AFL Mid-Season Report Cards
First published in The Roar – June 8th, 2018
Lots of folks (many of them on The Roar) are cranking out Mid-Season All-AFL teams, and as is my wont, I’ve compiled a meta-team out of all the different Best 22 collections I’ve found (up to seven so far) …
Defenders: *Alex Rance (Ri), *James Sicily (Ha), Jeremy McGovern (WC), Tom Stewart (Gee), Rory Laird (Ad), and Shannon Hurn (WC).
Midfielders: *Nat Fyfe (Fr), Dustin Martin (Ri), Andrew Gaff (WC), Tom Mitchell (Ha), Clayton Oliver (Me), and Jack Macrae (WB).
Forwards: *Josh Caddy (Ri), Tom Phillips (Cw), Jack Darling (WC), Ben Brown (NM), and Jesse Hogan (Me).
Ruck (tie): Max Gawn (Me) and Brodie Grundy (Cw).
Interchange: (second ruck), Jack Higgins (NM), Elliot Yeo (WC), and Paul Seedsman (Ad).
This lineup has five forwards and six midfields just because that’s how the voting broke down – there were five goal-trolls who dominated the voting, not six. Four players were named on every team I found (marked by asterisks) – Alex Rance and Josh Caddy from the Tigers, Nat Fyfe of the Dockers, and the Hawks’ James Sicily.
Unsurprisingly, the teams which dominate the roster are the same one dominating the first half of the season – West Coast (five), Richmond (three), and Melbourne (three). The other multiple membership teams are Hawthorn, North Melbourne, Adelaide, and Collingwood (two each).
An interesting comparison for me comes from the Best 22 roster that emerges from the meta-Player of the Year polling which we track on the Following Football site I run. Here are the top six at each position, plus ruck and interchange:
Defenders: Rory Laird (Ad), Alex Rance (Ri), Shannon Hurn (WC), James Sicily (Ha), Elliot Yeo (WC), and Tom Stewart (Ge).
Midfielders: Nat Fyfe (Fr), Dustin Martin (Ri), Jack Macrae (WB), Tom Mitchell (Ha), Patrick Cripps (Ca).
Forwards: Jack Darling (WC), Jesse Hogan (Me), Lance Franklin (Sy), Ben Brown (NM), Tom Phillips (Cw), and Josh Caddy (Ri).
Ruck: Max Gawn (Me).
Interchange: Brodie Grundy (Cw), Trent Cotchin (Ri), Andrew Gaff (WC), and Steele Sidebottom (Cw).
Only four names out of the 22 vary from the consensus list (and two of those are on the interchange). SO, our meta-POTY scoring looks like it’s matching up fairly well with the popular media consensus.
Perhaps of more interest, then, are the names which lurk in the shadows on the next 22 on our list (after the 26 men on one or both lists above). Many of these players also were recognized by one or two of the media pundits looking for mid-season plaudits to bestow:
Defenders: Tom McDonald (Me), Lachie Hunter (WB), Harris Andrews (Br), Jeremy Howe (Cw), Kade Simpson (Ca)
Midfielders: Robbie Gray (PA), Stephen Coniglio (GW), Adam Treloar (Cw), Dayne Zorko (Br), Ben Cunnington (NM), Joel Selwood (Ge), Shaun Higgins (NM).
Forwards/Rucks: Jarrad Waite (NM), Callum Sinclair (Sy), Stefan Martin (Br), Michael Walters (Fr), Charlie Cameron (Br), Jordan deGoey (Cw), Jack Gunston (Ha), Aaron Sandilands (Fr), Josh J Kennedy (WC), Nic Naitanui (WC).
If you’re considering the entirety of this collection of names, you might be surprised at the spread of names and teams.
Adelaide: Laird, Seedsman (2).
Brisbane: Martin, Zorko, Andrews, Cameron (4).
Carlton: Cripps, Simpson (2).
Collingwood: Phillips, Grundy, Sidebottom, Howe, Treloar, deGoey (6).
Fremantle: Fyfe, Walters, Sandilands (3).
Geelong: Stewart, J. Selwood (2).
Gold Coast: (0).
Greater Western Sydney: Coniglio (1).
Hawthorn: Sicily, Mitchell, Gunston (3).
Melbourne: Gawn, Hogan, Oliver, T. McDonald (4).
North Melbourne: Brown, Higgins, Cunnington, Waite (4).
Port Adelaide: R. Gray (1).
Richmond: Rance, Caddy, Martin, Cotchin (4).
St. Kilda: (0).
Sydney: Franklin, Sinclair (2).
West Coast: Hurn, Darling, McGovern, Macrae, Gaff, Yeo, Kennedy, Naitanui (8).
