MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 03: Trent Cotchin of the Tigers celebrates a goal with team mates during the round 11 AFL match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Richmond Tigers at Etihad Stadium on June 3, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The run to September

With only seven rounds left, four distinct races have emerged: the race for first, the race for fourth, the race for finals and the race for the spoon.

While as many 16 teams are still mathematically in finals contention, realistically only 14 remain. It’s season over for Collingwood, Carlton, North Melbourne and Brisbane who should all start looking to 2018.

So here is a look at each team’s run to the finals.

  1. Adelaide (11 W, 4 L)

Adelaide regained top spot courtesy of the Giants’ two consecutive draws, but will need to fight hard to stay there. The Crows will play four sides currently in the top eight, Melbourne, Geelong, Port Adelaide and Sydney, as well as two sides just outside the eight, in Essendon and West Coast. Their form suggests they should win at least five of those games. But despite playing at home, Geelong’s strong record at the Adelaide Oval will pose a significant challenge for the Crows if they are to secure top spot at the end of the season.

  • Round 17: Melbourne (TIO) W
  • Round 18: Geelong (AO) L
  • Round 19: Collingwood (MCG) W
  • Round 20: Port Adelaide (AO) W
  • Round 21: Essendon (ES) W
  • Round 22: Sydney (AO) W
  • Round 23: West Coast (DS) L

2. Greater Western Sydney (10 W, 3 L, 2 D)

If not for their injury woes, the Giants could be well runaway favourites for the flag. At some point, you would have to assume their injury crisis will eventually catch up with them as tired legs begin to take hold. Those legs won’t be helped by a horror run home, only facing three sides not currently in the top eight (including ninth placed West Coast), three trips to Victoria and another to Canberra. it may seem inconceivable, but with fifth placed Melbourne only two wins behind, GWS could even fall out of the top four.

  • Round 17: Sydney (SPO) L
  • Round 18: Richmond (MCG) L
  • Round 19: Fremantle (SPO) W
  • Round 20: Melbourne (UNSW) W
  • Round 21: Western Bulldogs (ES) W
  • Round 22: West Coast (SPO) W
  • Round 23: Geelong (SS) L

3. Geelong (10 W, 4 L, 1 D)

Geelong’s run to the finals could potentially see them finish with an eight game winning streak. While four of their opponents are teams currently in the eight, they will only leave the state once in the final seven weeks of the year — a trip to Adelaide to play the Crows. At that ground, they possess a 3-1 record and will go in with a very good chance to claim victory. Form and home ground advantage should be enough for them to edge a win in every one of their remaining clashes.

  • Round 17: Hawthorn (MCG) W
  • Round 18: Adelaide (AO) W
  • Round 19: Carlton (ES) W
  • Round 20: Sydney (SS) W
  • Round 21: Richmond (SS) W
  • Round 22: Collingwood (MCG) W
  • Round 23: GWS (SS) W

4. Port Adelaide (9 W, 6 L)

Port Adelaide has been the surprise of the year and that trend may continue well into September. At the beginning of the year, after missing two finals series in a row, few people gave the club a chance and coach Ken Hinkley was under extreme scrutiny. They have responded emphatically and are in with a strong chance to secure their first top four finish since 2007. Their run home is relatively straightforward, only having to travel interstate twice.

  • Round 17: North Melbourne (AO) W
  • Round 18: Melbourne (MCG) L
  • Round 19: St Kilda (AO) W
  • Round 20: Adelaide (AO) L
  • Round 21: Collingwood (AO) W
  • Round 22: Western Bulldogs (MSB) W
  • Round 23: Gold Coast (AO) W
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5. Melbourne (9 W, 6 L)

Melbourne’s long finals absence is all but certain to end if they can keep their composure. Their next month is crucial with games against both Adelaide sides, their bogey side in North Melbourne, GWS and St Kilda. Games against Brisbane and Collingwood to end the year should yield wins as they gear up for their first finals campaign since 2006. But with several teams in the chasing pack, any hiccup could prove disastrous.

  • Round 17: Adelaide (TIO) L
  • Round 18: Port Adelaide (MCG) W
  • Round 19: North Melbourne (BA) W
  • Round 20: GWS (UNSW) L
  • Round 21: St Kilda (MCG) W
  • Round 22: Brisbane (MCG) W
  • Round 23: Collingwood (MCG) W

6. Richmond (9 W, 6 L)

Like Port Adelaide, Richmond have surprised many with their unexpected season. But it could all go to waste in a crucial final four rounds when they face a resurgent Hawthorn, Geelong and Fremantle both away and St Kilda to end the season. Their 67-point loss to the Saints last weekend (which arguably should have been much more) showed just how vulnerable they can be. A number of their remaining games are genuine toss-ups and they could end the season at 14-8 just as much as they could 11-11.

  • Round 17: Brisbane (ES) W
  • Round 18: GWS (MCG) W
  • Round 19: Gold Coast (MS) W
  • Round 20: Hawthorn (MCG) W
  • Round 21: Geelong (SS) L
  • Round 22: Fremantle (DS) L
  • Round 23: St Kilda (MCG) L

7. St Kilda (9 W, 6 L)

The Saints are the last of four teams who sit at 9-6. An impressive thumping of Richmond last week will give them plenty of confidence heading into the final two months of the year. They should aim to add at least another four wins to their tally with but fixtures against Essendon and West Coast could go either way.

