Four weeks to go, so much to play for before finals

As the final few weeks of the AFL season arrive, it's time to look at what is on the line for every team in the last four matches of the home and away season.

Every team starts at the same point, 0-0 and full of hope for the year. After 19 weeks, that is not still the case. Every team has something to play for, but for some teams, there is more on the lines than others.

Geelong Cats

Fixture: Western Bulldogs (H), St Kilda (H), Gold Coast (A), West Coast (H)

The Cats have everything on the line. An aging list, champions at the top of their game, and a chance to secure that premiership that has escaped them over the last decade.

Patrick Dangerfield, Jeremy Cameron and Tom Stewart are among the Cats' host of stars who don't have a premiership medal in the cabinet and would like to get one.

Being in pole position for the minor premiership and a reduced risk of travel during finals, the Cats need to keep winning to ensure they can lock in the top spot.

Projected finish: 1st

Melbourne Demons

Fixture: Fremantle (A), Collingwood (H), Carlton (H), Brisbane (A)

The thought of back-to-back premierships is every team's dream, but the Demons are a chance to make it happen this season. After starting the season on a tear, the Demons' form evaporated after the mid-season break.

Since then, the magic of their side has worn off, as the rest of the competition has pushed them. The Demons are still only a game back from first and have two paths facing them heading into the last month of the season.

With four matches against top eight teams, the Demons may be battle-hardened when September arrives, or they may have their momentum halted by a tough run. That September momentum - that's all to play for the Demons.

Projected finish: 3rd

Brisbane Lions

Fixture: Richmond (A), Carlton (H), St Kilda (A), Melbourne (H)

The Lions are every chance of securing a top two spot, with just percentage keeping them from a home qualifying final at the moment. Over the last few years, the Lions have faltered in the finals, and playing at home will bolster their confidence.

With a more leisurely run home than Melbourne, that Round 23 clash at the Gabba will probably put home qualifying finals on the line, and a home-ground advantage in that crucial game may make the difference.

With all that on the line, the Lions will look to keep everything running on all cylinders until they get to Round 23 when they will have a chance to lock up home-ground advantage until the Grand Final.

Projected finish: 2nd

Collingwood Magpies

Fixture: Port Adelaide (H), Melbourne (A), Sydney (A), Carlton (A)

The Magpies have been the giant killers of the AFL the last month as they keep their nine-match winning streak alive. The run has seen them rocket up the ladder into the top four. Despite that run, the Magpies have one of the most challenging runs home, with three top-eight sides and a hard-running Power.

The clutch gene that Nick Daicos and Jamie Elliott have brought to the Magpies this year will be tested over the next month as the Magpies continue to face tough opposition over the next month.

The Magpies have the chance to secure the double chance if they can hold their form. It's been a remarkable turnaround from last season's disappointment, and a top-four berth could be the cherry on top of a great run.

Projected finish: 6th

Fremantle Dockers

Fixture: Melbourne (H), Bulldogs (A), West Coast (H), GWS (A)

After the draw last week, the Dockers no longer need to worry about their percentage, but with an easier run to finals, those extra two points may be enough to get into the top four.

They won't be able to relax because there is no guarantee of the top four, but if they can make it, they have shown the ability to challenge the top teams.

If they can keep the forward line intact, with Rory Lobb, Matt Taberner and Michael Walters at their feet, it will go a long way to giving the Dockers a clean run at finals and a chance at a maiden premiership.

Projected finish: 4th

Sydney Swans

Fixture: GWS (H), North Melbourne (A), Collingwood (H), St Kilda (A)

The Swans have shown an uncanny ability to drop games to teams a long way below them on the ladder this season. With three matches against sides outside the top eight, there will be some risk if they don't show up at their best.

After strong starts over the last few weeks, the Swans can make an impact and lock in a final spot and maybe even the double chance. Even if they can't make the top four, the Swans will aim for a home elimination final to play in front of a home crowd.

The clutch experience as the year winds to a close will only help the Swan's young players like Chad Warner, Errol Gulden and Joel Amartey, who have all made strong contributions in recent weeks.

