Every Wednesday of the 2022 season, ESPN will combine with Champion Data to provide an in-depth analysis on a particular hot topic in the AFL.
With just three rounds remaining in the home-and-away season there still remains -- albeit in some cases only mathematically -- 12 teams in the race for a finals berth, with three of those officially locked in.
Positions inside this year's coveted top eight are sparse, and there remains unanswered questions in regards to the fortunes of many sides. Should the Blues be worried? Will the Lions really squander their top four chance? Is there reason for optimism at Richmond and the Western Bulldogs who are both hot on the heels of the Saints?
This week, with the help of Champion Data's number crunchers, we've taken a look at each team still in the hunt -- including those with genuine premiership aspirations -- to determine what adaptations they have made since the bye rounds to put them in a strong position, or in some cases, a precarious one.
1st - GEELONG
Rounds 1-12: 8-4, 4th on ladder
91.3 pts for (6th)
71.6 pts agst (5th)
Rounds 14-20: 7-0, 1st on ladder
98.6 pts for (2nd)
65.6 pts agst (1st)
K:H Ratio: Rounds 1-12 - 1.35:1 (14th), Rounds 14-20 - 1.57:1 (7th)
K:H Ratio (Def Half): 1.31:1 (14th), 1.55:1 (6th)
Kick Forward %: 92.8% (3rd), 91.8% (7th)
Kick Long %: 41% (17th), 40.2% (14th)
Kick Long from Set %: 40.2% (17th), 42.2% (9th)
The Cats have improved in almost every key facet of the game. They score more, and they defend better - two things they were already excelling at. Since Round 14, Chris Scott has his side ranked No. 1 for points against, conceding the second fewest points from turnovers (compared to fifth for points against and third for points conceded from turnovers pre-bye).
It's been a necessary adjustment that sees them enjoying a 10-match winning streak and has launched them into premiership favouritism. Geelong have also been more direct with their game style since their week off, kicking long more often from a set position and using handballs less.
2nd - MELBOURNE
Rounds 1-13: 10-3, 2nd on ladder
85.5 pts for (8th)
63.8 pts agst (1st)
Rounds 15-20: 4-2, 6th on ladder
90.3 pts for (6th)
71.2 pts agst (4th)
Clearance Diff: Rounds 1-13 - 7th, Rounds 15-20, 14th
CB Clearance Diff: 8th, 16th
Clearance to score %: 1st, 3rd
Clearance to Score % - agst: 2nd, 9th
Pts From Clearances Diff: 2nd, 8th
The Demons are trending in the wrong direction in some key areas, but whether that will hurt them in the long run remains to be seen. Simon Goodwin does have the appropriate cavalry at his disposal to fix these deficiencies, such as their clearance game, and a match-up against midfield battlers Collingwood -- who will be without their best clearance player Taylor Adams -- this Friday night presents as a golden opportunity
Pre-bye, the Demons were the hardest team to score against inside 50, but they ranked 13th for scoring from their own entries. Since the bye they rank fourth for scoring from their own forward 50 entries which is a crucial increase given their noticeable forward 50 woes, but they've also dropped to fifth for stopping the opposition from doing the same the other way.
3rd - COLLINGWOOD
Rounds 1-13: 8-5, 8th on ladder
86.2 pts for (9th)
83.6 pts agst (12th)
Rnds 15-20: 6-0, 2nd on ladder
83.7 pts for (10th)
77.3 pts agst (6th)
K:H Ratio: Rounds 1-13 - 16th, Rounds 15-20 - 5th
Kick Forward %: 1st, 1st
Kick Long %: 8th, 2nd
Stoppages per game: 10th, 4th
D50 Corridor Use: 4th, 12th
D50 Wing Use: 10th, 17th
D50 Boundary Use: 14th, 6th
Pts From Turnovers Agst: 11th, 4th
There are statistical improvements that coincide with Collingwood's flabbergasting 10-game win streak, such as long kicks (8th pre-bye to 2nd post-bye), stoppages per game (10th to 4th) and defensive 50 boundary use (14th to 6th). These are intentional changes, after being an overly aggressive side in the early stages of the season that got burnt by the opposition in transition.
