The mighty Hawthorn Football Club could be heading for a lean few years if this season is anything to judge by.
However, opposing sides have narrowed the gap this year and the Hawks are no longer dominating teams like they did previously. Take a look at their performances in 2016.
A number of Hawthorn's victories have flattered to deceive, with unconvincing wins over the Western Bulldogs, St Kilda, Adelaide, Richmond and Melbourne. Combined with shaky losses against Geelong, Greater Western Sydney and Sydney, the reigning premiers started the season poorly.
Despite recovering to sit top of the table by eight points after Round 19, the Hawks needed a one-point win over Collingwood on Sunday just to scrape into third place and the top four. Not exactly the sort of form you want to be heading into the finals with.
Hawthorn are cutting it close and this was the sixth match this season they have won by nine points or less. So why are they losing their edge?
Coach, Alistair Clarkson's zonal defense was a game-changer when first introduced, but opponents appear to have figured it out. More and more teams are beginning to copy parts of Hawthorn's game plan and we have seen their ability to score from stoppages come under pressure in 2016.
Several Hawks' players also aren't getting any younger and age takes its toll on every champion team. While expected to play on in 2017, Shaun Burgoyne, Sam Mitchell, Luke Hodge and Josh Gibson are all on the wrong side of 30. The retirements of Brian Lake and David Hale haven't helped either.
You can further question whether players have lost that tiny bit of motivation needed to maintain excellence at the elite level, after winning three straight premierships.
Let's look to the future. Hawthorn have recently been linked with Gold Coast young gun, Jaeger O'Meara, and we can all hope for the eventual return of utility man, Jarryd Roughead. The Hawks are also expected to be active in the upcoming trade period despite the club's tight salary cap.
However, it is clear that midfielders like Will Langford, Billy Hartung and Bradley Hill must become more consistent for Hawthorn to remain a force in the years ahead. Other inexperienced players such as James Sicily, Tim O’Brien, and Kaiden Brand will also need to adjust to the top level.
As we head into finals footy, the Hawks shouldn't be underestimated but have lost the fear factor they once had. TAB has Hawthorn paying $5 odds as third favourites for the premiership, behind Sydney and Geelong, but this season could well be the last time they finish on top for a while.