The five minute guide to season 2016

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Adelaide will win plenty of games due to the cream of their crop; they boast a tough midfield, and a dangerous forward line. It will be much harder for them when their depth is tested, and they will are likely to lose some games this year that they wouldn’t have dropped in 2015. It might take them a year or two to really gel under Don Pyke’s tutelage, which could mean missing the top eight this year; but they’re still a young team that is heading in an encouraging direction. Player to watch: Wayne Milera

Brisbane have some star power, but their list is comprised mostly of unproven players mentored by an as yet unproven coach. There are some exciting youngsters to keep an eye on, but with such a heavy reliance on their top tier, the Lions are only a few injuries away from disaster. Climbing out of the bottom four would be a minor miracle. Player to watch: Josh Schache

The only way is up for Carlton. They’re one of the few clubs who would harbour no finals aspirations for the upcoming season. It feels like the Blues suffered a short and sudden bottoming out, and it’s all about incremental improvement from now on. If their senior players can stay on the park there’s no reason they couldn’t cobble together five or more victories; but fans should be more interested in the progress of their youngsters than the 2016 win-loss record. Player to watch: Jacob Weitering

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After a tough separation from the Malthouse era and difficult departures of many household names, Collingwood’s investment in youth and Nathan Buckley’s ideologies should start to pay off this year. There’s definitely a lot to like about where the Pies are headed, but they may not quite ready to mix it with the heavyweights just yet. Player to watch: Jordan de Goey

Expectations will never be lower at Essendon than this year, but the Bombers still have much to play for in 2016. John Worsfold has effectively a free year to implement his game plan before the majority of his stars return. Fringe players and youngsters have a great opportunity to play every week and fast track their AFL development. Essendon will defy the ultimate doomsayer predictions and win some games in 2016 – but they won’t win many. Player to watch: Zach Merrett

Fremantle is a damn good football team, and has been for some time now. But they have the oldest list in the competition, and this could be the last chance for club greats like Matthew Pavlich and Michael Johnson. Expect the Dockers to be there when the whips are cracking in September, even if their premiership window is only slightly ajar. Player to watch: Harley Bennell

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Geelong is openly courting a flag in 2016 and will be disappointed with anything less than a deep finals run. With some canny recruiting they have assembled a fearsome midfield of genuine stars; and their fixture is a dream to say the least. The biggest challenge will be keeping their key players healthy and on the park. If they play to their potential the Cats should be right in the premiership mix. Player to watch: Patrick Dangerfield

There is a sense of inevitability about Gold Coast; when everything finally comes together they’ll be a daunting proposition for opponents. This year will likely reveal which of the Suns’ draftees are going to be key names for years to come and which are unable to make the transition from junior to senior football. But don’t discount how much of a setback 2015, or the Guy McKenna years, may have been – they’re still some way off the pack. Player to watch: Dion Prestia

It looks like being a very congested middle of the ladder in 2016; and Greater Western Sydney is set to be a part of the bunfight for a coveted finals spot. The young core of this playing group are getting close to maturity and the upside of young talent is as high as any group in the competition. Natural development will take them far, but some important personnel losses may mean it’s another year of growing pains for the Giants, and they could be looking at another September away from the action. But surely it won’t be for too much longer. Player to watch: Dylan Shiel

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What is there left to say about Hawthorn? They’ve taken all before them in the last three years; when the going gets tough, the Hawks get going. But all eras have to end some time, and with a few offseason retirements and Father Time hot on the heels of their elite midfielders, their depth will be tested like never before. They enter round one with six players missing from the squad that bested the Eagles to capture the flag last year… but you’d have to be incredibly brave or incredibly mad to bet against Alastair Clarkson’s men. They’ll stop at nothing in their quest to be the second team in history to win four premierships in a row. Player to watch: Billy Hartung

After a long stretch in the footballing wilderness, it seems Melbourne’s fortunes are turning. Another year into the legs of the next generation and some more experience in the bank is name of the game. In what is likely Paul Roos’ last season at the helm before Simon Goodwin takes over, the idea will be to push for finals – regression from last season would be a disaster and leave doubts that perhaps the club isn’t that much further along than when Roos took over. But this group has shown they’ve got the kind of fight in them that the Dees lacked for much of the last decade. Player to watch: Angus Brayshaw

A brave preliminary final defeat won’t be enough to please North Melbourne fans – this must be the year the Kangaroos prove their premiership credentials. Their window will likely be a brief one with several stars on the wrong side of 30. With a soft fixture to start the year they should vault towards the top of the ladder early on. Only after that will we find out once and for all if North Melbourne truly is a contender. Player to watch: Jed Anderson

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If the lessons have been learned from 2015, Port Adelaide simply must be a finals team this year. The talent and experience has been acquired and the age profile indicates they should be on the way up, and not down. Be prepared to treat last year as a blip and give the Power one more chance. If they can once again find the elusive run and the maniacal attack on the ball that took them to a preliminary final in 2014 they should be around deep into September. Player to watch: Charlie Dixon

With only one of Richmond’s first eight games interstate, and four games in Melbourne against non-finalists in their first six, there’s no excuse for a slow start to the season. If the Tigers can jump out of the blocks, unlike the last two seasons, they might just have the talent and confidence to clinch themselves a prized double chance. The development of their younger talent will be the difference between being a team good enough to make the finals or a team ready to pry open their premiership window. Player to watch: Brandon Ellis

2016 will be another stage in the rebuild of St Kilda as the club prepares for their next generation to take the reins from the old hands that took them back-to-back Grand Finals six years ago. The challenge will be to find consistency and begin to work together as an effective unit more often than not. This is a team that is focused on 2018-19; putting minutes into their cavalcade of emerging stars is the priority. Player to watch: Jack Billings

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There’s a new wave of talent in red and white, which means 2016 might be a struggle by Sydney standards. Already the Swans are dealing with a swathe of senior players either not fit for round one or coming out of an interrupted pre-season, and there’s a particularly soft underbelly to Sydney once more than a couple of injuries take hold. But you can’t easily discount a team with such a strong midfield and the enigmatic Lance Franklin inside forward 50. Player to watch: Callum Mills

The Western Bulldogs are one of a dozen teams who will fancy themselves a chance of pushing into the top four if things fall their way. Equally, they could miss the eight entirely if they are slightly off last season’s standard. They will continue to play fast and aggressive football, but Luke Beveridge will be keen to find a balance between the zest of youth and the experience of his older campaigners. It seems crazy, but the round one home clash against the Dockers could be a strong indicator of the season ahead. Player to watch: Marcus Bontempelli

Driven by the pain of a Grand Final defeat, the West Coast Eagles have class and experience on every line and a coach who has already proven his tactical nous, with the notorious Weagles Web defense bamboozling the competition in 2015. They’ve shown they can cope with adversity, too, with a spate of injuries to important personnel early in the season last year not enough to keep them down. If they can nab a top four spot and a home final in week one, they’ll be tough to beat for the premiership. Player to watch: Andrew Gaff