Projected finish: 5th

Carlton Blues

Fixture: Adelaide (A), Brisbane (A), Melbourne (A), Collingwood (H)

The Blues have their first real shot at playing finals footy for the first time since 2013 when they finished in the top eight due to Essendon's drug scandal. The Blues have been in the top eight all season. However, three of the four teams to play are currently positioned in the top four.

The Blues look a completely different side with the additions of George Hewett and Adam Cerra to help the Blues' midfield, let alone Michael Voss' brilliant impact first year as coach.

The Blues will have to win at least one of their matches. Ideally, two, to lock their spot in the eight. If the Blues lose only one or possibly two matches, there is the chance that they could host the elimination final, which would be a big win for the club.

Projected finish: 7th

Western Bulldogs

Fixture: Geelong (A), Fremantle (H), GWS (H), Hawthorn (A)

After making the Grand Final last year, the Bulldogs are now fighting for a spot in the finals this year after their rough start to the season.

There is no guarantee that the Bulldogs will make the finals, although they have won four of their past six matches, including knocking the reigning premiers, Melbourne, last week.

Jamarra Ugle-Hagan has started to show why he is the number one draft pick after dominating in the Bulldogs' forward line. Marcus Bontempelli and Tom Liberatore are now tearing the midfield and showing strong signs in the last few matches.

Projected finish: 8th

St Kilda Saints

Fixture: Hawthorn (H), Geelong (A), Brisbane (H), Sydney (H)

After the Saints were in the top four for the first half of the season, not only have the Saints dropped but to look to miss the finals after a disappointing second half of the season.

The Saints have had a very inconsistent season and only look to be harder when they have three top eight sides to verse. Not only do the Saints have a team around them fighting for a spot, but their percentage is also meagre compared to other teams.

The Saints have proved to themselves this year why they can play finals. They must prove they were not just a fluke and show why they deserve to play finals.

Projected finish: 10th

Richmond Tigers

Fixture: Brisbane (H), Port Adelaide (A), Hawthorn (H), Essendon (A)

After the Tigers' draw last week, which would have sent them into the top eight if they won, they must win against the Lions to keep giving them some momentum finishing off the season.

The Tigers have won one game in their past five matches (including a draw) and have lost four of their past nine matches by under a goal. The difference could have seen the Tigers in the top four.

The Tigers have a pretty good run home to finish off the home and away season; however, being a win out of the eight and coming off a draw which they should have won, the Tigers could be down and come short of playing finals.

Projected finish: 9th

Port Adelaide Power

Fixture: Collingwood (A), Richmond (H), Essendon (A), Adelaide (H)

The Power are not mathematically out of the race for finals; however, with their next two matches being Collingwood and Richmond, it is doubtful the Power will play finals footy.

After finishing last year in the home and away season and making the Preliminary Final the same year, the Power have shocked everyone by having a disappointing season.

The Power has had a solid second half of the season. After starting the season with five losses, they have been competitive against the top teams. Unfortunately, it looks as though the Power are set to miss this year's finals series.

Projected finish: 12th

Gold Coast Suns

Fixture: West Coast (H), Hawthorn (A), Geelong (H), North Melbourne (A)

The Suns were set for an impressive season after defeating both the Dockers and the Swans in back-to-back weeks. Unfortunately, injuries got in the way for the Suns, which was set to be their first-ever appearance in the finals.

The Suns are still every chance to play finals this season, especially with matches very winnable for the Suns. The Suns have to rely on the results from other teams to go in their favour.

The Suns may not look to play finals this season; however, the inclusions of Ben King, Charlie Ballard, and Lachie Weller will be very dangerous to verse next season.

Projected finish: 11th

Hawthorn Hawks

Fixture: St Kilda (A), Gold Coast (H), Richmond (A), Bulldogs (H)

A mid-season stretch that resulted in two wins from 15 games derailed Hawthorn's season in new coach Sam Mitchell's first year in charge. Already starting to rebuild in recent years, the Hawks have one of the youngest lists in the league - a big change from three years ago -but one that still has a lot of experience.

Patience will be required with the Hawks, with Mitchell as the senior coach and the list itself. While improving each year since 2020 thus far, the Hawks have found some future talent in forward Mitch Lewis, midfielder Jai Newcombe, and ruck Ned Reeves coming into their own, where each will be responsible for continuing to take the club forward through their talent and performances.

