It's Round 3 and already two pre-season premiership fancies are under enormous pressure.
Melbourne and Essendon entered the season earmarked to go deep into September, with the Demons considered a legitimate flag chance and the Bombers generating a groundswell of excitement after their barnstorming finish to 2018 and the recruitment of GWS dynamo Dylan Shiel.
But after two shocking losses to start the season, the Dons and Dees sit 17th and 18th respectively and have both copped a maelstrom of criticism.
And the criticism has been warranted. The Bombers have looked disjointed, disorganised and dispirited while the Demons have appeared underdone, unskilled and unable to score.
But is it time for Simon Goodwin and John Worsfold to hit their panic buttons and start preparing for next year?
Several stats suggest they should hold off, for at least a week.
Essendon's Round 1 defeat against GWS was a complete train wreck and Saturday's upset loss to St Kilda was viewed similarly, but the reality is the Dons were the better team apart from a woeful period from midway through the first quarter to the 12th minute of the second - when the Saints ripped the sloppy Bombers apart in kicking 6.5 to 1.2 from a 17-6 run of inside-50s. This period was, of course, when some Bombers played like under-8 footballers, making simple mistakes like kicking the ball into each other, not manning the mark and bizarrely, running away from a 'live' ball to instead take a breather on the interchange bench.
The Bombers appeared comical during this head-shaking period but it shouldn't be all doom and gloom at Windy Hill. From the 12-minute mark of the second quarter until the end of the game, Essendon lifted noticeably, winning the contested possessions 117 to 96, inside-50s 41-28 and outscoring the Saints by almost four goals. Their final pressure factor was fifth best across the round, signifying the Dons' defensive intent.
Of course, coaches and players are judged on wins and losses, meaning the end result was rightly the focus in the aftermath.
For Melbourne, whose list was ranked the best in the league by Champion Data before the season, the issues are myriad but especially pronounced at the pointy ends of the park.
The Dees' so-called 'one wood,' dominating contested possessions, again faltered against Geelong, losing that stat by 18 (incredibly they were -17 in their forward 50 alone). It continues a worrying trend, with Melbourne losing the contested possession count in each of their past three games having lost it only once in the previous 24 matches.
They also need to improve on the outside of the contest: since the start of last season, just 58 percent of their possessions have been uncontested - only Gold Coast are lower in that period.
The issues through the midfield appear to be a blip rather than a long-term concern, however, with the pop-gun attack and leaky defence most likely causing Goodwin and Co a few sleepless nights. So far this year, Melbourne are ranked 18th and 17th in scores per inside 50 and scores inside 50 against, meaning the Demons struggle to score once they get the ball into dangerous areas, but concede scores with ease.
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Ep. 10 of the @ESPNAusNZ #AFL podcast:
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But there is cause for optimism.
This season Melbourne have an average time in forward half differential of +9:04, continuing their strong focus in trying to play the game in their half. That figure is massive and if they can keep it up, history says the wins will flow: since 2008 there have been 19 teams with a season differential of +6:00. Of that group, five won that season's premiership, four were runners-up while all 19 played finals.
The Demons are also younger than most think. The 22 that locked horns against Geelong on Saturday night was the fifth youngest of the league in Round 2 and with Jordan Lewis, Jake Lever, Mitch Hannan, Aaron vandenBerg and Jeff Garlett likely to return by mid-season, it's not beyond possibility the Dees get a serious roll-on later in the year.
The question will be whether they leave it too late.
It's only Round 3 but Friday night's clash is already must-win as one team's season will get back on track while the loser's campaign will be further derailed.