Western Bulldogs: Macrae, Hunter (2).
Over the players rated among the top 48 in the league over the first half of the season, fully one-sixth of them play for West Coast. That would have shocked us in March; after ten straight wins, perhaps not so much. But it’s more curious that seventh-place Collingwood has the next-highest total of players involved at six.
More curious, notice who’s tied for third with four players? Second place Richmond, third place Melbourne, high-flying North Melbourne….and seventeenth-place Brisbane? Wow….
And the three teams without representatives are Essendon, Gold Coast, and St. Kilda. Okay, the Dons are a bit of a surprise, but not completely out of place. Only Devon Smith received votes in any of the top 22s I’ve noticed. But the two with only one member, to my shock, are the (possible) contenders Port Adelaide and GWS, two teams chock-filled with star players which have apparently not starred so far. There must be six to eight men on each squad who could be in the top 22 in the country this season, but either through injuries, adjustment issues, or simply not playing well enough to get noticed, they’re not.
Let’s change the subject.
Look at the ELO-Following Football ratings for each team over the course of the first half of the season. Most of the changes won’t surprise the fan following the 2018 season.
Melbourne: Began at 50.7 (equal 8th), hit a low of 46.3 after R5, and has risen six straight weeks until reaching 80.4 after R11 for first place. All of the rating-based rankings I can find have the Demons in first or a close second place.
Richmond: Started in first at 77.8, fell for three weeks to 69.4, rose to a season high of 84.3 after R7, and mostly fell to the second-place rating of 79.7.
West Coast: Starter the season in 11th place below average at 49.0. reached a momentary peak in R4 at 61.4, fell for two weeks but went on the rise to a season high of 72.9 after R9. Currently third with 67.2, far behind both the Demons and Tigers.
Geelong: Began fifth (61.0), fell slightly for three weeks to 59.4 as they figured out how things worked, and then rose for five straight weeks to 72.1 after R8. Currently fourth at 67.1, right behind the Eagles.
Sydney: Started in second place, 75.1, and went up to 76.6 after their opening win. They haven’t hit that rating since: over the last ten rounds, they’ve lost points in six of them and currently sit at a season low of 65.7. When their entire range is only eleven points, they haven’t varied much from the normal, above-average team they always are.
North Melbourne: Started with 37.5, in 14th place. Dropped to 33.8 after their loss to Gold Coast in Cairns. In eight of their next ten games, the ‘Roos have gained points, passing “average” (50) for good in R7 and currently in sixth place at 63.4.
Collingwood: Began at the top of the middle pack, with 51.1 in seventh place. Dropped points in rounds one and two to its season low of 46.5, and rose to its season high in R5 of 61.8; the Pies then dropped points in the next three rounds, and have gained those points back in rounds nine through eleven to reach (coincidentally) 61.8 again, in seventh place.
Port Adelaide: Started the season in fourth place (62.8), and after two great games to start, reaching 68.0…and immediately fell over three games to its season low of 54.1. They’ve bounced around uneventfully since then, currently in eighth at 56.5, a good distance from the teams they trailed.
Hawthorn: Another team with improvement to be made in early 2018. Starting in a tie for 8th at 50.1, the very essence of mediocrity, they went 3-1 and reached 64.3 after R4. Since then, though, they haven’t reached even that peak, and currently have fallen back to ninth with a rating of 51.0, approximately where they started.
Adelaide: One of the three favorites to start the season, the Crows were third at 73.7. Three rounds of non-injury games moved them up to 76.7 and first place. Then the ER-free fall began, and they currently sit at a mediocre 50.1, tenth place.
GWS Giants: Before the injuries, they made a move from their sixth-place start at 60.9 to reach second place at 70.7 behind only Richmond in R4. Since then, though, they’ve free-fallen every week through R10 (hitting 42.5), before moving back to 46.7 after their victory in Adelaide last week.
Essendon: Started at 46.4, 12th place. Won in R1 to reach fifty, hit a low of 35.2 in R8, and currently sits in 12th at 42.4, below where they started.
St. Kilda: Has gained points on their rating only twice, falling from 49.8 (10th) to start the season and currently sits at 37.7, thirteenth place, with a low of 30.9 in R9.
Brisbane: For a team which reached negative rating points last season, the Lions have improved tremendously since then. Starting the season at 29.6, they hit a low of 24.5 in R5 and a high of 40.5 after their win in R10. Currently in 14th place at 37.3.
Fremantle: Boring. Started in 17th place (25.7), dropped a fraction to a season low of 25.0 after a loss in game one, hit a “high” (relatively speaking) of 37.2 after R6, but currently sits at 15th place with 29.6.
Western Bulldogs: Their highest point was their starting point of 45.3, which gave the impression they’d be like last year – in the middle of the pack. Instead, they’re 16th at 28.4, their lowest rating of the year, having fallen quickly and stayed that way.
Carlton: Began at 35.3, 15th place. Moved up to 37.7 from their first game, then dropped to a temporary low of 21 in R4, bounced and landed on a low of 15.3 after R9. Up to 22.6 after a pair of decent games, but still in 17th.
Gold Coast: Started in last at 17.6 (I saw this, added in the three-month road trip, and no Ablett, and thus predicted dead last for the Suns.) They managed to win their first two, reaching 28.4 for a high, and then gradually fell to its current 12.4, by far last in the competition.
So, who’s improving? Melbourne, North, and Collingwood especially. St. Kilda, Carlton, and Hawthorn have improved the last two weeks as well. In the other direction, Adelaide lowered its rating four weeks in a row, GWS went six straight before beating the Crows, and Fremantle and Gold Coast are on three-week point-drop streaks. Richmond and Geelong ended their two-game point-drop streaks last week.
Looking at the seven games this week: with a late out of Dustin Martin, perversely, I think the rest of the Richmond squad will step up to prove they’re more than a one-man team. (This was written Thursday afternoon. Could make me look stupid if it’s not printed until after Friday night, but I’ll take that risk!) Tigers by 11!
Moving on, we think Geelong wins over North by less than the two-goal betting margin; Giants beat the Suns easily; and St. Kilda makes Sydney work for their victory on Saturday. Sunday, our numbers have the Lions beating the Bombers at the Gabba, home field being the key; and Fremantle holding the thinning Crows close but coming up short. Finally, as good as the Magpies have been, Melbourne sees the cameras and possible full house on Monday night as the chance to stamp their premiership credentials: They will smash Collingwood.
Let’s look at the AFL Meta-Player of the Year standings!
First published in THE ROAR May 23rd, 2018
Last week a particularly stupid but handsome columnist, in this very publication, proclaiming the greatness of the national game, used the fact that “thirteen of eighteen teams are at least 4-4 right now – we have plenty of good teams!” to jump to the conclusion that Round 9 was “going to be an exciting week!”
Yeah. About that…
The closest of the nine games was a 28-point Collingwood victory where the Saints were basically never any closer than that throughout the fourth quarter.
The other options were Essendon by 34, Adelaide by 37, Port by 40, North by 43, and Sydney by 59.
And we haven’t even reached Sunday’s debacles. The Eagles 47-point “nailbiter” was the highlight, as expected, following Brisbane’s 56-point upset of Hawthorn (exciting only for the form reversal) and Melbourne’s 18 goal annihilation of the once-proud Carlton Blues.
109-point margins are for the state leagues. And two-goals-fourteen should never happen on the Friday night showcase of the AFL. Or, I would suggest, at any OTHER level of footy, either.
So, rather than whine or pontificate about any of this… Let’s talk about the Meta-Player of the Year standings instead!
As many of you already know and will be bored by reading again, I compile the various “team of the week”, “top three stars of the game”, AFLCA votes, and anything else I can find that identifies the outstanding players of the AFL games that week, into one large database and keep the running total as the “Meta-Player of the Year” scoreboard. It’s like the Brownlow, except that it’s everyone’s opinions combined.
And right after round 9 is a great time to take a look, because with the China break this week for our two world travellers, we won’t have all 18 teams having played the same number of games for the next six weeks. So here we go!
- Nat Fyfe, FR 229 points 2 D / 3 P
- Jack Macrae, WB 195 points 2 D / 1 P
- Tom Mitchell, HA 187 points 0 D / 5 P
- Dustin Martin, RI 180 points 3 D / 0 P
- Max Gawn, ME 173 points 0 D / 6 P
- Jack Darling, WC 167 points 1 D / 2 P
- Patrick Cripps, CA 163 points 1 D / 2 P
- Lance Franklin, SY 159 points 1 D / 2 P
- Trent Cotchin, RI 147 points 2 D / 2 P
- Steele Sidebottom, CO 135 points 0 D / 2 P
- Brodie Grundy, CO 134 points 2 D / 1 P
- Rory Laird, AD 131 points 0 D / 2 P
- Ben Brown, NM 130 points 1 D / 2 P
- Dayne Zorko, BR 129 points 2 D / 1 P
- Robbie Gray, PA 124 points 2 D / 1 P
- Joel Selwood, GE 123 points 1 D / 0 P
- Stephen Coniglio, GW 121 points 2 D / 0 P
- Clayton Oliver, ME 111 points 1 D / 1 P
- Patrick Dangerfield, GE 110 points 1 D / 1 P
- Jesse Hogan, ME 109 points 0 D / 3 P
For those unfamiliar with our ELO-Following Football statistics, the “D” and “P” stand for “Dominant” and “Prominent” performances. These are (somewhat arbitrary) designations for a player’s game that receives recognition from 90% of our sources (for Dominant) or 80% (for Prominent), and are very rough ways of noting particularly significant performances by a player.
So for a curious example, Gawn has had six of his nine games recognized by 80% of sources.., but none were so “dominant” that 90% of those sources recognized it! And oddly, it was rarely the same sources which excluded Gawn. For Tom Mitchell, who similarly has five “prominent” but no “dominant” performances, it is almost always the fantasy ratings which find fault in his game and keep him from the 90% threshold.
For comparison, here’s the top ten after round 4:
Mitchell & Franklin (1st – tie) – 130
Martin (3rd) – 128
Coniglio (4th) – 100
Grundy (5th) – 99
Fyfe (6th) – 95
Laird (7th) – 85
Brown (8th) – 83
Sidebottom (9th) – 80
Hogan (10th) – 70
Nat Fyfe’s move up the ladder shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s watched him play: he’s had one prominent game (R7) and two dominants (R5 and R8) since this table. Lance Franklin’s only played two of the five games since this table’s origination, thanks to a bum foot. Jack Macrae doesn’t even appear on this round 4 list – in fact, after R5, Macrae was at just 49 points, not even leading his own 1-4 team (that honor was Lachie Hunter’s). Since then, he’s had two dominants (R7 and R8), one prominent (R6), and a great game in R9 that missed recognition by just one source.
Stephen Coniglio’s drop from fourth to his current 17th parallels his Giants team’s floundering over the last few rounds, which points out the sad overriding truth about this and by extension every evaluative tool we use, whether it’s human or statistical: a player’s perceived greatness is contingent on how good the TEAM he’s on at the time is.
There are corollary versions of this, of course. Should Gary Ablett have won a Brownlow in 2013 playing for the 8-14 Gold Coast Suns? More generally, does “most valuable” imply the TEAM has high value overall, or that the player imparts the most value to his team?
In the NFL, quite often the de facto leader in the MVP race is always the quarterback of the team with the best record in the league. Yet it’s easy to argue that Tom Brady had more impressive seasons when he was carrying an 11-5 on his lonely shoulders, throwing to college rejects for receivers, than when the Patriots went 16-0 and he had a bevy of talent around him.
Was LeBron James more “valuable” when he had Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh alongside him in Miami and won two titles, or when he had almost nobody next to him of “value” (as has too often been the case in his career) and made the finals anyway only to be smashed by the Warriors or Spurs?
On our current meta-POTY list, the top three players are from Fremantle (currently 12th), Western (13th), and Hawthorn (9th). Not coincidentally, none of the three men have a teammate with even half their point totals; they’re at least perceived to be the lone wolf on a team that’s not playing well enough so far to make finals. How valuable can you be if your team is still losing?
The next three, by comparison, are from Richmond (2nd), Melbourne (3rd), and West Coast (1st), and have at least one other teammate in the top 25 (Shannon Hurn is just off the top 20, in 24th at 99 points for the Eagles). Are THEY really more valuable because they’re the linchpins on winning teams, or less valuable because they’re not quite as critical to their club’s success? If Dusty Martin has help from Cotchin, Rance, Caddy, Lambert, Houli, and Riewoldt, he may not have to be “SuperDusty” all the time. On the other hand, Nat Fyfe is probably garnering the three Brownlow votes every time the Dockers win; does that make him more important on a 4-5 team than the brightest star in a 7-2 constellation?
The floor is open for discussion.
In the meantime, as always seems to be the case, the ELO-Following Football crystal ball was correct ⅔ of the time last week (it missed the two upsets, plus our shared preference for Richmond). In round 10, we’re taking Collingwood by 16 on Friday night, and on Saturday it’s Richmond by 42, Sydney by 28, Geelong by 61, the Giants by 12, and West Coast by 20. On Sunday, our system prefers Melbourne by 7 over Adelaide up in Alice Springs, and the Kangaroos by 11 over Fremantle in Perth. Both picks make me a little nervous (the Demons are 1-4 in Alice Springs, and Freo is unbeaten in Optus), but its record is better than mine this season, and momentum means something in this league, so I’ll roll with it. Good luck!
Postscript: This may or may not have any relevance, but we’re also tracking team totals of the POTY voting. Take a look at this table from after round 9 and see if you can find anything worthwhile in the data…besides the obvious fact that the Saints are a mess:
Notes from a humbug
First published in THE ROAR May 14th, 2018
“The game’s too congested!”
“Scoring is down! Shooting accuracy is down!”
“The officiating is terrible!”
“The skill levels are terrible!”
