Every AFL club's make or break for 2020

NOTE: This piece was written before the season was thrown into doubt due to COVID-19. At the time of publish, the 2020 AFL season is going ahead from Thursday night.

The preseason is done and dusted which means attention turns to the 2020 home and away season. ESPN footy writers Niall Seewang, Jake Michaels and Matt Walsh have surveyed the field and given their pass marks for each club.


2020 pass mark: Avoid finishing in the bottom four

All signs are pointing towards a season of struggles for the Crows. You could make the case every team which finished outside the top eight last year enters 2020 a much stronger outfit - that is everyone except Adelaide.

Since reaching the 2017 Grand Final, Don Pyke's side has lost talent and confidence. Their once frightening forward line is barely functioning and the lack of depth through the midfield is worrying.

With that said, if the Crows can finish this season with eight or so wins, while getting some games into their youngsters, 2020 won't be as disastrous as many are predicting.


2020 pass mark: Win a final

Few predicted the Lions' stunning rise up the ladder in 2019. Chris Fagan's side jumped from 15th in 2018 to second last year, playing a brand of football which had footy fans glued to their television screens.

But in the end Brisbane's 16 regular season wins counted for little as they bowed out of the finals in straight sets. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt and excuse their disappointing finals campaign, given they are still such a young and inexperienced side, but the same leniency isn't going to be offered this year.

Make no mistake, the Lions will be the hunted in 2020. They will face a tougher draw and are far from certainties to retain a place in the top four. The club's objective should be to play finals again, and this time win one (at least).


2020 pass mark: Find a forward to kick 40+ goals

It's been seven years since the Blues had someone boot at least 40 goals in a season (Jeff Garlett) and if they are to take the leap to the next level, something many are predicting in 2020, they need a consistent spearhead who can lead the line week in, week out.

Harry McKay won the goalkicking award at Carlton last season, with just 26 majors, and looms as the most likely to do it again. The 22-year-old had just two games last year with three or more goals and he really needs to find a way to kick a few more bags if the Blues are to have any success in 2020.

If McKay can't deliver, perhaps it could be Charlie Curnow. The young Blue has teased fans with his athletic brilliance but has found consistency tough. Or will it be Eddie Betts, who will once again don the navy blue after six years in Adelaide?


2020 pass mark: Reach the Grand Final

With so many quality teams vying for a premiership, it might seem like a tough pass mark for the Pies, but don't forget they made the big dance in 2018 and finished just one win behind Geelong last year in what was an injury interrupted season.

Led by inspirational leader Scott Pendlebury, and with a midfield group to marvel at, you would expect Collingwood to be in the premiership hunt again this year. However, anything short of reaching the Grand Final would be a disappointing season.


2020 pass mark: Break the hoodoo

Sorry Bombers fans, but it's been 16 long, agonising years since your team last won a final.

Essendon surprised many by reaching the finals last year, where they lost to West Coast in Perth, so the next logical step is for them to win one and snap their drought which dates back to 2004.

John Worsfold's side has been treading water in recent years, winning 12 games in each season between 2017 and 2019. If they can't take the leap, it could spell the end for Worsfold and a number of his senior players.


2020 pass mark: Find an identity

Granted, this isn't the most tangible pass mark on the list, but few are expecting the Dockers to play finals in 2020 and a big win for the club would be to put the chaos of last year well and truly behind them.

Ross Lyon has been replaced by Justin Longmuir, so what will the new game style look like? Can Nat Fyfe finally find a midfield partner (or two)? Will the forward line woes be straightened out?

If Longmuir and the Dockers can answer these questions by Round 23, season 2020 is far from a wasted year.


2020 pass mark: Win the flag

It's tough to win a premiership, just ask Patrick Dangerfield. Even with the number of stars assembled by the Cats last season, they were unable to take advantage of securing the minor premiership, going down to Collingwood in the first week of the finals and then to Richmond in the prelim.

In addition, they've lost Tim Kelly (though gained Jack Steven) and just maybe the talent on that list is starting to age to a point where their premiership window is beginning to close.

This year could be their last big crack at another flag, so expect them to go hard at it. There's stiff competition out there, but not winning a premiership with Dangerfield, Selwood, Hawkins in their prime would be a disaster.

Gold Coast

2020 pass mark: Don't go winless for extended periods

They lost 18 games in a row in 2019, and are staring down the barrel of a 19th straight loss in Round 1. It's not pretty reading, but the worst thing Gold Coast's hierarchy can do is get trigger-happy. They've got the beginnings of an excellent list; the young talent they've amassed is impressive, but young.

Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson, Ben King, Jack Lukosius and Izak Rankine are the makings of an elite group, but will require time and patience. Four, maybe five wins is a realistic expectation for the Suns, but the key will be to ensure they don't go winless for extended patches of the season as they did last year. A percentage of at least 75 would also be a bonus.

Greater Western Sydney

2020 pass mark: Back into the top four

The Giants finished sixth last year but played off for a premiership - it just goes to show that if teams can get their list into a decent shape and playing decent footy at the right time of the year, they can beat just about any team not named Richmond. Ideally, Leon Cameron would have preferred a top four finish considering the talent on this list, and that should be the goal in 2020.

