1. Kelly on fast track to elite status

At 24, Tim Kelly is not your ordinary first-year player. When he debuted in round one against Melbourne he looked a readymade AFL midfielder. His performances since have only made it harder to believe he was consistently overlooked by every club until last year's NAB AFL Draft. But Kelly's game against reigning premier Richmond on Friday night suggests he has the ability to join the game's elite onballers – sooner rather than later. On the game's biggest weekly stage, against the competition's best team and with midfield stars Patrick Dangerfield, Dustin Martin, Trent Cotchin, Joel Selwood and Gary Ablett gracing the MCG at the same time, it was Kelly who shone brightest. Geelong coach Chris Scott was in no doubt about that after the game. It was hard to argue with Scott's assessment after the West Australian finished with 36 possessions and one goal, and was hugely influential in Geelong's last-quarter surge that came up just short. The Cats look to have unearthed another midfield match-winner, one they will be desperate to hang on to when his contract expires at the end of next year. - Nick Bowen

2. Gaff's brain fade could blow West Coast's flag hopes

The massive West Coast crowd was shocked into silence after seeing normally mild-mannered Andrew Gaff lash out and drop Fremantle young gun Andrew Brayshaw during the third quarter of Sunday's Western Derby at Optus Stadium. The off-the-ball hit left Brayshaw bleeding profusely from the mouth and he wasn't seen again after disappearing into the rooms with the club doctor. The ramifications of Gaff's brain fade are huge. His Brownlow Medal hopes are over. The hit is almost certain to be graded intentional, with high impact and high contact, which will earn him a trip to the Tribunal and at least three weeks on the sidelines. That's the rest of the season the Eagles will have to navigate without their gun midfielder and talisman Nic Naitanui (knee), while spearhead Josh Kennedy is still sidelined. If Gaff cops a longer penalty – Melbourne's Tom Bugg got six weeks for his hit on Callum Mills last year – it's not out of the question he might miss the rest of the season and that the restricted free agent could've played his final game for West Coast. Can the Eagles win the flag without Naitanui and Gaff? It would be a huge ask, even if they secure two home finals. - Travis King

3. Speedy 'Jeffy' a point of difference for Melbourne

Small forward Jeff Garlett has been an important inclusion for Melbourne since coming back into the senior team in round 16. Garlett spent 11 weeks out of the senior side and in the VFL with the instruction to improve his work rate, his second efforts and his pressure around the ball. Against the Suns, Garlett's work rate was superb and the rewards he was able to receive flowed from there as he finished with 21 disposals, two goals and two score assists. Garlett's speed adds an important element to Melbourne's side, with his ability to get front and square at contests creating scoring opportunities that otherwise wouldn't be there. The Demons will hope he is up and firing heading into the last three rounds of the season and into September. - Ben Guthrie

4. Worsfold's excuse for this year only buys him time

Essendon's finals hopes barely remain alive, but coach John Worsfold, at least externally, seems unfussed that an opportunity might have gone begging. The Bombers' four-point loss to Hawthorn means they must win their last three matches against St Kilda, Richmond and Port Adelaide to have any chance of still playing in September. They had won eight of their past 10 matches, including the scalps of Geelong, Greater Western Sydney, West Coast, North Melbourne and Sydney, before Saturday's defeat, after an awful and largely unexplained 2-6 start. Essendon proved in the past three months what everyone expected in the pre-season – that the boys from Tullamarine can match it with the competition's best sides. But Worsfold's consistent line is that the Bombers are learning with a group that hasn't played much football together (although he admits they aren't young). That excuse won't carry much weight once next season rolls around, so it's up to his players to prove the coach's patience was a virtue. - Marc McGowan

LAST TWO MINUTES Watch the thrilling end to Hawks v Bombers

5. Crows will be dangerous if they sneak into September

A lot needs to go right for Adelaide to punch their finals ticket, but the Crows are starting to look like the side we thought they would be at the start of the season. The Crows put in a brilliant performance to edge out Port Adelaide by three points in a Showdown 45 thriller on Saturday. All the talk is about the goal review system that awarded Josh Jenkins the go-ahead goal, but as Ken Hinkley stressed in his post-game comments, the Crows were the better side. They won almost every key stat – contested possessions (+17), inside 50s (+22), tackles (+18) and clearances (+10). Bryce Gibbs, Matt Crouch and Rory Sloane were brilliant, Jenkins had a massive first half and Wayne Milera continues to shine across half-back. With Richard Douglas and Mitch McGovern set to return to face Greater Western Sydney in Canberra on Saturday night, the Crows are close to full strength, something that hasn't been able to be said almost all year. - Lee Gaskin

6. The Roos can now win without much from Brown

Wins against West Coast and Brisbane in the past fortnight have shown Brad Scott his team can not only win in any conditions, but can also get the job done without much contribution from spearhead Ben Brown. For the second week in a row Brown was held to a solitary goal, this time from a free kick, but it mattered little as the Kangaroos kicked 16 goals in defeating the Lions. Prior to the past two wins, the Coleman Medal frontrunner had kicked 34 goals in North's nine victories. On Saturday, Jack Ziebell kicked three, while the returning Jarrad Waite, Shaun Atley, Kayne Turner and Will Walker all kicked two. More avenues to goal should make the Roos harder to defend – and give more space for Brown to work in over the final three rounds. - Michael Whiting

7. AJ's comeback deserved an epic

The defender's return game dominated the news week and the match between Sydney and Collingwood made Johnson's night even more memorable. Brodie Grundy and Lance Franklin lived up to their elite status with brilliant individual performances, and young Swan Tom McCartin provided a cameo he won't forget after Will Hoskin-Elliott and Travis Varcoe threatened to ruin the home side's finals chances. Johnson looked anything like a man who hadn't played in almost six years, with 16 possessions and 11 marks playing as a deep defender, and it was only fitting that the home side scraped over the line with a gritty win. Sydney's season is still precariously poised with three games to go, but round 20 belonged to the most remarkable story of perseverance the game has ever seen. - Adam Curley

A jubilant Alex Johnson leaves the field after his return. Picture: Getty Images

8. Mr September arrives for GWS

Josh Kelly might just be the most important player in the AFL heading into September. It's no surprise the Giants' winning run – which has seen them claim eight victories in their last nine matches – has coincided with Kelly's return from a groin injury. Kelly has averaged more than 30 disposals per game since his comeback in round 10, but Sunday's performance in a 105-point victory over Carlton was his best of the lot. Kelly had 41 disposals, a season high, with more than half of those contested. He had 928m gained, while he was incredibly damaging forward of centre with a VFL/AFL record-equalling 16 inside 50s, 16 score involvements and four goal assists. Incredibly, all of the aforementioned statistics were game highs. He adds so much to this Giants side, with their record with Kelly in the side proving his importance. If he's not the best player in the game right now, he might be the most influential. - Riley Beveridge

9. You can't afford to let JJ run free

The 2016 Norm Smith medallist was at his blistering best on Saturday night in the Bulldogs' 35-point win over St Kilda. Port Adelaide's Darcy Byrne-Jones played a hard tag on Johannisen last round and kept him to just nine disposals, but there was no such attention paid on Saturday night. Consequently, Johannisen played a "ridiculously good game", to use the words of coach Luke Beveridge, tearing off half-back to finish with a career-high 42 disposals, a whopping 12 rebound-50s as well as five inside-50s. He was instrumental in the Bulldogs' monumental 73-point turnaround, and North Melbourne coach Brad Scott is unlikely to allow him to have as much latitude next week. - Sarah Black