26 minutes into the first quarter of Sunday's game between Adelaide and Richmond Daniel Rioli kicked his second goal to put his side 13 points ahead of the Crows. Meanwhile, Collingwood were weathering a last quarter challenge from Geelong at the MCG. With the Cats eventually going down, the game at Adelaide Oval would become a contest between the only two unbeaten teams left in 2016 and Richmond looked to be mounting a serious challenge.
A Josh Caddy behind put Richmond 14 points up, then followed what could be best described as an annihilation by Adelaide. The Crows kicked 17 of the next 19 goals in about 80 minutes of footy. By the time they eased up with 15 minutes still to play they led the Tigers by 87 points.
If this was a test to see if Richmond were worthy of sharing the same air as Adelaide at the top of the table they failed miserably. If anything, though, this game taught us more about Adelaide than it did the Tigers. Most pundits expected that Richmond might be able to take it up to them for a while but would never be a serious threat. But to be so clinically put away as that surely took a few people by surprise.
Richmond went into this game having had less points scored against them than any other team in the league. They hadn't given up more than 14 goals in an entire game in the first five rounds. Adelaide put nearly 20 goals on them in just over a half of footy. Meanwhile they kept the Tigers to their lowest score of the season.
Some will say that a 12 goal win over Richmond at home is not that much to crow about (pun intended), but that's not really the point. The ruthless efficiency with which this win was achieved portrays a team that is not only the best of 2017, but could be the best we've seen for some time. The Crows have scored 140 points or more in four of their six games this year. They achieved that feat only six times for the whole season in 2016 and they were the highest scoring team by some margin. What was seen as a scary scoring machine last year just got better. They're like the AFL equivalent of Skynet becoming self-aware.
Significantly, this scoring feast is not being performed by the same cast as last season. In 2016 all of Adelaide's tall forwards, Taylor Walker, Tom Lynch, Josh Jenkins and Mitch McGovern kicked over 30 goals, while Eddie Betts finished the year with 75. This year, partly due to necessity as McGovern and Jenkins have each only played three games, the goals are being spread more evenly. While Walker and Betts are leading the way with 38 goals between them so far, another six players average a goal per game at this point. Crucially, a number of these players are midfielders.
Before the season there was more than one scribe that predicted Adelaide may not be able to challenge the best in the comp because of the lack of depth in their midfield. Fast forward to now and you see Rory Laird and Matt Crouch both averaging more than 30 touches a game and Rory Sloane not far behind (Sloane is also racking up career high numbers in tackles, goals, clearances, contested possessions, contested marks and marks inside 50). Brad Crouch has come into the team for the last two games and is around the same mark. Charlie Cameron and Curtly Hampton are providing some outside run and carry and they're being served by an elite ruckman, Sam Jacobs, in career best form.
As far as competition goes, the Crows may have already faced some of their biggest challenges. Their round one game against GWS was seen as an early test to see how they measure up against the best and they came away with a 10 goal win. When they played Port Adelaide in round three the teams sat at first and second on the ladder and the Crows fought out a hard earned three goal win. See above for what happened the next time they played an undefeated side. That's three likely/possible finalists for three wins.
Adelaide have North Melbourne, Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle in the next four weeks. By the time they face their next real test against Geelong at Kardinia Park they'll likely be 10-0. The last time any team started the season with 10 straight wins was 2009 when both Geelong and St. Kilda made it to round 13 without a loss before meeting each other at Docklands. St. Kilda made it all the way to round 20 without a loss and finished the home & away season with 20 wins and two losses. Geelong finished the year on 18-4. St. Kilda also started the year with 10 straight wins in 2004, but being quite a young team they weren't able to keep it up and finished the H&A season with 16 wins.
In the last 25 years only one other team has achieved the feat, Essendon in 2000. That team has gone down as lore and remains considered one of the best in modern times. Adelaide of 2017 haven't yet reached a point where they can be seriously talked about in the same breath as Essendon of 2000, but the parallels are interesting. When Essendon reached round six in 2000 they had scored 814 points, had 501 points against them and a percentage of 160.55. Adelaide, meanwhile, currently have 806 for, 501 against and a percentage of 160.88. Both teams had a goal accuracy of around 60% and an inside 50 differential of around +nine.
Essendon finished the 2000 season with only one loss and having maintained their average scores in attack and defence and were two goals ahead of any other team in both measures. It remains to be seen if Adelaide can do the same but their best players are in the best form of their careers and when you're talking about names like Sloane, Walker, Betts, Jacobs, Laird and Crouch, that is considerable. GWS are the only team that looks like getting anywhere near them at this stage and they won't meet again unless it's a final. That would be a tantalising contest and both teams could well have as many as 20 wins on their ledger when we get there.