Run home: Who will survive top-four fight?
THE AFL top eight is set but settle in for a battle royale for spots in the top four that could go down to the wire.
That's the takeaway from Champion Data's updated ladder prediction, which forecasts a Brisbane Lions v Richmond qualifying final.
The Champion Data model has the Tigers jumping to third and replacing Collingwood in the top four, illustrating the stakes when the two teams meet at the MCG on Friday night.
Port Adelaide, Hawthorn, the Western Bulldogs, North Melbourne and Fremantle remain a mathematical chance of playing finals but the AFL's stats gurus expect Adelaide to hang on to eighth spot with the help of a friendly fixture.
The Crows face Carlton and St Kilda in the next two rounds and will start favourite in both games, but fans of teams clinging to vanishing finals hopes will be hoping the caretaker coach bounce continues for at least two more weeks.
Geelong is a 91 per cent chance of finishing on top and can't miss the top four while the only team that can't move on the ladder - barring a miracle over the final five rounds - is Gold Coast, which is locked in to claim the Suns' second wooden spoon after the club's inaugural season in 2011.
PREDICTED WEEK ONE FINALS
Geelong v West Coast (first qualifying final)
Brisbane Lions v Richmond (second qualifying final)
Collingwood v Adelaide (first elimination final)
GWS Giants v Essendon (second elimination final)
HOW IT WORKS
Champion Data's percentages are based on hundreds of computer simulations of the final five rounds to arrive at the most likely outcome.
YOUR CLUB'S RUN HOME
Round 19: Carlton (MCG)
Round 20: St Kilda (Adelaide Oval)
Round 21: West Coast (Perth Stadium)
Round 22: Collingwood (Adelaide Oval)
Round 23: Western Bulldogs (Mars Stadium)
We say: Contenders or pretenders? The Crows continue to beat up on the weaker teams but stumble when it counts. A reasonable run home should ensure they stay in the top eight, but they wouldn't want to slip up against the suddenly resurgent Blues or Saints.
Round 19: Hawthorn (UTAS Stadium)
Round 20: Western Bulldogs (Gabba)
Round 21: Gold Coast (Gabba)
Round 22: Geelong (Gabba)
Round 23: Richmond (MCG)
We say: Has a team ever gone from 15th to top two? The Lions are in the box seat to get to 15 wins before a massive last two weeks. Champion Data says they will host a qualifying final at the Gabba.
Round 19: Adelaide (MCG)
Round 20: West Coast (Marvel Stadium)
Round 21: Richmond (MCG)
Round 22: St Kilda (MCG)
Round 23: Geelong (GMHBA Stadium)
We say: The Blues are off the bottom and Sportsbet is paying out on Gold Coast wooden spoon bets. Now it's all about the Liam Stocker trade and trying to finish close enough to the Crows to claim a win on the deal. Can they get above the Dees? Will the Crows fall out of the eight? A win this weekend would be HUGE.
Round 19: Richmond (MCG)
Round 20: Gold Coast (MCG)
Round 21: Melbourne (MCG)
Round 22: Adelaide (Adelaide Oval)
Round 23: Essendon (MCG)
We say: Stop reading this now and go book tickets for Friday night. This is as big as it gets after one win from their past four games (by one point over West Coast). Lose and the Tigers will leapfrog them into the top four, and Champion Data says they're unlikely to get back in.
Round 19: Gold Coast (Metricon Stadium)
Round 20: Port Adelaide (Marvel Stadium)
Round 21: Western Bulldogs (Marvel Stadium)
Round 22: Fremantle (Perth Stadium)
Round 23: Collingwood (MCG)
We say: The Bombers are one of the form teams of the competition with five wins from their past six matches - and Gold Coast to come this weekend. A percentage boost wouldn't hurt to put a gap on Port Adelaide and Hawthorn, but getting to 11 wins is more important. One more win from the final four games should be enough for a return to finals but they might be trying to break their 15-year September hoodoo at Giants Stadium.
Round 19: Western Bulldogs (Marvel Stadium)
Round 20: Geelong (Perth Stadium)
Round 21: St Kilda (Marvel Stadium)
Round 22: Essendon (Perth Stadium)
Round 23: Port Adelaide (Adelaide Oval)
We say: A desperate one-point win against Sydney was enough to keep them alive - barely. Champion Data rates the Dockers a 1 per cent hope of playing finals and given their poor percentage that would require two more wins than Adelaide and one more than Hawthorn and Port Adelaide over the next five weeks. Seems unlikely.
Round 19: Sydney (SCG)
Round 20: Fremantle (Perth Stadium)
Round 21: North Melbourne (GMHBA Stadium)
Round 22: Brisbane Lions (Gabba)
Round 23: Carlton (GMHBA Stadium)
We say: A month ago we thought the Cats could win every game on the run home and that prediction didn't last very long. They have the wobbles at the wrong time of the year, but are still effectively two games clear and would need to fall in a huge hole to miss top spot - especially looking at that fixture. Now it's about tuning up for September.
Round 19: Essendon (Metricon Stadium)
Round 20: Collingwood (MCG)
Round 21: Brisbane Lions (Gabba)
Round 22: Hawthorn (Marvel Stadium)
Round 23: GWS Giants (Metricon Stadium)
We say: The Suns have won three games for the year (all in the first month) and need three more - at least - to get off the bottom. That's not happening.
