Pass or fail: Every club's make or break for season 2021

After a long offseason, another premiership campaign is upon us. ESPN football writers Niall Seewang, Jake Michaels and Matt Walsh have surveyed the field and given their pass marks for each club.


2021 pass mark: Don't finish on the bottom of the ladder

They say the only way is up, and the Crows will be hoping that's true in 2021. While he don't hold the same lofty hopes as skipper Rory Sloane, who said finals was on the cards, they need to get themselves off the bottom of the ladder after a horror 2020.

With teams like North Melbourne, potentially Sydney, Essendon and Hawthorn also likely to finish in the lower reaches, it's important the Crows start rebuilding a winning culture again.


2021 pass mark: Win the premiership

Has there been a bigger 'chance-gone-begging' in AFL circles in recent times? The Lions were guaranteed home passage through every final in 2020 -- including the Grand Final -- and fell in the preliminary final to the Tigers.

They'll never get a better chance to win the flag, but their side has improved to a point where they should be eyeing the 2021 premiership. It's time this talented side takes advantage.


2021 pass mark: Play finals

No ifs, ands or buts about it, Carlton simply must make the eight in 2021. It's been six years since 'the rebuild' began, and fans are rightly starting to get restless. The list has been turned over, they've acquired two guns in Zac Williams and Adam Saad, and their top draft picks are now at the age where they need to be seriously influencing games.

David Teague's job will be under a lot of pressure if he can't deliver a finals berth, given where this list is at and the expectation among fans.


2021 pass mark: Don't allow a ladder freefall

It's almost hard to believe the Pies made finals last year given the offseason from hell 2020 was. Aside from the Eddie McGuire fiasco, the fire sale they had on their list was truly incredible to watch; Jaidyn Stephenson and Adam Treloar made way for some purported extra cap space to keep things running smoothly.

Will the Pies make finals? It's tough to know - there's still plenty of talent on the list. But avoiding a ladder freefall should be the goal after arguably the toughest offseason in the club's history.


2021 pass mark: Avoid the bottom four

The Bombers finished 13th in 2020 and arguably didn't improve their list in the offseason, so they really need to ensure they don't fall down much further in 2021.

With No Saad, Joe Daniher, Orazio Fantasia and Shaun McKernan (who, when all fit, are all easily in their best 22), the onus is going to be on the baby Bombers to step into their places. It could be a tough year for this side.


2021 pass mark: Finish above their 2020 position of 12th

Is the pressure on Fremantle to make finals yet? We're not so sure, though we are extremely bullish on their prospects in 2020. If Justin Longmuir can ensure his side is improving every year under his tutelage, then Dockers fans should be satisfied.

We saw enough from youngsters Adam Cerra, Andrew Brayshaw and Caleb Serong last year to suggest further improvement is on the cards, while veterans Nat Fyfe, Michael Walters (when he returns from a hamstring injury) and even David Mundy balance out the young and the old beautifully.

It's more likely that 2022 will be the year the Dockers pounce, though you only have to look at Brisbane's meteoric rise in 2019 to see how fast it can happen...


2021 pass mark: Win the premiership

Last year we wrote that Geelong's pass mark for 2020 was to win the premiership, and they went awfully close to saluting.

We're doubling down this year. Make no mistake, the Cats are still in a premiership window - their already mature list has been bolstered by the offseason recruitments of Jeremy Cameron, Isaac Smith and Shaun Higgins.

Their 'all-in' approach should be admired but the pressure is well and truly on Chris Scott and his side to deliver. After all, the premiership window doesn't stay open forever.

Gold Coast

2021 pass mark: Finish the season strongly for once

The Suns' 2020 efforts -- five wins and one draw at a percentage of 90, as well as some key re-signings from their emerging core -- were pretty decent when assessing the whole package, but again the club fell away dramatically after a promising start to the season. Eight losses, one draw and one win from their final 10 games was simply not good enough, especially considering similar late-season fadeouts in recent years.

So the pass mark for the Suns is a simple one - find a way to be competitive throughout the season, not just at the start. There's more than enough talent there, they just need to showcase that consistently.

Greater Western Sydney

2021 pass mark: Tread water

The Giants are one of the most difficult teams to assess heading into 2020. The AFL's newest club fell away dramatically last year but the squad is still laden with talent.

Leon Cameron has two years to steady the ship after his contract extension and while they look unlikely to break back into the top eight, they shouldn't need to totally bottom out before rising again.

