Ahead of 2023, we have ranked all 18 AFL teams by the pressure they are under next season.
Not all pressure is built equally. Some teams are expected to contend, others are simply hoping to be better than they were in 2022. We have weighted this list based on our early expectations.
The amount of pressure each respective coach is under is also a factor.
With all of that in mind, we have put all 18 teams into five tiers and ranked them based on that.
See the pressure gauge below:
Tier 1: Contend or bust
The Lions are all-in. They’ve brought in Josh Dunkley, Jack Gunston and Conor McKenna as well as top draft picks Will Ashcroft and Jaspa Fletcher with the hope of going one week further than 2022.
You could argue no team has gotten closer to a flag without winning one in the last four years than Brisbane, but they have never managed to take the final step and get through the preliminary finals.
2023 feels like the year it needs to all come together for the Lions.
From 2021 premiers, to 10-0, to out in straight sets in the 2022 finals series, Melbourne will be back in the spotlight next year.
The Demons had a brilliant trade period and you can expect them to be back in contention in 2023, given their list, pedigree and additions, highlighted by Brodie Grundy.
If things go poorly, however, the pressure will mount given how 2022 fell apart. They can’t afford to waste such a prime premiership window.
After such a lacklustre 2022 season, it’s easy to forget the Bulldogs made the Grand Final 12 months earlier and were comfortably the second best team of 2021.
They greatly underperformed last year, with coach Luke Beveridge seemingly exposed after losing key assistant coaches.
However, the Dogs have solidified their ranks both on and off the field. Rory Lobb and Liam Jones strengthen their spine and the growth of Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Sam Darcy will also be important.
Expect the Bulldogs to re-sign Beveridge before the start of the season, but anything short of genuine premiership contention would be a failure for the Bulldogs in 2023.
How many more bullets does this Richmond dynasty have left in their chamber?
They let 2022 slip through their fingers, with poor losses to the likes of North Melbourne and Gold Coast ultimately costing them finals positioning.
Tom Lynch looked the best key forward in the AFL when healthy, their backline was built around young talls who improved as the season went on and they have bolstered their midfield with Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper.
They’ll also be hoping for Dustin Martin to get somewhere near his best and help elevate them back among the best teams.
Richmond fans have their flags – but this is a team that should be right back in the mix in 2023 and questions could be asked of Damien Hardwick if things go south.
Is it fair to put a team that missed the eight into this bracket?
Given Port Adelaide was hosting a second straight Preliminary Final just 12 months ago, we think so.
The Power lost their first five games of 2022 and simply couldn’t make up enough ground from there. Can a bit more injury luck coupled with Jason Horne-Francis and Willie Rioli take them back up the ladder?
Ken Hinkley is out of contract at the end of the season and will be the coach to watch as the season unfolds.
Tier 2: Finals or bust
Whether Carlton likes it or not, they will be the team in the spotlight next year and anything short of a top eight finish will be deemed a failure.
They spent 22 rounds in the top eight last year and were ousted off the back of a fortnight of narrow losses to top four teams.
The Blues haven’t played finals since 2013. On paper, they have a list capable of pushing right up the ladder and the most stable off-field situation the club has had in over a decade.
This one is the least complicated in the entire AFL. Carlton has to play finals in 2023.
The excuses are gone for Gold Coast. They should be in the exact same boat as Carlton in 2023 – a true 'finals or bust' candidate.
The Suns have not made the eight since entering the league. Worse yet, they haven’t looked like making the eight since Brent Macaffer’s tackle on Gary Ablett in 2014.
Like the Blues, they’re swarming with top draft picks. Their midfield and backline are strong and improving. Ben King is back and will slot into a forward line that looked potent at times in 2022. They’ve backed in Stuart Dew.
No late season fades. Time to play finals footy.
Last year’s runners-up can’t go into freefall, but it’s also not the end of the world if they aren’t immediately back into premiership contention.
2022 felt ahead of schedule for the Swans and they were ultimately unable to match Geelong whatsoever. We also have a very strong recent trend of a team getting blown out in the Grand Final and dropping down a tier the following year. (Adelaide, GWS and the Western Bulldogs all did).
Sydney has a strong core of young players and the most stable coaching situation in the AFL. They’ll be an interesting team to watch in 2023.
Fremantle has improved linearly under coach Justin Longmuir. They laid the foundations across 2020 and 2021 before making the jump into September action last season, winning a final.
Naturally, the hope around the Dockers would be to take the next step and push into the final fortnight of the season. Can they do it? They have a few questions to answer first.
Do they have enough firepower inside 50? Can Jye Amiss and Josh Treacy replace Rory Lobb? Can their key defensive pillars stay healthy?
