North Melbourne Kangaroos
Why here: The Kangaroos have finished 9th in the past 2 seasons and will be confident of taking the next step this year. They've got a young, improving team, and play hard, contested football. On top of that, they've got a soft draw which will help considerably; playing Gold Coast, GWS & the Bulldogs twice.
Key player: Todd Goldstein proved himself as one of the elite AFL ruckmen last year, notching a league-high 741 hitouts in 21 games. At 23 he should still have plenty of improvement left in him, and if he can add a few more goals to his game he'll become one of the competition's most valuable players.
One to watch: Yet to play a senior game, Majak Daw is still well known amongst the AFL community as the competition's first Sudanese player. The athletic youngster is an excitement machine capable of the spectacular, but still lacks a bit of footy know-how. Due to North's strength in the ruck department he's unlikely to play much, but should make his debut at some point this season.
This season will be a success if... the Kangaroos manage to beat the teams around them in the ladder. They're unlikely to make much of an impact against the top teams, but should be pretty consistent and if they manage to win the close games could sneak into the top 6.
Why here: Richmond have a number of players of genuine class who can take their club to the next level, and provide some excitement for their success-starved fans. They're lacking a little bit of depth, particularly in the defensive half, but I think their top-end talent will win them more games than they'll lose.
Key player: It's tough to pass over Jack Riewoldt, Trent Cotchin & Brett Deledio, but Dustin Martin outshines them all. In his second season he averaged over 22 a game disposals whilst notching up 33 goals. He should improve on both on those numbers this season, and has the potential to be a future Brownlow medallist within the next few seasons.
One to watch: Initially seen as the Tigers' future ruck, Tyrone Vickery was thrown forward with much success last season grabbing 36 majors. With a lot of the opposition's defence focused on stopping Riewoldt, Vickery is smart enough to take advantage of the space Riewoldt vacates, and good enough to finish the chances that come his way.
This season will be a success if... the Tigers' mid-tier players manage to up their output to complement their stars. They may be unheralded at the moment, but if the lesser-known Tigers can take the next step they will make their team very difficult to beat.
Why here: The Blues have been talked up as a genuine Premiership threat in some quarters, but I feel they're still lacking in key areas. They're without a power forward who can kick 50+ goals, with a lot of the pressure falling on small forwards Eddie Betts & Jeff Garlett. A lot of weight will also fall on key defender Michael Jamison's shoulders, with the rest of the Carlton defence lacking his pure stopping ability.
Key player: Chris Judd has been an elite AFL player for the best part of a decade after bursting onto the scene for the West Coast Eagles in the 2002 season. His game may not be quite as explosive as it once was, but he's still capable of taking a game by the throat and dragging his team over the finishing line.
One to watch: Number 12 pick in the 2009 draft, Kane Lucas, should be looking to secure his place in the Blues midfield this season. He's a classy runner who's capable of breaking through the lines and lighting up a game. Hopefully he can stay clear of the injuries which ruined his campaign last season.
This season will be a success if... the Blues manage to crack the top 4. They weren't too far away last season, and anything less than a Preliminary Final appearance will be a disappointment to the club, their players and their fans.
West Coast Eagles
Why here: The Eagles made a remarkable rise up the ladder last season, rising from a wooden spoon in 2010 to 4th place in 2011. They've got a healthy mixture of exciting young players and experienced campaigners, but will have been hurt in the pre-season by the loss of medium forwards Mark LeCras and Mark Nicoski. They'll be extremely tough to beat in the west, but whether they can regain their top 4 spot will depend on how they perform on the road. My feeling is that they may fall just short.
Key player: Dean Cox returned to his best last season after a couple of relatively disappointing campaigns. The mobile ruckmen has been freed up by the emergence of Nic Naitanui, with the pair being a fearsome combination in the middle and around the ground. The premier ruckman of the past decade should still be at the top for a few years to come.
One to watch: Brad Sheppard is an athletic defender with good skills and a fine work ethic. He didn't really manage to break into the Eagles team last season only playing 6 games, but should get another chance in the seniors this team and is more than capable of making a spot in their defence his for the next 10 years.
This season will be a success if... the Eagles manage to avoid any more serious injuries to their senior list. They don't have quite the strength in depth some of the other top teams have, so each further injury will test their squad to the full and will limit their ability to manage their top players throughout the season.