If they can hold their ground around mid-table, it'll be a decent result, considering the dire situation many thought they might fall into.


2021 pass mark: Avoid the bottom four

All things point to Hawthorn struggling in 2021 and it might be a battle to even avoid dropping further than last year's 15th-placed finish.

Alastair Clarkson faces a mighty job rebuilding a team that lacks quality across the park, especially given the injuries to stars James Sicily and Jack Gunston, who both look set to miss most of the season. Getting games into youngsters and avoiding the bottom four would be a great platform to build on.


2021 pass mark: Play finals

This is one of the most obvious pass marks to give. Playing finals is an absolute must for the Demons after their topsy-turvy recent history - another losing season will be simply unacceptable, especially considering the quality of the Melbourne list.

There's a few game-style issues to sort out (maximising his side's powerful inside midfield unit and better midfield to forward line connection) but it's pretty simple to understand what Simon Goodwin must do in 2021 - find a way to get his team into September.

North Melbourne

2021 pass mark: Deliver hope to their spectators

Last year was nothing short of a disaster for North Melbourne. They avoided the wooden spoon, only on percentage, in a season which saw coach Rhyce Shaw step away from the game. They also cut deep into their list, meaning more short-term pain is likely on the way.

But with new coach David Noble at the helm, the Roos must find a way to deliver some hope to themselves and their fans. North's list looks thin compared to some of the league's powerful clubs but there is a smattering of quality. Noble and Co. must find a way to fast-track the inevitable rebuild and take some big scalps along the journey.

Port Adelaide

2021 pass mark: Avoid 'doing a Melbourne,' back up last year's top four finish

The Power were just about the surprise packet of 2020, finishing the home and away season on top of the ladder with a record of 14-3. There weren't many who saw the stark rise coming, but it still wasn't enough for us to be convinced they will feature at the pointy end this year.

Ken Hinkley's side must not follow in the Demons' footsteps of 2018 where they shot up the ladder, only to look a shadow of themselves a year later and plummet back down. Any finish outside the top four would have to be considered a disappointment for Port, given what they showcased 12 months ago.


2021 pass mark: Extend the dynasty

The Tigers might just be the hardest team to set any sort of benchmark for. Even if they finished on the bottom of the ladder (yeah, right), fans would still be thrilled with what's been achieved over the last three or four years. And rightly so.

We don't think the Tigers neccessarily MUST win the flag this season for us to consider the dynasty still active, another top four finish, followed by a solid finals campaign would be enough to ensure it continues for another year.

St Kilda

2021 pass mark: Top four finish, earn the double chance

Everyone seems to be bullish on the Saints in 2021, us included. Last year, they finished sixth on the ladder and went on to win a final, so naturally, with a reasonably young list, you'd expect further improvement 12 months on.

The additions of Brad Crouch, Jack Higgins and McKernan are only going to make Brett Ratten's side stronger and with a number of Saints in their golden years, there's really no excuse now.


2021 pass mark: Find a Buddy successor

If you read our pass marks for 2020, you'll notice we had the same breakeven for the Swans 12 months ago. Unfortunately for Sydney fans, they were unable to find a new key forward, to take over from the aging Lance Franklin, but things could be different in 2021.

Nick Blakey continues to improve, as does Tom McCartin (though now spending more time in defence). And then there's Logan McDonald, who has plenty of Buddy-like attributes. If the Swans can settle on one of these guys as a key forward, they will be in a prime position to rebound up the ladder in 2022.

West Coast

2021 pass mark: Return to the Grand Final

Every list is an ageing list, but the majority of the Eagles' stars are either on the wrong side of 30, or getting very close.

The squad is still one of the best in the league and with more games at Optus Stadium in 2021, there's really no reason why West Coast shouldn't be in the hunt for another premiership. They've got the forward line, midfield and defence to do it ... and maybe the league's best ruckman.

Western Bulldogs

2021 pass mark: Return to the preliminary finals

Yes, it's an audacious goal, but the Dogs look to be primed for a premiership tilt and are certainly a stronger side now than when they won it in 2016.

The addition of Adam Treloar, into an already frightening midfield (perhaps the best in the AFL), is the cherry on top for Luke Beveridge's side, but questions still remain on their forward line and whether they have enough scoring power. Still, the Bulldogs would have to be disappointed if they don't reach the last four, and therefore a preliminary final berth has to be their breakeven in 2021.