“Where are all the great players today?”
“The bad teams are really bad, and the good teams aren’t as good as they used to be!”
“The Game Is Boring!”
Your Honor, I present into evidence against the prosecution’s charges against our fair game, Round 8 of this 2018 season. Nine games which encapsulate all that’s right with the game we love.
In Hawthorn hosting Sydney, we had a game with assets galore coming in that did not disappoint. Rivalries. Former GF opponents. Lance Franklin’s two clubs. Two teams which seemed to die at the same time last season, only to resurrect together and now be even again (when we placed our tip, the odds favored a draw; our ELO-Following Football ratings differed by just one-tenth of a point once the MCG was taken into account).
And Hawthorn held the reins into the last five to ten minutes of the game, when suddenly the Swans came up with the last three goals and the win, thanks to a third-gamer scoring seven goals! Unpredictable! With both teams now 5-3, the pressure on the teams ahead of them will continue to be immense. (Despite the long flag-less histories of these franchises in the mid-20th century, modern footy recognizes these as two of the foremost clubs in the league. The AFL is simply better when these clubs are competitive.)
In West Coast’s defeat of the Giants, we saw the way that the fortunes of solid clubs can vary depending on injuries and leadership. Most folks, myself included, saw even a depleted GWS as favorites over a 6-1 Eagles club flying cross-country and missing the immensely talented Nic Naitanui. Then we watched the Giants lose three more players during the match, and it was too much for the fragile psyches and youthful bodies in orange and charcoal, while the experienced talent from Perth showed what momentum and confidence can do for a team.
In Carlton’s upset of Essendon, we saw the results of resilient effort defeating the lack of effort exhibited by a demoralized team falling far below expectations. Every season, there are surprise risers (more on them later), but by definition there must therefore also be surprise fallers. And while the Eagles and Kangaroos fans are savoring footy heaven so far this season, Essendon and the Saints are experiencing football hell, with just three wins between the two supposed contenders in sixteen chances this season. On the smaller, game-sized scale, of course, it’s also a zero-sum game, and Essendon’s woes gave Carlton reward for effort Saturday, with a thirteen-point victory. Was it perfect, balletic football? No. Was it tense and close and tight and entertaining? Absolutely!
In Melbourne’s rout of the road-weary Suns, we saw the results of two months of travel on the victims of the Commonwealth Games. If you ever questioned what the difficulties of playing on the road, review the eight weeks of the Gold Coast season: a surprising pair of early victories to start the year; two defeats in WA to teams that we now realize are better than we thought; then valiant efforts against Adelaide and the Bulldogs before finally falling off the table this week. Stewart Dew’s team has been valiant this season – I had them pegged for dead last the moment I saw their schedule – and may get a rejuvenation after a week off following their China visit this week. (Or they may be so used to travel that they’re unfazed by China while Port struggles. I’m not betting that way, though.)
In Port Adelaide’s Showdown victory over their co-tenant Crows, we saw every amazing aspect of what a hometown Showdown can offer. As an American, I can tell you that even in our two-team major sports cities (Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, the San Francisco bay area), there’s NO real sense of rivalry between the two hometown teams. Watching the excitement in that stadium when McGovern kicked a goal with 45 seconds and then Motlop topped it 20 seconds later, the only thing I could relate it to is watching a high school rivalry, or maybe two colleges within a few miles of each other. To see two teams that share a stadium, each with a handful of the greatest players in the world on their rosters, competing in front of a rabid and invested fan base, is something I could only imagine and enjoy vicariously from afar.
In Fremantle’s thirty-point win over Saint Kilda, we saw the reconstruction of a former grand finalist, under the leadership of one of the top coaches in the league (with the juicy history of leaving the opponent in the lurch years back!) and the vanguard of a Brownlow medalist who has rediscovered his form after two difficult seasons of injury and recovery. Fremantle is 4-4 now; if they can make it to their bye at 6-6, they may surprise everyone besides me at season’s end (not to brag, but I had them seventh in my pre-season post).
In the Bulldog hard-fought win over the ever-threatening Brisbane Lions, we saw a young team that disproves the notion that winless teams are necessarily bad teams. Despite eight losses on the trot, the Lions are still posting a percentage near 74, higher than the two teams ahead of them on the ladder. (Throw out the Richmond debacle, and they’re at 82.5% for the other seven games.) Cam Rayner is only 18 years old. Alex Witherden is just 19. Allison, Hipwood, Berry, Cox, and McCluggage are each 20. Even Charlie Cameron, Lewis Taylor, Tom Cutler and Sam Mayes are only 23 apiece. Only three players on their extended roster are over 28: Zorko, Martin, and Luke “I thought you were retired” Hodge. IF they can stay together in Brisbane (a huge IF, but the club’s trying to do the right things to make it happen), it’s not hard to picture the Lions being a grand finalist throughout the 2020s.
