Round 19 is coming despite a tumultuous week, with half the round to be played behind closed doors.
Despite that, there are some big games and huge finals implications.
The Grand Final rematch takes place on Sunday between Geelong and Richmond, while the top two teams in Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs clash on Saturday night.
Essendon/GWS, Sydney/Fremantle and West Coast/St Kilda loom as games that will have a huge impact on the final ladder as well.
Here are our tips and predictions for Round 19:
Port Adelaide v Collingwood
Friday - Marvel Stadium
Port Adelaide’s preparation for their clash with Collingwood has been chaotic to say the least.
South Australia’s new border restrictions forced the Power to relocate to Victoria meaning they will now ‘host’ the Magpies at Marvel Stadium.
Port jumped back into the top four with a hard-fought 13-point win over St Kilda last week and will welcome back young guns Zak Butters, Connor Rozee and Xavier Duursma for Friday night’s match.
The Power will be determined to celebrate Travis Boak’s 300th game in style.
Boak, 32, will become just the second Port Adelaide player to reach 300 AFL games and given his recent form, he’s still got plenty left in the tank.
As for Collingwood, they squandered a 24-point lead to lose to rivals Carlton by 29 points, conceding the last seven goals of the match.
The Magpies have been competitive under interim coach Robert Harvey despite recording just one win in four games since Nathan Buckley’s exit.
Small forward Jack Ginnivan and Irish recruit Anton Tohill will debut for Collingwood, bringing the total number of debutants the club has blooded this season to nine.
The Power have won the last two meetings against the Pies, including this year’s match in Round 10 by a solitary point at the MCG.
With a top four spot on the line, Port can’t afford a slip up with Brisbane and Sydney sitting a game behind.
Tip: Port Adelaide by 10 points.
Carlton v North Melbourne
Saturday - Marvel Stadium
Could the Blues make a late finals push? Don’t say it too loudly, but on the back of winning three of their last four matches, they’re now just a game and percentage out of the eight.
In what will be much-loved veteran Ed Curnow’s 200th game, Carlton takes on a North Melbourne side who are showing plenty of good signs under new coach David Noble.
Dubbed the ‘McKay Bowl’, the match will also pit twin brothers Harry and Ben McKay against on another, in a game that could see the key forward and key defender play on each other.
It’s been a largely disappointing campaign from the Blues so far, but in the last month they’ve shown renewed vigour at a time of high importance as a full-scale review of the football club is taking place.
Despite Carlton clearly being favourites, it was only two weeks ago that North Melbourne were shock winners over West Coast in Perth, so David Teague’s side will have to be wary.
Patrick Cripps will make his return, further boosting the Blues’ hopes of keeping their slim finals hopes alive.
Tip: Carlton by four points.
Brisbane v Gold Coast
Saturday - Gabba
Brisbane has relinquished their grip on a top four spot following consecutive losses to St Kilda and Richmond.
The Lions dropped to fifth after their 20-point defeat to the Tigers at Metricon Stadium with Port Adelaide’s win over the Saints moving them back into fourth spot.
With five games remaining in the home and away season, the race to secure a double chance in the finals is heating up.
After leading by six points at half-time, Brisbane was outscored nine goals to five in the second half as the Tigers snapped a four-game losing streak in Jack Riewoldt’s 300th game.
This Lions will be out to complete a season double over the Suns in this weekend’s QClash.
Gold Coast were embarrassed in the previous QClash encounter in Round 9, losing by 73 points after kicking just three goals to three-quarter time.
While they sit a lowly 14th on the ladder, the Suns have put together a competitive three weeks with wins over Richmond and GWS followed by an honourable 11-point home loss to the Western Bulldogs.
The Lions have the wood over their Queensland rivals, beating the Suns in the previous five meetings by an average margin of 43 points.
Expect Chris Fagan’s side to respond after two disappointing weeks.
Tip: Brisbane by 23 points.
West Coast v St Kilda
Saturday - Optus Stadium
These two teams met in one of the stranger games of 2021 earlier in the season and given how inconsistent both sides have been, it’s not a huge surprise.
The Eagles led by five goals at half-time and were right on top before the Saints stormed home, kicking 10 second-half goals.
West Coast goes into this one favourite given the home ground advantage and St Kilda needing to undergo a week of hard quarantine in Western Australia.
The Eagles also need to bounce back in front of their fans after losing to North Melbourne a fortnight ago.
The two sides haven’t actually met in Perth since 2018, though West Coast has won two of the last three encounters overall.
St Kilda will be without ruckman Rowan Marshall and we have seen across the last two years that the team struggles to perform without their ruck combo. This may be amplified going up against Nic Naitanui.
The Eagles meanwhile have lost captain Luke Shuey to injury and are missing key personnel across the board.
We’re going with West Coast in this one with absolutely no confidence, mainly because of the tough quarantine conditions the Saints have been put through.
Tip: West Coast by 14 points.
Melbourne v Western Bulldogs
Saturday - MCG
There is a sense of deja vu about this fixture.
The top two sides will do battle in front of no fans for the second time this season after yet another COVID outbreak in Victoria.
Back in Round 11, Melbourne made a statement by going a game clear on top by beating the Western Bulldogs comfortably by 28 points.
Unfortunately, Demons fans had to watch from the comfort of their own homes.
That will be the case again in Round 19 when the Dees and Dogs clash in a match that was originally scheduled for Round 20.