Stephen Coniglio has taken over as skipper, Jeremy Cameron and Toby Greene are in their prime, and they have winners in just about every position. Remember when doomsdayers were predicting this superteam would win five flags in a row not so long ago? It's hard enough to win one, and these players and this coach won't want a flag-less career to be their legacy.


2020 pass mark: Finals

Every year it seems that Hawthorn is hard to gauge. Their list might not be as strong as years gone by, but there's always an overwhelming sense of "well, it's Clarko". For that reason, and the fact they regain Brownlow medal winner Tom Mitchell from a broken leg, and they've acquired former No. 1 draft pick in Jon Patton suggests the Hawks might yet be readying for a September assault.

Add in natural development to young players such as James Worpel and Mitchell Lewis and the Hawks could and should go one better than their ninth-placed finish in 2019.


2020 pass mark: Prove 2019's bottom two finish was an aberration

It's the burning question surrounding the Dees: was 2018 -- when they played scintillating football all they way into a preliminary final -- the exception to the rule, or was 2019's disastrous bottom two finish a blip for what has become a powerful 'new Melbourne'?

Much publicised was the issues they had last preseason with the number of offseason surgeries they have, as was the condition of some recruits -- such as Steven May -- who arrived at the club, but even towards the back end of the year, the Dees weren't able to get on a roll, going winless in their last seven games.

It's a big year for Simon Goodwin and his men, and they simply must repay the faith that Dees fans have shown in recent years.

North Melbourne

2020 pass mark: Vindicate the decision to sack Scott

Rhyce Shaw has a tough gig this year. As a caretaker coach, it's easy to loosen the shackles and play a free-flowing brand of footy. but in his first full season as head coach of North, there's pressure to vindicate the decision to sack Brad Scott.

Compared to Carlton and St Kilda, who also sacked coaches mid year, the Kangas were the team closest to finals at the time, and the belief the hierarchy put in Shaw, signing him after a successful stint as caretaker, shows not on the faith they have in him and the list, but also the pressure he is under to perform.

Finals is just about a must for this outfit.

Port Adelaide

2020 pass mark: Play finals

This isn't even a prediction - it's Port's own public pass mark after chairman David Koch confirmed coach Ken Hinkley's tenure as senior coach would hinge on whether the Power makes finals this season.

And they're good enough to do it, with the Power able to produce some of the most scintillating football in the league. However, the big test for Hinkley is to ensure his team produces that form with any semblance of consistency after a topsy-turvy 2019 campaign.

Their percentage last year -- a healthy 105.4 -- points to the fact they're a better-than-average team, and with some of the most exciting young talent in the league, they should be good enough feature in September.


2020 pass mark: A Grand Final berth

It's almost tempting to say a premiership is a pass mark for the Tigers, such has been their recent dominance and the fact they're possibly looking even stronger than last year: Grand Final star Marlion Pickett will benefit from a first proper AFL preseason, while Tom Lynch may become even scarier after entering 2019 on the back of significant knee surgery.

But as impressive as Richmond's personnel is, it's their gameplan that's so imposing. Few teams are able to quell the 'Tiger Tidal Wave' that so often overwhelms all before it, especially on the wide expanses of the MCG.

Everyone knows a week is a long time in footy, let alone looking ahead to September, but it's difficult to not to see Richmond at least featuring on Grand Final Day.

St Kilda

2020 pass mark: To be in the finals hunt in August

The new-look Saints -- fresh from one of the most frenetic offseasons in recent memory -- are possibly the most difficult team to predict heading into 2020.

After finishing 14th in 2019, new faces could make up almost a third of St Kilda's best 22. Those additions -- headlined by Bradley Hill, Zac Jones and Dougal Howard -- should only strengthen the side, but Brett Ratten's major task will be ensuring they all gel.

The Saints may miss finals, but they can't wallow in the AFL's lower echelons again. Rather, they need to be fighting for a finals berth as the home-and-away season enters its final month.


2020 pass mark: Find a successor to Buddy

The Swans are unlikely to play finals after finishing 15th in 2019, with few bright spots in a difficult year. A similar season may follow, but possibly more importantly is finding a successor to Lance Franklin, who is now firmly in the twilight of his career.

They went hard at Joe Daniher last offseason, and perhaps another attempt at luring the star Don north would be the obvious move. If not, then learning to build the forward line around the incredibly talented Nick Blakey makes sense.

With the Sydney sporting market a notoriously difficult one to crack for the Swans, finding a long-term, flamboyant star forward is a must.

West Coast

2020 pass mark: Play in the Grand Final

The Tim Kelly factor looms large in assessing the Eagles' expectations heading into 2020.

Already boasting one of the league's scariest lists and enjoying perhaps the strongest home ground advantage in the competition, the addition of the former Cats midfielder Kelly makes them a clear premiership fancy.

Barring an injury crisis, it would be a disaster if the Eagles didn't play on the last Saturday of September.

Western Bulldogs

2020 pass mark: Play in a prelim

This may sound like an ambitious pass mark for a club that was embarrassed by GWS in last year's elimination final but the Dogs look primed to jump several rungs of the ladder in 2020.

Already boasting one of the deepest midfields in the league -- and one which regained its manic intensity late last year -- the Bulldogs appear to have strengthened their two weak links during the offseason, after signing key defender Alex Keath and key forward Josh Bruce.

Assuming they retain the intensity of late 2019 and have a decent run with injury, the Dogs should at least make it to the penultimate weekend of the season.