Collingwood's next four games is likely to determine its fate for 2021 and the future of coach Nathan Buckley.
In their worst start to a season since 2017, the Magpies are 14th with a 1-3 record; in the next month, they face West Coast (Optus Stadium), Essendon (MCG), Gold Coast (MCG) and North Melbourne (Marvel Stadium).
The Magpies pulled off one of their greatest finals triumphs last year when they stunned the highly-fancied Eagles in Perth.
Adam Simpson's men, smarting from a shock loss to St Kilda last Saturday, will have plenty of motivation to turn it around on Friday night.
The games against the Suns and the winless Kangaroos loom as crucial for the future of Buckley, who is out of contract at the end of the season.
After this block of four matches, it becomes even tougher for the Magpies with matches against Sydney, Port Adelaide, Geelong, Adelaide and Melbourne before the mid-season bye.
A lacklustre Collingwood was overrun by an undermanned Greater Western Sydney at a cold, slippery MCG last Saturday night, with the injured Jamie Elliott being the only notable absentee from the Pies' best team.
The Magpies' much-vaunted midfield - led by skipper Scott Pendlebury and ruckman Brodie Grundy - was outworked comprehensively by the Giants, who registered their first victory this season without a host of key players including captain Stephen Coniglio and Lachie Whitfield.
Buckley has a dilemma with Jordan De Goey - whether to play the match-winner in the midfield or up forward.
For several seasons Collingwood has struggled to make the most of its forward 50 entries, and De Goey is capable of kicking a bag as he showed in the win against Carlton in round two.
But a knee injury sustained by vice-captain Taylor Adams against the Giants is likely to force De Goey back into the midfield.
If this season becomes a lost cause, it may force Buckley's hand to play several promising youngsters and make a decision on others such as Levi Greenwood, Will Hoskin-Elliott and Josh Thomas.
MAY INJURY BLOW FOR UNBEATEN DEES
The loss of key defender Steven May is a big blow for the unbeaten Demons.
The victory over last year's grand finalist Geelong last Sunday was Melbourne's biggest scalp, but it was soured by a fractured right eye socket and concussion to the in-form May.
In May's absence, Jake Lever and Adam Tomlinson stood up well to restrict the Cats' attack and they will have to shoulder more responsibility in the next few weeks.
The Demons' impressive start has been on the back of a powerful midfield led by skipper Max Gawn and supported by Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca, Jack Viney and the speedy Ed Langdon.
Gawn is the most-influential ruckman in the game, winning plenty of the ball and setting up play for his teammates.
They also have a genuine X-factor in exciting small forward Kysaiah Pickett.
MCGUIRE'S MANIFESTO IS PIE IN THE SKY
Eddie McGuire's latest blueprint for footy's future is ambitious but short on detail.
The former Collingwood president agrees with Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson that the AFL should expand to 20 teams, advocating licences be given to Tasmania and far-north Queensland/Northern Territory by 2028.
As I've said before, there are already too many teams and another two would dilute the existing talent pool even further.
The McGuire manifesto also includes a 20-round home and away season, which he believes will "fix the fixture".
Under his plan, teams would play each other once, with the extra game used for blockbusters, South Australian showdowns and Western Australia derbys.
That sounds fine in theory and then McGuire wants a 12-team finals series, which he believes would add $20 million to the AFL's coffers.
However, there is no explanation about how the proposed finals set-up would work and if it would be fairer than the current model of a top eight.
Finally, he expresses a desire to play at least three games on the west coast of the US to tap into American markets.
That is a stretch at best. For years the AFL has wanted to expand into the US market, playing numerous exhibition games going back to the 1960s in an attempt to build interest in the code.
At the height of the pandemic last year, many Americans tuned in because it was the only live sport going on in the world, while expatriate Mason Cox has made a successful transition from basketball as a forward/ruckman at McGuire's beloved Collingwood.
But here is a question for Eddie - where are the venues for AFL in the US?
And which teams should sacrifice their home-ground advantage and play there - surely not the Magpies, the hottest ticket in town?
If the AFL feels the need to expand overseas, which is hardly cost-effective in these times, it should look at countries such as India and New Zealand.
As cricket-playing nations, there are plenty of suitable stadiums.
The AFL has dipped its toe in the water with games in China recently, but from a cultural and language perspective India and New Zealand make much more sense.
Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @hpkotton59.
- This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas