Finals, flag, award winners: Jude Bolton's crystal ball

So here we are, a month away from the conclusion of the home and away season after a thrilling opening 19 rounds.

It's been a fascinating season and while many questions have already been answered, some key issues are yet to play out.

It's time to look into the crystal ball and assess the biggest questions still remaining ahead of the final month of the regular season.

The top eight

1. Richmond (72 points)

By far and away the best side in the competition at this point, Richmond look set to charge into the finals by winning all of their final four games.

2. West Coast (64 points)

The Eagles need to bounce back in the Derby to strike some form after the loss to North Melbourne in Tasmania. Without Luke Shuey (and Josh Kennedy) for Sunday's clash, the Kangaroos looked too strong around the footy and West Coast must find a way to address that.

3. GWS (62 points)

A major threat for the flag. Jeremy Cameron returns from suspension just as this team has come into scintillating form. GWS have top-end talent that is the envy of many of the other clubs, but also have the hurt of losing their past two preliminary finals driving them.

4. Port Adelaide (60 points)

Sitting nicely now in the top four after their gritty win against the Western Bulldogs. I feel Port may drop the Showdown this week but win their remaining three games against West Coast, Collingwood and Essendon.

5. Geelong (56 points)

What a massive game this Friday night will be when they take on the Tigers. I think it will be their main test -- I think Richmond will be too strong at the MCG -- but the form of Tom Hawkins and Co. will ensure they win all their remaining games.

6. Collingwood (56 points)

This Collingwood side has been incredibly brave as injuries have mounted. The quality of those in the stands starts to take a toll on any side. They can't afford to drop the Sydney game this weekend as I am also of the belief Port Adelaide will get over them in Round 22. I'm giving them two wins from their final four.

7. Melbourne (52 points)

They have one of the strongest onball brigades led by Clayton Oliver and play an attacking brand of football. They look set to end their lengthy finals drought but I am giving them only two wins in the next month: against Gold Coast this week and vs. Sydney week after.

8. Hawthorn (52 points)

I think they may only win two more games on the way home but with Sydney close by with inferior percentage (109.9 to 122.7 percent), they may sneak in by the skin of their teeth.

Missing the cut:

Sydney have been in freefall and face an incredibly tough run home that starts with what must be viewed as an elimination final against Collingwood this week. Also just missing out are Essendon, North Melbourne and Adelaide.

Premiers

Richmond's form at the MCG is insatiable and I still view them as premiership favourites, but GWS are firming each week and I see it being a Tigers-Giants grand final.

Brownlow Medal

Winners (s): Tom Mitchell & Max Gawn (tied)

Mitchell's body of work is incredible. Having won the best and fairest last year, the prolific Hawthorn ball winner is averaging 36 disposals a game and will command umpires' attention having found more opportunities to break out the front of stoppages and drive the footy forward. He has hit the scoreboard also which makes a deserving favourite for the prestigious medal.

However, the dominance of Gawn cannot be understated. Having had more hit-outs to advantage (303 in 2018 thus far) than entire teams, the gigantic Demon has been able to exert his influence on results and gift his prime movers first use. He also has worked to smart positions throughout season 2018, sitting in the hole or down the line to take important contested marks. It has been a midfielder's medal for a large part of modern history, however, could we return to the age of recognising the dominant big man and have Gawn feature prominently on Brownlow night?

Minor placings:

Patrick Cripps will certainly be right in the hunt on the league's night of nights, closely followed by Andrew Gaff and Shaun Higgins who have all had stellar seasons. Cripps in my opinion may only be held back by Carlton's two-win year so far. The big question, can he poll enough 3-vote games in his side's losses to get across the line?

Rising Star

Winner:

Jaidyn Stephenson. For sheer consistency and high level of output, I have gone with Stephenson. The excitement machine has burst onto the scene with a mix of forward pressure and classy finishing and has immediately become a Collingwood favourite, with his blistering pace giving opponents nightmares.

Minor placings:

I've selected Tom Doedee from the Crows to finish second due to seamlessly slotting into an Adelaide defence after their loss of Jake Lever. Has had tough defensive roles throughout the year, but his intercept marking and confidence to leave his opponent to support teammates in the air has been a feature. Doedee has been a highlight for Adelaide in what has been a disappointing year post their grand final appearance in 2017.

Sydney's Ben Ronke has been superb also as that pressure forward, kicking a bag of seven in a memorable Friday night clash against the Hawks and he should be rewarded by being on the podium.