Prior to the previous encounter, Simon Goodwin’s side had gone down to Adelaide by a point on the back of nine straight wins. Luke Beveridge’s Dogs were also 9-1 in the lead up and their form lines are similar this time around.
The Bulldogs enter this redo with three wins from their last four, but there was a slip up against Sydney just a couple of weeks ago.
The Demons most recently drew with Hawthorn after copping losses at the hands of Collingwood and GWS wedged between solid victories over Essendon and Port Adelaide.
Melbourne usually save their best for top four encounters, but the Bulldogs are travelling just a little bit better to the naked eye and Beveridge would have learned a valuable lesson from the last meeting.
That gives them the nod ever so slightly.
Tip: Western Bulldogs by 7 points.
Adelaide v Hawthorn
Saturday - Marvel Stadium
Adelaide are badly in need of a win after a lean patch in which they’ve lost their past five and six of the last seven.
Matthew Nicks’ side has slid somewhat after an impressive start to the year, still searching for their best mix up forward and struggling around the ball as injuries continue to pile up.
Meanwhile, the Hawks have been in the headlines for several weeks after the announcement of the club’s coaching succession plan. On the field, they took it right up to Melbourne in their draw at the MCG last Saturday night.
These are promising times for Clarkson’s side, who have shown plenty of growth this year, with the likes of Tyler Brockman, Lachie Bramble and Denver Grainger-Barras particularly impressive.
There’s no clear favourite heading into this game at Marvel Stadium, with the Crows desperately needing to show something in the final rounds of the season.
The Hawks at this point of the season have proven themselves to be a tough nut to crack for most sides despite their ladder position and would fancy themselves here, but it’s genuinely a 50-50 contest.
Tip: Hawthorn by 9 points.
Sydney v Fremantle
Sunday - Metricon Stadium
The Swans come into this on the back of a remarkable win over GWS last Sunday.
After a disrupted preparation which saw three players withdrawn late due to a COVID exposure site visit, John Longmire’s side conceded six goals to one in the opening quarter.
From then on it was all Sydney who piled on 14 goals to five after quarter-time. They are in fairly impressive form having taken down the Western Bulldogs in Round 17 and annihilating West Coast the weekend prior.
That reads very well for this meeting with a Fremantle side that was put firmly back in its place to the tune of a 69-point home loss to Geelong. It was a disappointing outcome which forced them out of the eight with a handful of fixtures remaining.
Prior to the Cats loss they smashed Hawthorn in captain Nat Fyfe’s 200th and will be looking to repeat the dose in David Mundy’s 350th.
The Dockers edged the Swans by two points at Optus Stadium earlier this season, despite the best efforts of a vintage haul of six goals from Lance Franklin.
This game is on neutral territory on the Gold Coast where the Swans have won just once from their last five, while the Dockers are yet to visit the venue this year after going 2-3 there last year.
It will be a big celebration for Freo, but the Swans are playing well enough to spoil the party and should march on towards September with a hard-fought victory.
Tips: Sydney by 17 points.
Geelong v Richmond
Sunday - MCG
The second round of the Grand Final rematch takes place this weekend, with Geelong looking to back up their smacking of Richmond from earlier in the year.
The Cats doubled the Tigers in Round 8, beating them 126 to 63, kicking 13 goals after half-time in the crushing victory.
The season has moved in unexpected ways since then however. The Cats are among the premiership favourites and have looked secure in their game plan, despite the loss of Jeremy Cameron to another hamstring injury.
Richmond meanwhile sit outside of the top eight. Injuries have derailed their campaign, though they bounced back strongly and found their rhythm against Brisbane.
The addition of Cameron was a big part of Geelong dominating the Tigers earlier in the year. He kicked six goals and exposed a lack of height in the Tigers defence alongside Tom Hawkins and Gary Rohan.
Without him, it will be interesting to see how the Cats handle the matchup and whether they can still exploit Richmond.
The Tigers had won their previous three encounters with Geelong, including of course, the 2020 Grand Final.
Given where both teams are at, and Richmond losing Dustin Martin for the season, it’s hard to confidently tip against the Cats here.
Don’t rule out Damien Hardwick’s men making a statement, however.
Tip: Geelong by 18 points.
Essendon v GWS Giants
Sunday - Metricon Stadium
To the surprise of many, this Bombers and Giants clash has genuine finals ramifications riding on it.
The resurgent Dons currently hold onto eighth place, but a loss here would see the Giants jump them as they have the two points from a draw up their sleeve.
With two spots effectively up for grabs in the finals race, there’s probably only room for one of these sides and this result could go a long way in deciding which team has the better chance.
If history tells us anything, we could be set for a tight game. The last three meetings between the two sides have gone down to the wire, with GWS winning by two and four points across the last two games, while Essendon’s last win head-to-head came by just a goal in late 2019.
Both the Giants and Bombers will be missing a star player due to COVID protocols, with Toby Greene and Andrew McGrath still be serving a 14-day isolation period after they each attended a Tier 1 venue.
While McGrath is a key player in his own right, the loss of Greene could prove fatal for the Giants as he’s proved to be their match-winner on countless occasions.
With two strong on-ball outfits, this game rests on whoever controls the centre of the ground more, and on form, Essendon get the nod in that regard.
If the Bombers are a true finals threat, they should make a statement here and take care of an inconsistent GWS side.
Tip: Essendon by 17 points.