In the classic contest between this year’s surprise up-and-comers, the host North Melbourne Kangaroos, and last year’s surprise up-and-comers, the reigning Premier Richmond Tigers, we saw the very best of what the modern game has to offer. Richmond played its game throughout the match – free-flowing goals, tough punch-out defense, great work in the midfield. And North, up for every challenge, put its soldiers in Riewoldt’s way, put Brown and Waite and Wood to the posts for a percentage of 11-goals-six, and Ben Cunnington in the middle taking a league record 32 contested possessions (of his 38 overall). And yet, with all the talent on display, it was probably the unlikely and uncharacteristic misses from Coleman leader Ben Brown in the last five minutes (who had been an inerrant 26.7 at that moment in the season), that prevented the Kangaroos from going 13.4 instead of 11.6, which would have made for a draw (all other things being equal).
And in Geelong’s game against Collingwood,… well, Gazza’s goal towards the end of the first half was pretty cool. I guess eight out of nine isn’t bad; and the other games look better by comparison.
Now, Your Honor, about the charges against scoring and skills and accuracy…
One of the difficult things for casual observers to understand when they see teams chipping around, or handballing with seemingly little effect, is that they are fighting against stronger, more versatile defenses than perhaps their predecessors played against. The tendency in sport to stretch the duties of the players at its disposal “stretch” beyond just Aussie Rules. Basketball once had very rigid set positions – as a power forward myself in (VERY lower division) basketball leagues here in the States in my youth, I would never have imagined being asked to be a major ball-handler above the key. Or to play above the key at all, for that matter. Magic Johnson may have been the first to change that, and today the “Greek Freak” and LeBron James lead their respective NBA teams from the point, despite the “F” by their position titles.
American football players are increasingly “hyphenated” in their duties, and the Major Leagues are learning to appreciate the Japanese phenom pitcher/hitter Shohei Ohtani, pitching on one day and hitting on others. Strikers and fullbacks roam interchangeably across the soccer-football pitch at times today.
And in today’s AFL, it’s nothing to have Jack Riewoldt or Mason Cox back in protection, especially late in a game, or to see defenders moving forward with goal-sneaking opportunities (occasionally “their first in their AFL careers”, because they hadn’t previously been asked to DO that). Midfielders often push into the front 50, and even defenders are tested in the forward line because “great athletes can play anywhere”.
The coaching schemes, too, are more complex and strategic, and not just in footy, either. The reason in every sport is the same: better video coverage of every opponent allows for better game-planning against them. Better resources (thank you internet, among other sources) allows for better coaching of players, even at the AFL level.
Congestion? Call the tackled ball as the rules are written and you’ll see the improvement immediately. We don’t need zones or fewer players on the field.
Scoring is down? Defenses are better. Shooting accuracy is down? Right now, through eight rounds, only the Saints and Bulldogs have kicked fewer goals than behinds, and the Doggos are at 49%. Leaguewide, AFL Tables lists the goal/behind percentage above 56.5% after Round 8.
The officiating is terrible? The skill levels are terrible? I’m sorry, but watching this week’s games, I’ll beg to differ. (Subjective conversation, I know.)
Where are the great players today? A few of them, like Lance Franklin or half the Giants’ stars, are languishing in the training rooms, but I can’t read that question with a straight face and watch Dustin Martin, Nat Fyfe, Jack Macrae, Tom Mitchell, Ben Brown, Max Gawn, Heath Shaw, Stephen Coniglio, Jeremy Howe, Dayne Zorko, Brodie Grundy, Aaron Sandilands, Joel Selwood, Paddy Dangerfield and too many others to name on the field every week.
The bad teams are really bad… Which ones? Brisbane? Carlton? Western? Have you watched them play? I mean, really watched them? The “bad” teams are mostly just YOUNG teams, and they make young mistakes. You know – like North did last year.
And the good teams? Richmond right now is as good as any team I’ve seen play this decade. They have no obvious weaknesses. Watching North Melbourne give them a run for their money on Sunday was tremendous – their only flaw was not having the experience when push came to shove.
And the Kangaroos are just 4-4. On any given weekend, you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be at least one game that everybody LOSES their bottom dollar on, because a team will rise up and defeat somebody they “had no right” to beat that weekend. No matter how good a tipster you are, you’re going to miss a full one-third of the games because the league’s that competitive.
Your Honor, that’s not a boring sport. That’s a sport with the hallmarks of greatness.
This week: The easy picks – Adelaide over Footscray, Port over Gold Coast, Geelong over Essendon, Sydney over Fremantle, Melbourne over Carlton, and Hawthorn over Brisbane.
