The final month of the 2023 AFL season is upon us, with only three clubs in the competition not fighting for a finals spot.
Just eight points separate fifth and 14th, with the six clubs below eighth all in reaching distance heading into Round 21.
While not as tight, the top of the ladder remains up for grabs as Collingwood look to stave off rising rivals to claim the minor premiership.
With four rounds left, here's what each finals-contending club is facing before the end of the home and away season:
It'll be hard to see a scenario where the Magpies fail to secure the minor premiership given they currently sit two wins ahead of second and will have a healthy buffer if it comes down to percentage. Will be heavy favourites against the Hawks this weekend and will again be favoured against the Cats the week after and when they face Essendon in Round 24. Their matchup with the Lions at Marvel Stadium could be a tight contest, but the Magpies could have their spot on the summit sewn up by then.
Will likely be relying on Collingwood to slip up if they hold plans to secure the minor premiership, but the Power's preference will clearly be set on landing a top-two finish and home final. A trip away to Kardinia Park presents as a crucial match for both clubs this weekend, with the Power a chance to fall as low as fourth by the cessation of this weekend. All four of Port Adelaide's remaining games will come against clubs still in the fight for a finals spot, meaning no easy result is on the path home for the Alberton side.
The Lions have all but locked in a top-four finish and will now be focused on securing a home final by the end of Round 24. A trip to Perth this weekend should see Chris Fagan's side return to the winner's column and place further pressure on Port Adelaide, with their following matchup against the Crows a much higher contest. Mix in their trip to Docklands against Collingwood and we'll know much more about the Lions prior to their last game of the season. If it comes down to needing a win over St Kilda in Round 24, you can back Brisbane to get the job done.
The Demons will play two of the three clubs who aren't still in the finals mix across the next three weeks before ending their season with a trip to the SCG, which by then Sydney too could be out of the race. Losses to Port Adelaide and Brisbane over the weekend have opened the door for Melbourne to land a top-two finish, with a clash against Carlton in Round 22 firming as their biggest hurdle for the final month of the season.
The Saints stunningly remain in the top five but will be feeling the heat on the back of their necks with a month to go. They'll face three clubs that are in that chasing pack before a fixture-ending trip to the Gabba. Crucial encounters with the Blues, Tigers and Cats will decide their season, with Ross Lyon likely to thank a strong start to the year if they do manage to finish in the finals frame. While ahead of their next three opponents, the Saints mightn't enter any of those matches as favourites.
The Giants will be backed to extend their winnings run to eight games this weekend, but it won't come easy as they host their NSW rivals in Sydney. A win will have them well-positioned to cause another stir in Round 22, with the Giants hopeful of notching up a third win in South Australia for the year when they face Port Adelaide. Add in close contests against the Bombers and Blues in the final fortnight and the Giants shape as a big player in how the ladder takes shape come the end of the season.
What a journey it has been for the Blues, who find themselves a win ahead of the drop-off and in control of their own destiny heading into the final month of the season. Michael Voss' side, who are eyeing their first finals berth in a decade, won't have a smooth path to September however, starting with a clash against the fifth-placed Saints on Sunday. Win that and they'll likely require just one more victory from their final three. Melbourne could replicate their efforts from late last year and place the Blues back into a spiral, but you can expect Carlton to notch up at least one more victory against either the Suns or Giants in the last two rounds.
The Dogs haven't made life easy for themselves over the course of this season, with uke Beveridge's side now able to fall as low as 14th at the end of this weekend alone. Among the clubs that could leap them include Richmond, who they'll face this week, and Geelong, who they meet at GMHBA Stadium in Round 24. Between those two fixtures, they meet Hawthorn and West Coast - two games the Bulldogs will be heavily favoured in. Claim a win against either the Tigers or Cats and you can assume the Dogs are playing in September.
The Cats have arguably the toughest run of any side on the outside of the top eight still hoping to make finals, with their chances already taking a big hit before the final month even gets underway. Geelong will likely be without key pillars Tom Hawkins and Mark Blicavs for upcoming clashes against the top two sides in the competition. They'll then face the enigma that is St Kilda before returning to Kardinia Park in Round 24 to host the Bulldogs. Four games. All against top-eight sides. The Cats must be at their best to be a chance.
The Swans' remaining run to September kicks off with a clash against in-form state rivals GWS, who are currently on a club-record seven-game winning run to now be favoured for a finals finish. An upset over the Giants will bode well for the Swans' own chances, with John Longmire to then prey on the Suns at the SCG. A Round 23 clash against the Crows is likely to decide both clubs' seasons, with the Swans then tasked with facing the Demons to finish their home and away campaign if they remain in the race by then.
The Tigers are up against it given their lowly percentage compared to the three other clubs that all have a draw on their record. They face three top-eight clubs across the coming weeks, beginning with an enticing match with the Bulldogs. They'll have to return to Marvel Stadium the following week against St Kilda and hope their form at Docklands has turned. Richmond should chalk up a win against the Roos at the MCG the week after, but then face their biggest remaining challenge in Round 24 with a trip to Adelaide to face the Power.
The Crows have moved back up to 12th on the ladder and are in reaching distance of the top eight heading into the final month, with an upset Showdown win keeping Matthew Nicks' side intact. They'll host the Suns at Adelaide Oval this weekend and will be favourites for the occasion, while a trip to the Gabba the following week will have the Crows coming up against the odds. They'll return home to face Sydney before a Round 24 clash with West Coast that likely see Adelaide add two more wins to their season, but will it be enough?
The Bombers should get through the next fortnight with some comfort, and if they don't it'll tell us why they perhaps aren't deserving of a top eight finish. Assumed wins against the bottom two sides could have the Bombers back in the top eight heading into Round 23, where they'll take part in a mouth-watering matchup against GWS that could decide whether each side plays finals. The Bombers will conclude their draw with a clash against Collingwood in front of a likely sold-out crowd. The Magpies could ruin another rival's promising season in the last round of the season for the second year in a row if the Bombers get close enough.
Ladder Position: 14th (95.2%)
Remaining: Adelaide (A), Sydney (A), Carlton (H), North Melbourne (A)
The Suns will travel interstate three times in the last month of the home and away season, with their last remaining home game coming against Carlton in Round 23. Steven King's side will travel to Adelaide this week before switching over to Sydney, with the Suns' home and away season to come to a close in Tasmania against North Melbourne. Notch up wins across the next three weeks at least and you can almost be certain the Suns make the eight, but they'll likely enter each match as outside chances.
Won't be required to leave WA until the final round of the season, with their Round 22 'away' game coming at Optus Stadium against state rivals West Coast. The Dockers' season could be over as early as this weekend however, with a loss against Brisbane likely to have a line put through their finals prospects. Fremantle will be banking on the results of others even if they manage a perfect run home, while they will also be needing to boost their percentage over the coming rounds. A Round 23 matchup with Port Adelaide will be their biggest test before they end their campaign against the Hawks at the MCG.