Six Teams, Two Spots: The Crazy Race To September
As recently as round 12, which only concluded just over a month ago, it was almost as though the season’s Final Eight was set in stone.
In Eighth spot Richmond had a two-game break and a decent percentage gap over the Bombers, a team they’d just mauled that weekend.
At that point in time St Kilda hadn't even experienced the sorrow of their heartbreaking loss to the Crows in Cairns, while the Eagles were at that stage just a game outside the top four.
Fast forward a month, and really, no one knows what the hell’s going on.
As its stands, a single game is splitting Fremantle in 7th spot and Richmond in 12th meaning we've an incredible situation this year where six teams are still fighting for two spots with six rounds to go.
Thankfully at Stats Insider we’re able to make some sense of the mayhem, leaning on both our futures projections and schedule difficulty analysis to bring a little more sense and reason to a season that appears to contain anything but.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at this crazy race to September.
Stats Insider Finals Projection: 48.8%
Seriously, what the Saints have brewed up over the last few weeks makes for one of the stories of the season.
After somehow managing to throw away their Round 13 encounter against Adelaide, the Saints were mired in 13th spot on the ladder, saddled with a 5-8 record and sporting the league's worst percentage this side of North Melbourne.
At that point in time Stats Insider was assessing them as a 93% chance of missing finals, yet that number has skyrocketed to 48.8% courtesy of their 3-game winning steak which most recently saw them become just the second team to knock off the Lions in Queensland this year.
The Saints still have a brutal run home, and still have a percentage that resembles a bottom-4 club, yet they're playing inspired footy right now and an improbable September spot is well within their grasp.
Stats Insider Finals Projection: 40.6%
Fremantle have spent 39 of the last 42 rounds unable to book a room in the top-eight, yet for now the've got their feet up and are ordering room service.
Just 18 months into the job and Justin Longmuir has done a remarkable job turning around a club that was going absolutely nowhere under Ross Lyon, positioning them as a serious chance to end their six-season September hiatus.
While the Dockers have only got the one decent scalp this season (toppling the Swans in Round 10) they've done a great job taking care of the teams they're supposed to, so far going 7-3 against teams not currently in the top-8, most recently sweeping aside Hawthorn by 52-points in Launceston.
Unfortunately for Freo, their run-home, like St Kilda's, is absolutely brutal, with 4 of their final 6 games against current top-8 teams, and the other two against clubs very much in the thick of the hunt.
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Stats Insider Finals Projection: 30.7%
Offensively, the Bombers make the September chasing group look like a pack of amateurs, currently boasting the league’s 3rd most potent attack and which has been electrified by the likes of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Cale Hooker, Jake Stringer and Harrison Jones who’ve all slotted at least 20 goals so far.
What however might come back to haunt Essendon is their lowly 1-4 record in games decided by less than two goals, of which three of those losses have came by 3-points or less.
On the plus side, the Bombers have one of the easiest runs home with just 2 of their remaining 6 matches scheduled against teams currently holding a top-8 spot.
Stats Insider Finals Projection: 27.6%
The Giants have shot themselves in the foot recently dropping games as favourites against both Hawthorn and Gold Coast, while only managing a draw against North Melbourne in Hobart.
That’s 10 premiership points they’ve effectively left on a park bench and which threatens to leave them without a Finals spot for a second-straight year.
To make matters worse, their next five games are against teams either currently in the eight, or against teams desperately fighting for a spot, while NSW's Covid situation means they won't be smelling the sweet Western Sydney air for quite some time.
Stats Insider Finals Projection: 25.8%
Still a relatively healthy percentage and just a single game out of the eight at the moment, yet nothing about Richmond’s current form would suggest they’ll be returning to September for a 5th-straight season.
The Tigers presently have neither a top-8 attack or defence and with games immediately on their bill against both Brisbane and Geelong, their league-worst 4-game losing streak could very easily become 6.
Stats Insider Finals Projection: 22.8%
Wow! West Coast clearly look a little punch-drunk at the moment and as vulnerable as they’ve been in some time, while their AFL-best six-straight seasons of finals footy appears to be in serious jeopardy.
Even though the Eagles have struggled since their 2018 flag, they could always be relied upon to win in Perth and defeat struggling teams. With the bottom-placed Roos coming in and getting the chocolates on Monday night, even that can't be taken for granted anymore.
On the plus side for the Eagles is that they've held a top-8 spot for 16 of the league's 17 rounds so far, while their next 3 games are all against teams currently not in the top-8.
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