The hard ones – Our ELO-Following Football ratings have North as a seven point favorite over the shrinking Giants; we like Collingwood to rebound strongly against the Saints, despite the egg they laid against Geelong; and while betting against a seven-game winning streak at home is unusual, the 2018 Richmond Tigers are an unusual team, and unless something untoward happens to this club, they’ll be favored at least until they lose (and probably until they lose a couple, more likely).
Every visiting club this week is at least 4-4. In fact, thirteen of eighteen teams are at least 4-4 right now – we have plenty of good teams! It’s going to be an exciting week!
First published in THE ROAR, May 8th, 2018
The “Expectations Game” is so much fun to play, isn’t it? It’s what gives a fan the chance to celebrate a 2-20 season… IF the team was expected to go winless! Finding reasons to get hyped about your team is the very definition of a fanatic!
Of course, if you’re a coach, it can be a frustrating game to play.
Ask John Worsfold. Essendon’s 2-5 record isn’t really that bad, but when the expectations have them playing finals footy, it sounds terrible.
Take a look at this chart. The actual won-loss record is on the left, and the combined average expected record after seven games is on the right, with the difference on the far right. (Whose expectations are we averaging, you might ask? Well, yours, mostly: these averages come from combining the various betting sites, tipping competitions, published “experts”, and rating systems across the media.)
North Melbourne 4-3-0 (1.75 wins) Diff: + 2.25 (Significant +)
Fremantle 3-4-0 (1.44 wins) Diff: + 1.56 (Significant +)
Gold Coast 3-4-0 (1.44 wins) Diff: + 1.56 (Significant +)
Collingwood 4-3-0 (2.63 wins) Diff: + 1.37 (Significant +)
West Coast 6-1-0 (4.69 wins) Diff: + 1.31 (Significant +)
Western Bulldogs 3-4-0 (3.00 wins) Diff: zero
Hawthorn 5-2-0 (5.13 wins) Diff: – 0.13
Adelaide 5-2-0 (5.19 wins) Diff: – 0.19
Richmond 6-1-0 (6.25 wins) Diff: – 0.25
Port Adelaide 4-3-0 (4.38 wins) Diff: – 0.38
Melbourne 4-3-0 (4.38 wins) Diff: – 0.38
St Kilda 1-5-1 (2.00 wins) Diff: – 0.50
Geelong 4-3-0 (4.69 wins) Diff: – 0.69
GWS Giants 4-2-1 (5.38 wins) Diff: – 0.88 (Significant –)
Brisbane 0-7-0 (0.94 wins) Diff: – 0.94 (Significant –)
Essendon 2-5-0 (3.25 wins) Diff: – 1.25 (Significant –)
Carlton 0-7-0 (1.38 wins) Diff: – 1.38 (Significant –)
Sydney 4-3-0 (5.50 wins) Diff: – 1.50 (Significant –)
One of the huge factors in a team’s positive performance is having the same effective line-up week after week. Here’s a list comparing the ladder position of each team with the number of players it has used through seven rounds this season, plus the number of players on their injury list as of Monday this week:
Richmond 6-1-0 27 players – 3 injuries
West Coast 6-1-0 27 players – 8 injuries
Adelaide 5-2-0 29 players – 12 injuries
Hawthorn 5-2-0 30 players – 4 injuries
GWS Giants 4-2-1 30 players – 10 injuries
Geelong 4-3-0 32 players – 11 injuries
North Melbourne 4-3-0 26 players – 6 injuries
Sydney 4-3-0 31 players – 10 injuries
Collingwood 4-3-0 29 players – 11 injuries
Melbourne 4-3-0 31 players – 9 injuries
Port Adelaide 4-3-0 29 players – 6 injuries
Fremantle 3-4-0 29 players – 11 injuries
Gold Coast 3-4-0 31 players (27 through R6) – 10 injuries
Western Bulldogs 3-4-0 35 players – 11 injuries
Essendon 2-5-0 32 players – 6 injuries
St Kilda 1-5-1 30 players – 5 injuries
Brisbane 0-7-0 31 players – 4 injuries
Carlton 0-7-0 31 players – 12 injuries
It’s notable that the two which seem to be sailing along with the lowest number of player participation problems are the team at the top of the ladder, Richmond, and the team with the highest return over expectations for the year, North Melbourne – arguably, the two teams having the best seasons so far in 2018.
Who else has better-than-average personnel situations? West Coast has only had to use 27 players on its six-game winning streak. Adelaide, Port, Collingwood and Fremantle have all used fewer than 30 bodies, and surprise package Gold Coast had only used 27 before debuting four more on Saturday.