Round 19: Port Adelaide (Adelaide Oval)
Round 20: Sydney (Giants Stadium)
Round 21: Hawthorn (UNSW Canberra Oval)
Round 22: Western Bulldogs (Giants Stadium)
Round 23: Gold Coast (Metricon Stadium)
We say: The Giants looked in danger of slipping out of the top eight after a limp effort against Richmond a week ago but now all their potential finals rivals are looking over their shoulders. Champion Data says they're unlikely to break into the top four, but with a great run home and a big percentage they're poised if any of the teams above them slip up.
Round 19: Brisbane Lions (UTAS Stadium)
Round 20: North Melbourne (Marvel Stadium)
Round 21: GWS Giants (UNSW Canberra Oval)
Round 22: Gold Coast (Marvel Stadium)
Round 23: West Coast (Perth Stadium)
We say: Hawthorn has to beat teams above it to stay alive and it did that against the Cats. But a low percentage means the Hawks still have to win two more games than Adelaide to overtake the Crows in eighth spot, and Rounds 21 and 23 make that very tough.
Round 19: St Kilda (Marvel Stadium)
Round 20: Richmond (MCG)
Round 21: Collingwood (MCG)
Round 22: Sydney (MCG)
Round 23: North Melbourne (Blundstone Arena)
We say: How has it come to this? An incredible fall from grace from a preliminary final last season. Champion Data says they will climb back above the Blues, but that will probably require a win against St Kilda, which has won its past two against the Dees.
Round 19: West Coast (Perth Stadium)
Round 20: Hawthorn (Marvel Stadium)
Round 21: Geelong (GMHBA Stadium)
Round 22: Port Adelaide (Marvel Stadium)
Round 23: Melbourne (Blundstone Arena)
We say: An umpiring blunder hasn't quite ended Rhyce Shaw's finals dream - Champion Data says the Roos are still a 2 per cent chance to make the top eight. But playing two top-three teams on their home deck in the next three weeks will probably do it.
Round 19: GWS Giants (Adelaide Oval)
Round 20: Essendon (Marvel Stadium)
Round 21: Sydney (Adelaide Oval)
Round 22: North Melbourne (Marvel Stadium)
Round 23: Fremantle (Adelaide Oval)
We say: At least Port Adelaide seems a little more predictable now, breaking a nine-game win-loss-win-loss streak with their second defeat in a row on Saturday at the MCG. Still the best chance of any team outside the top eight to make it, but that's just 18 per cent. Most of their remaining games are winnable but could you trust them?
Round 19: Collingwood (MCG)
Round 20: Melbourne (MCG)
Round 21: Carlton (MCG)
Round 22: West Coast (MCG)
Round 23: Brisbane Lions (MCG)
We say: To quote a famous line from Bruce McAvaney, they're roaring now, the Tigers. Bounced back from the bye with four straight wins and could have 21 of their best 22 available on Friday night, with Toby Nankervis and Josh Caddy pushing their case in the VFL at the weekend. And they still haven't ruled out a miraculous Alex Rance comeback. The signs are ominous but their fate is in their own hands with matches to come against three of the teams above them. Need to win at least one of those to earn the double chance.
Round 19: Melbourne (Marvel Stadium)
Round 20: Adelaide (Adelaide Oval)
Round 21: Fremantle (Marvel Stadium)
Round 22: Carlton (MCG)
Round 23: Sydney (SCG)
We say: Hard to see them moving too far up or down the ladder, and Champion Data has the Saints finishing 14th, exactly where they are right now. But Brett Ratten's appointment at least gives them something to play for. Two or even three more wins isn't an unrealistic hope for long-suffering Saints fans.
Round 19: Geelong (SCG)
Round 20: GWS Giants (Giants Stadium)
Round 21: Port Adelaide (Adelaide Oval)
Round 22: Melbourne (SCG)
Round 23: St Kilda (SCG)
We say: We've been waiting for a while for the Swans to crash and it has finally arrived after a decade in the finals, so you really can't hold it against them. Will Buddy make it back this year or be put in cotton wool for a Round 1 milestone blockbuster next season?
Round 19: North Melbourne (Perth Stadium)
Round 20: Carlton (Marvel Stadium)
Round 21: Adelaide (Perth Stadium)
Round 22: Richmond (MCG)
Round 23: Hawthorn (Perth Stadium)
We say: Got out of jail against the Demons and have a pretty friendly fixture but Champion Data expects the Eagles to travel for their first final - the AFL will decide if it's at the MCG or GMHBA Stadium. Likely to be playing for a home final when they face Richmond at the MCG in Round 22.
Round 19: Fremantle (Marvel Stadium)
Round 20: Brisbane Lions (Gabba)
Round 21: Essendon (Marvel Stadium)
Round 22: GWS Giants (Giants Stadium)
Round 23: Adelaide (Mars Stadium)
We say: Finals chances took a big hit by dropping a game to the Saints but they aren't completely out of it, at least mathematically. Their percentage is terrible so to sneak into the eight they would need to win four and possibly five of their last five games, including trips to the Gabba and Giants Stadium. If they fall short, they only have themselves to blame.