And then you have the Luke Jackson and Nathan Fyfe wildcards.
Pressure will mount quickly on the Dockers to make some big trade moves if they don’t make the eight in 2023.
Collingwood bobbed up almost out of nowhere and rode an incredible record in close games all the way to the final moments of a Preliminary Final.
Can they repeat the magic in their second season under Craig McRae? Will they be exposed as a team that had things fall their way? Or will they prove that 2022 was a steppingstone on the way back to regular contention?
Every eventuality feels possible for the Magpies in 2023. From a pressure standpoint, there isn’t a whole lot on what is again a stable off-field club, but they’ll be hoping for another push deep into finals.
Regardless of what the club says, you don’t go back to the Ross Lyon well to rebuild for a few years before contending again. St Kilda has to make the eight in 2023.
… or well, it did before Max King went down with a shoulder reconstruction that could see him miss a chunk of 2023.
Balancing out the bold move to acquire Lyon with King’s injury leaves the Saints between a rock and a hard place and one of the tougher teams to get a read on.
Had Brett Ratten still been at the helm, you could have fairly argued no coach needed to make the eight more in 2023 other than maybe Hinkley.
However, with Lyon back in charge the Saints will at least have off-field stability regardless of how much pressure builds.
Tier 3: Must be better than they were in 2022
This probably has to be the year where Adelaide makes the jump, right?
They have been on this rebuild journey with Matthew Nicks since 2020 and the club now has more than enough talent to put the pieces together.
Their forward line looks incredible on paper. Taylor Walker, Riley Thilthorpe, Josh Rachele, Darcy Fogarty and small forwards aplenty, including prized recruit Izak Rankine. They should be able to do some serious damage in 2023.
The question is everything else. Can the key defensive pillars hold up? Can the young midfielders make a leap?
What would another bottom four finish mean for coach Matthew Nicks? The Crows are a team to watch next season.
West Coast’s 2022 season was over before it began, with COVID running riot through the club and compounding injuries seeing them reach deep into the top-up player bag.
It’s probably not a controversial take to presume the Eagles will be better in 2023, given they won two games and finished with a percentage of 59.8.
Adam Simpson is a premiership coach, but pressure will mount quickly in a two-team town and if the Eagles are stranded in the bottom four again given the amount of mature talent on the list, drastic changes could be called for.
Remember when Essendon made finals in 2021 and were tipped by Mick Malthouse to win the flag in 2022? That feels like a million years ago.
The Bombers have a new coach in Brad Scott at the helm, their youngsters all have another year under their belts and they will be hoping for some general off-field stability.
Having almost an entirely new off-field program does buy Essendon some time and a break from the pressure that heaped up in 2022, but they still need to show improvement – particularly defensively.
Has a team ever been this optimistic coming off losing their number one draft pick after one season and back-to-back wooden spoons?
That is the Alastair Clarkson factor.
It’s hard to see the Roos not being significantly better in 2023. A healthy Ben Cunnington for starters is an enormous midfield upgrade. Griffin Logue can hold down a key position spot at either end, the young midfield looks solid and is growing and Nick Larkey and Ben McKay are pillars you can build around.
Clarkson and the Roos simply have to show signs that they’re heading in the right direction with high standards, effort and a blueprint for the next decade.
But they really wouldn’t want a three-peat of spoons, either.
The Giants are a tough team to judge. They certainly have the talent to be a top eight team across the board and former captain Phil Davis is confident 2022 was simply an aberration.
They have a new coach and a fresh perspective with Adam Kingsley, the number one pick in the draft with Aaron Cadman and hopefully a full season of co-captain Toby Greene.
The path to GWS playing finals is clear, but you could just as easily see them once again finishing in the bottom four. Time will tell, but the pressure on them in 2023 is minimal.
Tier 4: Reigning premiers
The Cats don’t quite have their feet on the table smoking a cigar, but the reigning premiers have certainly earned a respite from any sort of pressure.
Their list is somehow better going into 2023 and unless their veteran players don’t have the same fire having just held up the cup or if injuries come their way, it’s hard to see them not right back in contention.
Tier 5: Hawthorn
The Hawks exist in their own bubble going into 2023.
Sam Mitchell’s side sold off a number of experienced players coupled with key retirements and it’s hard to see them finishing 13th again next season.
Will they defy expectations and climb the ladder? If they do, great! If they don’t, well no one was expecting anything of them anyway.
The Hawks are rebuilding, they have their man at the helm in Mitchell and they will also have a new regime off the field. They also will only feature on free-to-air TV three times in the first 15 rounds.
They sit on an island of their own going into 2023.