This is a make or break year for Geelong - if the Cats don't win the premiership, they will have to concede that the current group of players isn't capable of taking the game's greatest prize.
Chris Scott joined a select group in 2011 when he won the flag in his debut season, after inheriting a superb list from Mark Thompson. This represents his best chance of a second premiership as a coach a decade later.
After failing at the final hurdle last season, the Cats firmly believe they still have a premiership team at their disposal despite the retirement of dual Brownlow medallist Gary Ablett and veteran defender Harry Taylor.
With the league's second-oldest list behind St Kilda, Geelong has lured three experienced players - Jeremy Cameron, Shaun Higgins and Isaac Smith - during the off-season in the hope of taking that next step.
Watching the combination of Cameron and last year's Coleman medallist Tom Hawkins will be fascinating - the synergy between the pair may take a few rounds to operate smoothly, but they will prove a handful for any defence to nullify.
Higgins and Smith add class and run to an already talented and deep midfield led by skipper Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield, Mitch Duncan and Cameron Guthrie.
While everything points to another top-four finish for Geelong, big questions remain.
Since Brad Ottens retired at the end of 2011, the Cats have tried many ruck options and the athletic Rhys Stanley appears the best at this stage. But Stanley is prone to injury, so will his body stand up to a heavy workload?
Taylor provided sterling service over many seasons, but now the key defensive posts will be filled by veteran Lachie Henderson and Mark Blicavs, who is likely to spend more time down back - will their backline hold up against top-class opposition?
With nine games scheduled at GMHBA Stadium, Geelong enjoys a home-ground advantage not afforded to the other nine Victorian-based clubs, and I'm tipping the Cats to finish on top at the end of the home and away rounds.
But Richmond has been Geelong's nemesis in recent finals and even with their prize acquisitions the Cats still have to find the right formula to overcome the Tigers.
Under coach Damien Hardwick, Richmond has developed the best system which has enabled the Tigers to be the dominant team in the past four seasons. And they have a match-winner in Dustin Martin, who relishes the big stage in the finals. The Tigers are aiming for four premierships in five years, and it is their flag to lose.
In my mind, Richmond's greatest challenge is likely to come from across the border in South Australia.
Port Adelaide is the real deal and hungry for success. The Power finished on top last season, overcame Geelong in a gritty first final before falling a goal short of the eventual premier in a preliminary final.
They have some of the best young players in the AFL and have added to their list by recruiting key defender Aliir Aliir and clever forward Orazio Fantasia.
After making giant strides last season, St Kilda will step up to complete the top four.
Normally there are at least two changes to the eight from the previous season, but I can see only one this year. Finally Carlton will emerge and push out Collingwood, which appears to be on a downward slide after losing several key players.
As for the wooden spoon, it's North Melbourne to finish below Adelaide.
In the individual awards, I'm tipping Carlton co-captain Patrick Cripps to win the Brownlow Medal, Hawkins to snare his second successive Coleman Medal and Gold Coast gun Matt Rowell to return from injury and be the Rising Star.
- Port Adelaide
- St Kilda
- Brisbane Lions
- West Coast
- Western Bulldogs
- Gold Coast
- GWS Giants
- North Melbourne
Grassroots important to recovery
It will be great to see grassroots footy return this year after the pandemic forced the cancellation of most competitions last season.
Already young men and women in the metropolitan and regional areas are training hard and looking forward to resuming games, with practice matches due to start soon.
I can't wait to attend as many matches as I can, whether it is in the AFL or minor leagues.
Women's football is enjoying huge growth on the back of AFLW.
Many young women are now wanting to play the game.
You can see the standard gradually improving in the lower levels.
That augurs well for the future of AFLW with better, more experienced players now coming through the ranks.
There will be changes at games as a result of the pandemic.
However, the return of grassroots football and other sports is vital to the recovery of local communities as we emerge on the other side of this crisis.
Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @hpkotton59.
- This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas