ESPN's final ladder prediction: Who finishes where in 2021?

There's just six rounds of the 2021 AFL home and away season remaining. Who will finish on top? Will the Cats and Lions make the top four? And who fills the final two places in the eight?

After assessing the remaining fixtures for each side, injury lists and form, we've put together our predicted final ladder.

Note: We will continue to update this ladder after each round.

1. Western Bulldogs

Current position: 2
Current record: 13-4
End of season record: 18-4
Remaining games: Melbourne (MCG), Adelaide (Mars Stadium), Essendon (Marvel Stadium), Hawthorn (UTAS), Port Adelaide (Marvel Stadium)
Analysis: Key personnel coming back into the lineup only makes the Dogs harder to beat as we head towards September. It's hard to see the Bulldogs losing too many (if any) of their remaining games. Luke Beveridge's side has a number of very winnable fixtures, with the only real test coming this weekend against the Demons.

2. Geelong

Current position: 3
Current record: 13-4
End of season record: 18-4
Remaining games: Richmond (MCG), North Melbourne (Blundstone Arena), GWS (GMHBA Stadium), St Kilda (GMHBA Stadium), Melbourne (GMHBA Stadium)
Analysis: It's not the simplest run home for the Cats, who continue to be without some key players, but they will be pleased to end the season with three consecutive games at GMHBA Stadium, where they are so difficult to beat. They could very well win all five of their remaining games, but this week's test against the resurgent Tigers looms as a danger game for them.

3. Melbourne

Current position: 1
Current record: 13-3-1
End of season record: 16-5-1
Remaining games: Western Bulldogs (MCG), Gold Coast (TIO Stadium), West Coast (Optus Stadium), Adelaide (MCG), Geelong (GMHBA Stadium)
Analysis: The Demons really need to sort out their issues when facing bottom sides as they really do seem to go off the boil. Still, Simon Goodwin's side should be beating the Suns and Crows. The clashes against the Bulldogs, Eagles and Cats will determine whether they earn the double chance. I'm backing them to do it.

4. Brisbane

Current position: 5
Current record: 11-6
End of season record: 16-6
Remaining games: Gold Coast (Gabba), Hawthorn (MCG), Fremantle (Optus Stadium), Collingwood (Gabba), West Coast (Gabba)
Analysis: The Lions started the season slowly, hit top form, but have started to stumble again. Could back-to-back losses cost them a spot in the top four? We don't think so. They don't face a top six opponent for the remainder of the year and should be winning all of these games to secure a top four finish.

5. Port Adelaide

Current position: 4
Current record: 12-5
End of season record: 16-6
Remaining games: Collingwood (Marvel Stadium), GWS (TBC), Adelaide (Adelaide Oval), Carlton (Adelaide Oval), Western Bulldogs (Marvel Stadium)
Analysis: The Power are such an honest side, beating those below them but not quite good enough to get past those above them on the ladder. Given that, I'm giving them four more wins to close the season in fifth place.

6. Sydney

Current position: 6
Current record: 11-6
End of season record: 15-7
Remaining games: Fremantle (GMHBA Stadium), Essendon (Marvel Stadium), St Kilda (Marvel Stadium), North Melbourne (Marvel Stadium), Gold Coast (SCG)
Analysis: It's a very friendly run home for the Swans, who will likely start favourites in all of their remaining games. Even if they were to drop two of these, they would still have enough premiership points to play finals. What a sensational turnaround from last year it's been!

7. Essendon

Current position: 8
Current record: 8-9
End of season record: 12-10
Remaining games: GWS (Marvel Stadium), Sydney (Marvel Stadium), Western Bulldogs (Marvel Stadium), Gold Coast (Metricon Stadium), Collingwood (MCG)
Analysis: Give the Bombers at least three more wins from the final five games and they make it. The Swans and Bulldogs are big tests but we think they're good enough to win the others and secure a place in September.

8. Richmond

Current position: 9
Current record: 8-9
End of season record: 12-10
Remaining games: Geelong (MCG), Fremantle (Optus Stadium), North Melbourne (MCG), GWS (Giants Stadium), Hawthorn (MCG)
Analysis: You can never write this team off and Round 18's win over the Lions could be the firestarter they so desperately needed. I'm giving them wins against the Dockers, Roos and Hawks, but they're still going to need to win at least one of their other two if they are to play finals. It's going to be tight!

9. West Coast

Current position: 9
Current record: 9-8
End of season record: 11-11
Remaining games: St Kilda (Optus Stadium), Collingwood (MCG), Melbourne (Optus Stadium), Fremantle (Optus Stadium), Brisbane (Gabba)
Analysis: There's some very winnable games coming up for the Eagles, who look to be battling away for the final couple of spots in the eight, but are they good enough? They should be getting the points against the Magpies and Dockers, but that Round 23 meeting against the red-hot Lions could very well see them miss out on finals.

10. St Kilda

Current position: 11
Current record: 8-9
End of season record: 12-10
Remaining games: West Coast (Optus Stadium), Carlton (Marvel Stadium), Sydney (Marvel Stadium), Geelong (GMHBA Stadium), Fremantle (Marvel Stadium)
Analysis: Finals looked almost impossible at the halfway point of the year, but the Saints have managed to turn things around substantially. Last week's loss to Port was significant but a win over the Eagles in Perth will keep them in the hunt. They should be able to account for the Blues and Dockers, and with many teams around them stumbling, the Saints could very well play finals.

11. Carlton

Current position: 13
Current record: 7-10
End of season record: 9-13
Remaining games: North Melbourne (Marvel Stadium), St Kilda (Marvel Stadium), Gold Coast (Marvel Stadium), Port Adelaide (Adelaide Oval), GWS (Giants Stadium)
Analysis: The Blues have a reasonably soft run to finish the campaign and will likely be favoured to get the job done in three of their last five games. Still, too many early losses have cost David Teague's side a chance of seriously challenging for finals. Perhaps next year...

12. Greater Western Sydney

Current position: 12
Current record: 7-9-1
End of season record: 8-13-1
Remaining games: Essendon (Marvel Stadium), Port Adelaide (Manuka Oval), Geelong (GMHBA Stadium), Richmond (Giants Stadium), Carlton (Marvel Stadium)
Analysis: It's so hard to trust this side, who play like world beaters one week before stumbling the next (just look at their tale-of-two-halves games against the Swans). Their final five games are tough, and with that inconsistency, it's hard to see them playing in September.

13. Fremantle

Current position: 10
Current record: 8-9
End of season record: 8-14
Remaining games: Sydney (SCG), Richmond (Optus Stadium), Brisbane (Optus Stadium), West Coast (Optus Stadium), St Kilda (Marvel Stadium)
Analysis: The weekend's loss to the Cats shows Fremantle is a serious step down from the league's top teams. The Dockers look like being the biggest slider with a very difficult final five games. They will likely start as outsiders in all of them, and aside from the Round 22 Derby, it's hard to make a case they can win any of these.

14. Adelaide

Current position: 16
Current record: 5-12
End of season record: 7-15
Remaining games: Hawthorn (Marvel Stadium), Western Bulldogs (Mars Stadium), Port Adelaide (Adelaide Oval), Melbourne (MCG), North Melbourne (Adelaide Oval)
Analysis: The Crows have been a little unpredictable but have caused problems at times when playing at home. They should give the Hawks and Roos a run for their money later in the year, but that will likely be it for wins in 2021.

15. Collingwood

Current position: 15
Current record: 5-12
End of season record: 6-16
Remaining games: Port Adelaide (Marvel Stadium), West Coast (MCG), Hawthorn (MCG), Brisbane (Gabba), Essendon (MCG)
Analysis: Robert Harvey has five more games to stake his claim for the top job at the Magpies. He should be looking at the games against the Hawks and Bombers as very winnable and two he needs if he'sto get the nod for 2022.

16. Gold Coast

Current position: 14
Current record: 6-11
End of season record: 6-16
Remaining games: Brisbane (Gabba), Melbourne (Metricon Stadium), Carlton (Marvel Stadium), Essendon (Metricon Stadium), Sydney (SCG)
Analysis: It's a very, very tricky finish for the Suns. We're calling it, they won't win another game in 2021!

17. Hawthorn

Current position: 17
Current record: 4-12-1
End of season record: 4-17-1
Remaining games: Adelaide (Marvel Stadium), Brisbane (MCG), Collingwood (MCG), Western Bulldogs (UTAS), Richmond (MCG)
Analysis: Alastair Clarkson will be looking at the fixtures against the Crows and Magpies as potential wins. It's hard to see them challenging the likes of the Dees, Lions, Bulldogs or Tigers who are all jostling for position in the top half of the ladder.

18. North Melbourne

Current position: 18
Current record: 3-13-1
End of season record: 3-18-1
Remaining games: Carlton (Marvel Stadium), Geelong (Blundtsone Arena), Richmond (MCG), Sydney (Marvel Stadium), Adelaide (Adelaide Oval)
Analysis: They've been quite gallant but it's hard to see where the Kangaroos will pinch another win in season 2021. Perhaps it will be in the final round, when they take on the Crows in Adelaide. Even with another win in the run home, David Noble's side will likely finish on the bottom of the ladder.