avoid at all costs: An extension of their 12-year losing record at Simonds Stadium. The round-23 away clash against Geelong will probably decide which of them make the top eight.

10. Greater Western Sydney

What most needs to happen: Coach Leon Cameron says finals have essentially started a month early for the AFL’s newest clubs, who have yet to see any September action in their four-year history.

Avoid at all costs: A loss to Port Adelaide this weekend. The round-21 derby against Sydney is a huge test, but their finals tilt lives or dies by their performance at Adelaide Oval.

11. Collingwood

What most needs to happen: Follow the example of Scott Pendlebury and Dane Swan. If Collingwood do come up short, it won’t be due to a lack of input from their two gun mids.

Avoid at all costs: Any more losses. The Magpies were not wholly convincing in snapping a six-game losing streak last Carlton. Must now win their remaining four games.

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