With four rounds to go in this season's AFL, it appears that the finals teams are pretty much set in stone (though the three teams on the periphery would like to think otherwise), with only the final positions and home finals set to be confirmed over the final rounds.
Fremantle's superb season has seen them now shoot ten points clear at the top of the table, surely ensuring the minor premiership is theirs. Their dominance will not only give them two home finals, but also should rule out any travel away from their home base during the finals series until the Grand Final should they progress. While the Melbourne-based contenders will continue to believe they can take the Dockers once the pressure games begin, Fremantle by virtue of their previous grand final experience must now be considered the favourite for the flag.
2nd placed West Coast have a tough run home, and their two point buffer over Hawthorn is likely to be tested. Facing Fremantle at home, Western Bulldogs at home, Adelaide away and then St Kilda at home, they will likely need to win at least three of those games to finish in second place. Hawthorn face nemesis side Geelong, but then Port Adelaide, Brisbane and Carlton, and would be likely to win all four of those matches. A betting man would think that the Hawks will finish second and get the home final against the Eagles, setting up a probable Dockers vs Eagles preliminary final, which would bust the seams of Patterson Stadium. Hawthorn would then get a likely prelim against the fourth placed team.
That fourth place is being fought between four teams, with percentage a real chance of playing a role in the final spot. Season surprise packet the Western Bulldogs face Melbourne, West Coast, North Melbourne and Brisbane, and while they should win against the two lower ranked teams, it will be the matches against West Coast in Perth and North Melbourne that will ultimately decide their fate. Their major opponents for the fourth spot is Sydney, who should defeat all of their four opponents in Collingwood, GWS, St Kilda and Gold Coast. On this basis you would expect Sydney to finish in fourth, setting up a huge clash with Fremantle in the first week of the finals.
North Melbourne face St Kilda, Fremantle, and Western Bulldogs and Richmond face Gold Coast, Collingwood and Essendon before they both meet in the final round. North Melbourne are the most vulnerable team here. While they may be eyeing an unlikely fourth spot, they could also quite easily miss out on the finals altogether if they were to lose two or more of those last four games.
The final spot in the eight is also open, though most likely to be fought out between Geelong and Adelaide. Geelong has Hawthorn, St Kilda and Collingwood, while Adelaide faces Essendon, Brisbane and West Coast, before these two as well play each other in the final round, in a match that on paper looks as though it will be the match to decide the final team in the finals.
For GWS, the dream to play finals football would likely take four victories in succession, and relying on both Geelong and Adelaide to lose at least one of their matches. It's a tough ask but not an impossible one, given they have Port Adelaide away, then the Swans at home, Carlton at home and Melbourne away. What appears more likely is that they will fall one win short of a maiden finals appearance, still a more than commendable achievement. Collingwood are a further game back, and would have to rely on two losses each by Geelong and Adelaide, and one loss for GWS, while winning all four of their matches against Sydney, Richmond, Geelong and Essendon. Not really even in the possible column that one.
The remaining teams are playing for pride after seasons that vary from average to ordinary to abysmal. No doubt the planning for 2016 has already begun in most of those teams, and players could well be fighting for their careers over the next four weeks. Certainly some coaches will be.