Gold Coast can’t win with a hamstrung Gary Ablett, North Melbourne don’t beat the teams they should, and an asterisk hangs next to Geelong.
From previous experience, it’s obvious that these calls are often made too early – a prime example is Richmond’s woeful start to last season before storming home to win their last nine matches and sneak into finals.
Most commentators had written them off by mid-season.
With this in mind, it’s far too early to be making definitive comments about Carlton’s season, but after two disappointing performances, there are some worrying signs for the Blues.
Their level of effort and application has been of concern.
On Friday night against West Coast they started well, playing with vigour in the first quarter, with Chris Judd winding back the clock in a vintage performance.
However, after that, their effort dropped away markedly, allowing West Coast to dominate around the ground.
Against a team lacking its two key defenders, this was a prime opportunity for Levi Casboult and Liam Jones to put their stamp on a game: however, both failed to take their chances.
Casboult has excellent hands, but his kicking continues to be woeful, and was evidently the reason he was left out of the side for round one.
He provides a target up forward, but what use is a key forward who can’t kick straight?
Likewise, Jones should have relished the opportunity to play as a third tall and therefore attract less attention from West Coast’s depleted defenders.
Disappointingly, he failed to do this, showing flashes of promise but being largely ineffective for most of the game.
Obviously the fact that West Coast spearhead Josh Kennedy was allowed to kick 10 goals reflects a leaky Blues’ defence, but Michael Jamison and Sam Rowe are not solely to blame.
Their midfield gave them no assistance, failing to win the ball in the clinches and allowing Eagles’ prime movers in Andrew Gaff, Chris Masten and Matt Priddis to control the play.
Adam Simpson’s decision to move Matt Rosa onto Judd after quarter time also proved a masterstroke, with Rosa nullifying Judd’s influence.
The fact that West Coast’s midfield was able to dominate in such a fashion even while missing two key contested players in Scott Selwood and Mark Hutchings further reflects the level of Carlton’s ineptitude.
Another concern for the Blues is their lack of diversity, especially through the middle of the ground.
They have too many one-paced, serviceable players, but lack players with line-breaking speed or smarts.
Youngsters Dylan Buckley – whose attacking flair was on full display last season – and Nick Graham (a player who finds the ball and uses it just as well) have been repeatedly overlooked in favour of more solid types.
Both played well for the Northern Blues on Saturday (although, it should be said, against a team of TAC Cup-level players), and their inclusion would add an extra dimension to Carlton’s midfield.
I’m not a Carlton supporter, but over the past few seasons they have been one of the most frustrating teams to watch, a perennial underachiever.
On the surface, a club with as many fans and off-field resources as the club has should be primed for success; however, the club has been plagued by a maddening lack of direction – are they coming (as their slogan of a few years ago expressed) or are they stagnating?
Their recruiting over the past few years suggests that they believe they’re in a window of success – but are they?
They lack the fire power to match it with the best teams.
Judd, Murphy, Gibbs and Simpson are bonafide stars, but the rest of the team is threadbare.
All their recent recruits – Kristian Jaksch, Sam Docherty, Andrejs Everitt, Matthew Dick, Liam Jones, Jason Tutt – are solid or developing players without being superstars.
They may fill perceived holes in the Blues’ list, but are they really the types of players who are going to take Carlton back to finals?
Docherty and Jaksch are both talented players, but both are still developing.
Having Jaksch in the side does assist in team structure, as it allows Lachie Henderson to be stationed as a permanent forward. However, relying on Jaksch to take one of the opposition’s best talls at this stage in his career is a risk.
Jones is, well, Liam Jones, and whether he can succeed as a third tall leaves much to the imagination.
The recruitment of Dale Thomas via free agency is another cause for confusion.
Granted, Thomas was a star player at Collingwood, so the Blues’ desire to acquire him was understandable.
However, chasing a big fish suggests a team is primed for a premiership tilt, and has the luxury of recruiting that extra star player to get the team over the line.
Port Adelaide’s recruitment of Paddy Ryder last year is a case in point.
In Carlton’s case, however, Thomas’ recruitment fails to fit with the rest of its list profile.
If the team really is in a premiership window, then Thomas should have been the cream on the cake, not one of many top-up players designed to plug holes.
The fact that Carlton’s recent recruits (Everitt aside) are largely unproven or still developing suggests that Carlton is still building a side that can match it with the best.
If it were really in a premiership window, it would not be looking to bolster so many holes on its list with younger players.
If this is the case, the club does itself and its fans a disservice by raising expectations (as coach Mick Malthouse has publicly done) and not putting more emphasis into the development of draftees, an area in which it lacks depth.
There’s a fine line between selecting a team that will win games, and choosing players to assist in their development; however, with the list Carlton has, it would be better served by giving players like Buckley and Graham a chance to cement their spots in the team.
This is another area in which Carlton finds itself in a dilemma.
It identified its flag window as being ‘open’, and so recruited solid, developing players to fill the holes in the team.
None of these players are stars, and so the team has found itself unable to achieve this expectation.
However, this focus on outside recruiting has led to poor results at recent drafts, meaning that any potential rebuild is compromised by a lack of upcoming talent.
Of the drafts since 2010, only four players (Rowe, Casboult, Troy Menzel and Patrick Cripps) have established themselves as regulars.
Buckley, Graham and Nick Holman have shown glimpses, but Watson has failed to come on, while Andrew McInnes, Nick Duigan, Josh Bootsma, Tom Temay, Patrick McCarthy and Luke Mitchell have all been delisted without failing to register much of an impact (Duigan being the exception to this in his first two seasons at the club).
It doesn’t make for great reading, and there’s not a lot there to get excited about for Carlton fans.
Carlton has fared better at the trade table, nabbing Jaksch, Docherty and Everitt in the past two years.
However, seeing Eagles’ spearhead Kennedy kick 10 goals on Friday night has led some in the football world to question the trade that saw him exchanged for Judd.
Questioning the value of this trade is ludicrous – Judd is one of the best players the game has seen, and any club presented with the opportunity to acquire him would have moved heaven and earth to do so.
Both are also different players and at different stages in their careers, so comparing them is nigh on impossible.
However, seeing Kennedy dominate games must be like a slap in the face to Carlton fans, who, since his departure, have tried but failed to find another star key forward.
Based on their first two performances of 2015, it seems like a long road ahead for the Blues this year.
They lack the firepower to contend with the top teams, but have failed to prepare for the future with the lack of depth on their list.
If it is to be anything other than a perennial middle-of-the-table team, the Blues’ brains trust needs to decide definitively where the club is at, and make list management decisions accordingly.
Otherwise, Carlton will continue to be a team that frustrates the football world, who know that it could be so much better – but only with the right direction.