The Blues and Pies are on a summer grand final collision course, while not discounting that Brisbane and North Melbourne are still genuine prospects to make the pre-season series play-off.
But all remaining contenders can bank on recent history to significantly bolster prospects of more finals at the end of the season after playing a NAB Cup decider.
Malthouse and his new-look Blues will confront his old outfit in the NAB grand final if they both win their Round 3 appointments.
The Blues take on Adelaide at AAMI Stadium on Friday, while second-year coach Nathan Buckley and his Magpies host Brisbane at Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
Ironically, Carlton and Collingwood as the game's most bitter of rivals, have never gone head-to-head in a summer grand final dating back to 1956.
North Melbourne is the only other grand final outsider as an undefeated outfit so far and the Roos sitting fourth on the NAB ladder with a percentage of 111.2.
Carlton has a healthy 185.4 percent after their ruthless 70-point execution of Fremantle at Etihad last Saturday, while the Lions have 143.2 and the Pies 129.8.
Incentive to make it through to the summer title showdown has gathered value in recent seasons.
Of the past five NAB Cup title play-offs, both grand finalists have gone on to finish in the league’s final eight.
Adelaide last summer launched one of AFL history’s most remarkable comebacks.
After winning the summer series undefeated the Crows stormed up the premiership ladder to finish second under new coach Brenton Sanderson from a club-low 14th in 2011 and then officially third on the back of a gut-wrenching 15-point preliminary final loss at the MCG.
West Coast Eagles lost their second pre-season grand final last March and continued as one of only three more established outfits never to have won a summer title, but still recovered to finish fifth on the premiership table.
Three successive NAB season play-offs from 2009-11 were launching pads for emerging outfits to go on and play in the grand final late into September that same year.
It was the powerful Geelong unit in ’09 that clinched the pre-season title at Collingwood’s expense and then the Cats went on to win 18 home-and-away engagements and the title by 12 points over an emerging St Kilda.
The Pies still managed 15 wins in ’09 and finished fourth before being trounced by the Cats to the tune of 12 goals with superstars Gary Ablett and Paul Chapman on the ball and champion backman Matthew Scarlett in defence triggering a lot of Geelong’s supremacy.
A year later St Kilda went down by 40 points to the Western Bulldogs in the summer series decider and the Saints continued to famously play a drawn grand final with Collingwood and lose a one-sided replay by 56 points a week later.
The Magpies were back again in 2011 to make it through to the NAB Cup play-off and toppled arch rival Essendon by just under four goals.
The Pies continued as a genuine force of the competition to progress through to another big stage grand final but hit the Cats and their depth of top-act contributors was too strong and Geelong won by 38 points with a powerhouse finish.
Over the past five seasons, Essendon’s eighth-place finish in 2011 is the lowest any NAB Cup grand finalist has finished.
Since 2000, only three teams on four occasions have played off in the summer competition grand final and not gone on to play in the more attractive and ultimate intention of all clubs in the official AFL finals later that same season.
Carlton won summer titles in 2005 and stumbled to 16th on the full season and then again in ’07 won, only to then finish 15th.
Geelong won in 2006 and finished 10th in the AFL home-and-away season while back in 2002, Richmond was runner-up in the summer series and tumbled to 14th in the real premiership campaign.