AFL Round 21 Preview: Gutcheck time for Western Bulldogs and Essendon

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The Western Bulldogs and Essendon Bombers are hanging on to finals spots but are staring down the barrel of likely defeats against superior sides. In other round 21 action Richmond and Geelong battle inside the top 4, while Melbourne and St. Kilda face a must-win contest.

Western Bulldogs vs. GWS Giants (Friday at Etihad Stadium)

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11-8 vs 12-5-2, both these sides are talented, but have been a bit inconsistent this season, especially the Bulldogs. GWS nipped this game in round 6 and they are the better side. Injuries have ravaged both teams this season, but the Giants get big Jon Patton and Toby Greene back in the forward line, while Devon Smith and Shane Mumford miss. Giants veteran Steve Johnson is retiring at the end of the season as well. The Bulldogs injury list adds Easton Wood but Jake the package Stringer returns. Look for the GWS midfield to step up and grab a win as the Bulldogs won’t be able to secure their place in finals. Giants by 14

Sydney Swans vs. Fremantle (Saturday at the SCG)

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Fremantle lacks the firepower to compete with Sydney. The Dockers haven’t been bad this year, and Nat Fyfe is coming off of his best games of the season for Ross Lyon’s side, but outside of Lachie Neale the Dockers lack an x-factor. Sydney is looking stable as premiership contenders this year and they should keep up their positive results as of late with everyone chipping in, including Lance Franklin. Swans by 16

Geelong vs. Richmond (Saturday at Simonds Stadium)

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12-6-1 vs 13-6, the Cats have a narrow edge in percentage so this is a battle for third with both teams meeting for the first time this season. This matchup looks tasty, until you look at the Geelong list, Joel Selwood, Mitch Duncan, and Tom Hawkins are out, leaving Patrick Dangerfield feeling along and needing to step up. The Tigers get forward Jack Riewoldt back, and their additions this season Josh Caddy and Dion Prestia are coming off big games. Look for likely Brownlow winner Dustin Martin to lead the Tigers to a victory. Tigers by 38

Brisbane Lions vs. Gold Coast Suns (Saturday at the Gabba)

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Brisbane nipped this matchup in round 1 and are playing to avoid a wooden spoon. Gold Coast at 6-13 just sacked Rodney Eade, are in terrible form, and can’t stay healthy, as Tom Lynch and Gary Ablett are both missing (Lynch for the season). The Lions are far from a great side, but they have more fight than Gold Coast has shown this season, and likely a better midfield with Dayne Beams and Dayne Zorko. The Lions should sweep the season series against their Queensland rivals to get win #5 this season. Lions by 19

Essendon vs. Adelaide Crows (Saturday at Etihad Stadium)

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The Bombers were outmatched in round 4, and the Crows have separated themselves from all rivals this season by some margin with a 14-4-1 first place record and a 141.5 percentage. Essendon likes to run free and with finals hopes on the line at 10-9 they will have to. With Zach Merrett and Orazio Fantasia, two key players for the Bombers out, Jobe Watson retiring, and a Crows side that shows no signs of slowing down, Adelaide should halt Essendon’s overall momentum and get a win. Crows by 42

West Coast Eagles vs. Carlton (Saturday at Domain Stadium)

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10-9 vs 5-14, the Eagles are at home to boot and should win this easily. That said, Carlton is a pesky team and despite their terrible form they can’t be counted out. The Eagles have been shaky all season but a retiring Matt Priddis returns to the lineup, and with an improved forward line they should simply outscore the Blues, who have a good backline but a shaky forward line. Eagles by 30

Melbourne vs. St. Kilda (Sunday at the MCG)

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Melbourne won this game to start the season but they have lost two straight and their finals hopes are on life support if they lose. St. Kilda is in the same boat, at 97.3% they need help to make finals at 10-9. This is a must win game for both teams, as only one is going to make finals it seems. The emotional heart of the Saints, Nick Riewoldt is out, while the Demons look to get Angus Brayshaw back this week in a bit of a surprise. The Melbourne midfield with Jordan Lewis and Clayton Oliver, their backline with Michael Hibberd, and the ruck spot with Max Gawn are all better, but if their forward line doesn’t produce it won’t matter. I’ll give the Dees the benefit of the doubt. Demons by 5

Hawthorn vs. North Melbourne (Sunday in Tasmania)

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Hawthorn wanted much more from this season, but North Melbourne is in even worse shape. Look for the retiring Luke Hodge and Tom Mitchell to step up to grab a Hawks win for the fourth time in a row against North. Hawks by 27

Port Adelaide vs. Collingwood (Sunday at Adelaide Oval)

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3-0-1 in their last four, Collingwood would love to play the spoilers on the road against Port, who got destroyed last week by their crosstown rivals. Port easily won in round 14, but Nathan Buckley is playing for his job yet again this week, and surely the Pies will step up a bit more, hoping to save their coach from the axe. With Brodie Grundy, Daniel Wells, and Levi Greenwood out though, while Chad Wingard returns for a Port side that should be spitting fire as they try to secure a finals berth, Port should prove too much at home. Power by 15

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