  • Round 17: Essendon (ES) W
  • Round 18: Sydney (SCG) L
  • Round 19: Port Adelaide (AO) L
  • Round 20: West Coast (ES) W
  • Round 21: Melbourne (MCG) L
  • Round 22: North Melbourne (ES) W
  • Round 23: Richmond (MCG) W

8. Sydney (8 W, 7 L)

Two months ago, the Swans were dead last and looked almost certain to miss finals for the first time since 2009. But as dramatic and swift as their fall was, their revival has matched. The Swans are the form side of the competition and with games against St Kilda, Hawthorn, Fremantle and Carlton, away trips to Geelong and Adelaide, as well as another Sydney Derby this weekend, the Swans could well enter the finals with a 13-9 record. You would struggle to find a Sydney supporter who would say no to that after the first six rounds of the year.

  • Round 17: GWS (SPO) W
  • Round 18: St Kilda (SCG) W
  • Round 19: Hawthorn (MCG) W
  • Round 20: Geelong (SS) L
  • Round 21: Fremantle (SCG) W
  • Round 22: Adelaide (AO) L
  • Round 23: Carlton (SCG) W

9. West Coast (8 W, 7 L)

West Coast are in a precarious position at 8-7. Their run home could resemble a sine wave as wins are cancelled out by losses. Their terrible away form is well known and unfortunately for them, two trips to Etihad Stadium to play Collingwood and St Kilda still await, as well as a trip to Western Sydney to play the Giants. With Essendon hot on their heels, their patchy form could ultimately cost them a finals spot, two years after making the Grand Final.

  • Round 17: Fremantle (DS) W
  • Round 18: Collingwood (ES) L
  • Round 19: Brisbane (DS) W
  • Round 20: St Kilda (ES) L
  • Round 21: Carlton (DS) W
  • Round 22: GWS (SPO) L
  • Round 23: Adelaide (DS) W
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10. Essendon (7 W, 8 L)

A season of promise for Essendon may be for nothing if they cannot address their rollercoaster form. Their best football suggests they should be able to win at least five of their fixtures to come. In recent years, 12 wins is generally the cut-off for teams to make finals but the incredibly even season means it may not be enough. So it will come down to percentage and with no fixture looking like a genuine percentage-boosting game, wins may be the only way for the Bombers to feature in September.

  • Round 17: St Kilda (ES) L
  • Round 18: North Melbourne (ES) W
  • Round 19: Western Bulldogs (ES) W
  • Round 20: Carlton (MCG) W
  • Round 21: Adelaide (ES) L
  • Round 22: Gold Coast (MS) W
  • Round 23: Fremantle (ES) W

11. Western Bulldogs (7 W, 8 L)

The Bulldogs’ premiership defence is all but over. While they are still only one game from eighth, their recent form has been mediocre at best. Their only victory in their last five games was a very unconvincing one-point win over North Melbourne. Without significant improvement and soon, the Bulldogs will become the first premiership side to miss finals the next year since Hawthorn in 2009. But stranger things have happened and Bulldogs fans need only to look to 2016 to prove that.

  • Round 17: Carlton (MCG) W
  • Round 18: Gold Coast (CS) W
  • Round 19: Essendon (ES) L
  • Round 20: Brisbane (G) W
  • Round 21: GWS (ES) L
  • Round 22: Port Adelaide (MSB) L
  • Round 23: Hawthorn (ES) L

12. Fremantle (7 W, 8 L)

The next three sides are still a chance in terms of their win/loss record but without a significant improvement in their percentage, finals are out of the question. Fremantle’s predicted run home mirrors their fierce rival West Coast’s. This weekend’s Derby will set the tone for both teams’ finals charge.

  • Round 17: West Coast (DS) L
  • Round 18: Hawthorn (DS) W
  • Round 19: GWS (SPO) L
  • Round 20: Gold Coast (DS) W
  • Round 21: Sydney (SCG) L
  • Round 22: Richmond (DS) W
  • Round 23: Essendon (ES) L

13. Hawthorn (6 W, 8 L, 1 D)

For all of Hawthorn’s thumpings and general poor form, remarkably, they are still only one-and-a-half games (and percentage) from eighth spot. It would take a very special Hawthorn performance to make finals given how their season has panned out so far. While their run to the finish looks relatively simple, any loss means their very unlikely finals charge will be over. With two trips interstate and games against Geelong, Sydney and Richmond to come, the Hawks will almost certainly miss the finals for the first time since 2009.

  • Round 17: Geelong (MCG) L
  • Round 18: Fremantle (DS) L
  • Round 19: Sydney (MCG) L
  • Round 20: Richmond (MCG) L
  • Round 21: North Melbourne (US) W
  • Round 22: Carlton (ES) W
  • Round 23: Western Bulldogs (ES) W

14. Gold Coast (6 W, 9 L)

There is no room for error for Gold Coast and realistically, any loss would be curtains for them. Fortunately, their run home isn’t too difficult with only two games against current top eight sides to come, but their form isn’t anything to get excited about. This weekend’s game against a horrendously out-of-form Collingwood side will be crucial if the Suns are to make their first ever finals.

  • Round 17: Collingwood (MS) W
  • Round 18: Western Bulldogs (CS) L
  • Round 19: Richmond (MS) L
  • Round 20: Fremantle (DS) L
  • Round 21: Brisbane (G) W
  • Round 22: Essendon (MS) L
  • Round 23: Port Adelaide (AO) L