To complete the season, the Hawks will want to finish strongly and could do so with some wins against similar opponents, which would ease the pressure on those at the club heading into next season full of confidence in an improving side.

Projected finish: 13th

Essendon Bombers

Fixture: North Melbourne (H), GWS (A), Port Adelaide (H), Richmond (H)

After being touted as a team that could make finals and was expected to, Essendon had a sluggish start to the year, slumping to 3-11. However, the Bombers have seen a resurgence in their output in the past month, with three wins in a row that included grinding victories against the Lions and Swans and a thrilling after-the-siren defeat to the Magpies.

Each of Essendon's next four games to end the season are winnable matchups. However, the form early in the season will come back to bite the side, which has shown they're up to the task of challenging premiership contenders.

Projected finish: Fourteenth

GWS Giants

Fixture: Sydney (A), Essendon (H), Bulldogs (A), Fremantle (H)

GWS has struggled this year, starting the year off slowly to be 2-7 after Round Nine, which also marked the end of Leon Cameron's tenure at a club he'd been a part of since 2014, which included taking the team to the heights of its first-ever Grand Final appearance in 2019.

Throughout the 2022 season, the Giants have been unable to string together consecutive wins, rarely challenging many teams above them on the ladder. With plenty of change expected at GWS next year with a possible new coach and big-name departures rumoured, the club should begin to build some grounded foundations to ensure the next stage of success can yield a maiden premiership.

A Battle of the Bridge awaits the Giants to begin a tough run home in 2022, with the Swans just one of three top-eight sides they'll face in the next month.

Projected finish: 16th

Adelaide Crows

Fixture: Carlton (H), West Coast (A), North Melbourne (H), Port Adelaide (A)

In the season's early stages, Adelaide played in some close fixtures, including results by under a goal that either went the side's way or didn't. Despite missing the first three games of the season due to a suspension for racial abuse towards a teammate, Taylor Walker returned to the Crow's forward line and has kicked at least one goal in each game as the primary target up forward.

However, that reliance on Walker has proved the club has still got some time before the young forwards such as Josh Rachele and Darcy Fogarty come into their own, but, with other areas working nicely, the Crows look set to be on the rise after a few years at the bottom.

Adelaide has the chance to finish the season strongly with its last three games, especially coming up against the bottom-two sides West Coast and North Melbourne, before a Round 23 Showdown with Port Adelaide where no result can truly be determined early on.

Projected finish: 15th

West Coast Eagles

Fixture: Gold Coast (A), Adelaide (H), Fremantle (A), Geelong (A)

West Coast encountered some early struggles in 2022 in the form of the AFL's health and safety protocols and injuries taking a hit, forcing the club to utilise its full playing list - and some top-ups from the WAFL.

West Coast has been on the receiving end of some heavy losses this season, with just two wins for the year - in Round Four against Collingwood and Round 15 against Essendon. As the season has progressed, they have come into being a lot more competitive with a more complete, less-rotational lineup, which would have Adam Simpson's men feeling good about their results as a full team that's seen the capabilities of younger players, prime for next season's start date.

The Eagles have a mixed bag of remaining fixtures, beginning with the Suns, before a trip back home to face the Crows, each a game that could fancy the side. However, a horror last fortnight awaits; facing top-four sides, Fremantle and Geelong will round out the season and see West Coast hope to show some competitiveness against the best.

Projected finish: 17th

North Melbourne Kangaroos

Fixture: Essendon (A), Sydney (H), Adelaide (A), Gold Coast (H)

In a season that has so far yielded two wins, a 14-game losing streak, and a coach to step down, North Melbourne has struggled and looks set to claim a second consecutive wooden spoon come the end of the season.

An unlikely victory for the Kangaroos in Round 18 against the Tigers saw caretaker coach Leigh Adams' first win for the club in his first game in charge; it was a performance that showcased the capabilities this side has.

With upcoming matchups against Essendon, Adelaide, and Gold Coast as the season wraps up; North Melbourne might be able to clinch a couple more wins - especially with three of the remaining four games at Marvel Stadium -or show some more promise to take into a new season, with the potential of four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson rumoured to take the reins.

Projected finish: 18th