Craig McRae's ball movement philosophy now protects his side from turnovers. They are more direct, play wider and create more stoppages which has helped them out defensively, all while having their average points per game fall only marginally.
4th - SYDNEY
Rounds 1-12: 8-4, 6th on ladder
93.0 pts for (3rd)
78.2 pts agst (7th)
Rounds 14-20: 4-2, 6th on ladder
94.3 pts for (3rd)
66.4 pts agst (2nd)
Rnds 1-12 Rnds 14-20
K:H Ratio: Rounds 1-12 - 3rd, Rounds 14-20 - 4th
Marks: 8th, 14th
Uncontested Marks: 8th, 4th
Uncontested Poss Diff: 7th, 4th
Contested Poss Diff: 11th, 5th
Uncontested Poss %: 15th, 11th
Kick Forward %: 10th, 4th
Kick Long %: 4th, 12th
% of Time In Possession: 8th, 3rd
"Because if you have possession of the ball, the opposition can't score!" - John Longmire, probably. At least that's what we can make out from one of, if not the, form teams in the game right now.
The Swans have catapulted into the premiership conversation by directing their focus on winning contested possessions and controlling the play via uncontested marks. It's a different style, but it's working.
5th - BRISBANE
Rounds 1-13: 10-3, 1st on ladder
102.9 pts for (1st)
92.8 pts agst (4th)
Rounds 15-20: 3-3, 8th on ladder
94.3 pts for (3rd)
90.0 pts agst (14th)
For the Lions, it's all about defence. Their structure is liable to breaking down and when it does, they can't win the ball; Brisbane rank 16th for score per inside 50 against since the bye -- an area they were fourth in in the first 13 rounds of the season. They rank 17th for scores against from defensive 50 chains - they were 7th pre-bye - and they sit 12th right now for contested possession differential after ranking third pre-bye, which isn't ideal for a side that relies on bang for buck when moving the ball forward and ultimately just wants to outscore the opposition.
6th - FREMANTLE
Rounds 1-13: 10-3, 3rd on ladder
82.2 pts for (12th)
63.9 pts agst (2nd)
Rounds 15-20: 2-3-1, 12th on ladder
69.3 pts for (16th)
76.8 pts agst (5th)
Corridor from D50: Rounds 1-13 - 14th, Rounds 15-20 - 7th
Wing From D50: 7th, 9th
Boundary From D50: 8th, 12th
Inside 50 From Corridor: 17th, 10th
The Dockers were heavily lauded in the early stages of the season due to the stingy defence and denying the opposition free-flowing ball movement inside 50. In order to improve their game they needed to be bolder and take risks, but in the instance, it's left them vulnerable.
Fremantle's ball movement from the back half and when going inside 50 has changed, electing to go through the corridor more often. But this has left them exposed.
7th - CARLTON
Rounds 1-11: 8-3, 5th on ladder
91.5 pts for (6th)
81.1 pts agst (9th)
Rounds 13-20: 4-4, 7th on ladder
77.6 pts for (14th)
69.2 pts agst (3rd)
Points For: Rounds 1-11 - 6th, Rounds 13-20 - 14th
Score Per In50: 8th, 14th
Pts From Turnovers: 8th, 14th
Pts From Turnovers Diff: 12th, 6th
Pts Agst: 9th, 3rd
Oppo Score Per In50: 11th, 2nd
Carlton are a confusing case study, having been one of the most lethal attacking sides in the competition for much of the season only to now be well held by their opponents. Teams have put more focus on stopping their run, but the Blues have also actively tried to improve their defence, which compounds to mean they're not scoring anywhere near enough to trouble the top sides.
Has Michael Voss invested too much time fixing their defensive setup? It's like they've forgotten how to score, but with the reigning Coleman medalist and this year's likely winner residing inside their forward 50, these issues could easily be solved.
8th - ST KILDA
Rounds 1-11: 8-3, 4th on Ladder
86.8 pts for (9th)
70.0 pts agst (3rd)
Rounds 13-20: 3-5, 14th on ladder
68.1 pts for (16th)
83.2 pts agst (11th)
Contested Poss Diff: Rounds 1-11 - 4th, Rounds 13-20 - 10th
Groundball Diff: 4th, 10th
Clearance Diff: 7th, 11th
Points Agst: 3rd, 11th
Oppo Score Per In50: 5th, 12th
Pts Agst From Turnovers: 3rd, 13th
Maybe St Kilda just aren't where they thought they'd be? Brett Ratten's game style hasn't changed too much since the bye and they're worse off for both points for and against. The Saints are kicking forward and long slightly less and are more conservative - taking the wider route and avoiding the corridor often after the bye. But it's their defence that has really experienced the biggest and most alarming drop off.
9th - RICHMOND
Rounds 1-11: 6-5, 9th on ladder
98.1 pts for (2nd)
83.5 pts agst (11th)
Rounds 13-20: 4-3-1, 5th on ladder
88.5 pts for (6th)
81.0 pts agst (9th)
D50 to In50: Rounds 1-11 - 7th, Rounds 13-20 - 3rd
Def Mid to In50: 7th, 2nd
Pts From Turnovers: 8th, 7th
Pts From Stoppages: 15th, 11th
Inside 50 Diff: 11th, 14th
Richmond's style hasn't changed much, which is probably reflected in their perhaps unlucky results over the past month. The Tigers have a similar kick-to-handball ratio, kick forward % and kick long %, but their success in moving the ball has been greater. Currently sitting half a game outside the eight isn't ideal but it's a scary proposition for sides bound for September, with Richmond moving the ball more effectively from end-to-end and scoring more points per game from both turnover and stoppage sources.
10th - WESTERN BULLDOGS
Rounds 1-12: 6-6, 9th on ladder
91.8 pts for (4th)
92.0 pts agst (5th)
Rounds 14-20: 4-3, 6th on ladder
77.5 pts for (6th)
95.1 pts agst (16th)
K:H Ratio: Rounds 1-12 - 10th, Rounds 14-20 - 15th
Marks: 3rd, 11th
Pts Agst: 6th, 17th
Oppo Score Per In50: 10th, 13th
The Bulldogs are conceding heavier scores and aren't putting nearly as much on the board themselves as they were pre-bye, but it hasn't haunted them, yet. Style-wise, they have started to handball a lot more and are less prone to controlling a game with marks, but without the footy in their possession, their defence is severely struggling and is getting opened up. Is it sustainable if they scrape into the eight? These numbers show they still need to adapt on the fly.
11th - GOLD COAST
Rounds 1-12: 6-6, 11th on ladder
84.8 pts for (10th)
78.5 pts agst (9th)
Rounds 14-20: 3-4, 12th on ladder
88.3 pts for (8th)
91.7 pts agst (14th)
Kick Forward %: Rounds 1-12 - 2nd, Rounds 14-20 - 6th
Kick Long %: 4th, 11th
Uncon Poss Diff: 16th, 18th
Opp Score Per In50: 11th, 18th
Pressure Applied: 2nd, 17th
Gold Coast have been ultra-impressive this season and are on the verge of recording their best ever finish to a season if they can notch up another two wins from their remaining three games.
The Suns are playing more directly when kicking the footy, but they are generally getting beaten in the uncontested possession and territory game, while also still being hurt when the opposition goes inside 50.
They're not playing perfect footy but the dream of September is still alive, even if it's highly improbable!
12th - PORT ADELAIDE
Rounds 1-11: 5-6, 11th on ladder
74.4 pts for (14th)
70.9 pts agst (4th)
Rounds 13-20: 3-5, 11th on ladder
82.5 pts for (11th)
79.0 pts agst (7th)
Disposals: Rounds 1-12 - 7th, Rounds 14-20 - 1st
Contested Poss Diff: 13th, 5th
Uncontested Poss Diff: 4th, 1st
Time In Fwd Half: 10th, 8th
Fwd Half Stoppages: 7th, 5th
Fwd Half Intercepts: 11th, 2nd
Inside 50 - Diff: 10th, 6th
Starting the season at 0-5 has cost the Power. Let's be honest, they aren't making finals, but their form post-bye has been solid. They have improved their forward press in the later stages of the season and are dominating possession off the ball. But this could be a case of too little, too late.