On the far end of the scale, it’s hard to look past the youngest team in the competition over in Footscray, which has already used 35 players through seven rounds. They’ve benefitted from the chance to host Carlton and Gold Coast in the past two weeks, and had a nice couple of games at home in rounds 3 and 4 against a struggling Essendon squad and the Sydney squad that the Kangaroos just upset. Another game in which they’ll start as heavy favorites comes along this weekend hosting Brisbane, making six home games out of eight to start the year, potentially winning against four of those teams with a combined five wins so far. Unfortunately for them, they may not be favored again after that until August.
Geelong has held on well despite being next on the walking wounded list, and many (including me) think not having an aging superstar on the field has actually helped them by forcing Elder Twin Coach into playing more of the speedier youngsters, who’ve shined in the crunches for the Cats alongside “Dangerwood”.
The two Sydney teams have lengthy injury lists, as some other teams do, but more crucially it’s WHO sits on their lists that’s kept them to four wins each so far in 2018. You could beat quite a few teams with their out-lists alone: Lance Franklin, Jeremy Cameron, Brett Delidio, Toby Greene, Dan Hannebury, Josh Kelly, Rory Lobb, Jordan Foote, Tom Scully, Lachie Tiziani, Sam Reid, Lewis Melican, Adam Kennedy, Will Setterfield… that’s a pretty strong training room team!
As we alluded to with the Bulldogs, schedule has a great deal to do with perceived success as well. The Doggies may be four-and-four after this weekend, but nobody’s expecting them to still be at .500 in two months’ time. Similarly, after this Friday’s absolute toss-up game against the Hawks, the Swans may also be four-and-four, but with their next four games being against Fremantle, Brisbane, Carlton, and St. Kilda, nobody expects them to still be ONLY .500 in a month’s time, injuries or not.
For Round 8, we’re staying with the favorites (although we’re tipping under the spread in several cases!), with the notable exception of Friday night’s blockbuster, which as we write is a tossup with the bettors AND the ELO-Following Football computers, where we also have Hawthorn at home as a dead-draw with Sydney. We’re taking the Hawks on a hunch, if Buddy’s still out. Beyond that, we’re taking chalk all the way: Giants, Essendon, Melbourne, Adelaide, Bulldogs, Fremantle, Richmond, and Geelong. (The Bulldogs are the only team we’re tipping over the posted spread, however.)
IF all of that holds (a BIG if!), then the ladder will look like what’s below (we’re calling Hawks/Swans a tie for these purposes!). Compare it with what chalk would have forecast back in week four (as per our article from April 10):
|R8 Ladder||Previous Forecast|
Even with three rounds under our belts to forecast from, we were three full games off in some cases (ahem, Power!). After seven rounds, though, we’re still 44-19, just over that two-thirds mark for the moment. Which only proves one thing, as far as I can tell: one-third of all predictions are completely wrong, and we have no way of knowing in advance which third it’s going to be.
Good luck in your tipping, friends!
First published in The Roar, April 30, 2018
So, with the top eight set, we can move on to …. What?
You don’t think it’s settled yet? Au contraire!
We’ve used the ELO-Following Football ratings to project forward over the next several rounds – up to round fourteen, through all the byes, for the convenience of comparison. Here’s what we found as an *EXPECTED* projection, minus significant upsets…
Geelong, Hawthorn, Adelaide, Sydney: 10-3
West Coast, Collingwood: 9-4
Then….there’s a big gap…
Port Adelaide and Melbourne: 7-6
North Melbourne: 6-7
Essendon, Fremantle, Western Bulldogs: 4-9
Gold Coast: 3-10
St. Kilda 2-10-1
Brisbane 0-13 with the highest percentage of any winless team ever….
Our projected top eight solidifies after ten rounds, and then the gap widens as R14 approached.
Now, expectations are notoriously fickle. By experience, one-third of the games anyone forecasts will be upsets the other way. But the projected GAP between the top eight and the other ten gives us pause. For comparison, I consulted three other private sources who use concrete numerical rating systems to “separate the wheat from the chaff”, as the Bible would say. The Arc, the Wooden Finger, and Footymaths all have the same thing: nine teams included in their highest ratings, with the ninth being Port Adelaide. But in all four cases, Port is seventh or eighth and dropping. More to the point, its schedule suddenly gets harder over the next few weeks, pulling the Power down to reality.
Looking at the remainder of the rounds (15-23), however, North Melbourne actually seems to be the team most likely to break into the eight, rather than Port, as we play out the season on the computer. The most common final order we come up with resembles Richmond, Adelaide, Hawthorn, Sydney, Giants, West Coast, Collingwood, and Geelong, with North, Port, and Melbourne the only threats to those eight. Our order may not hold, and we may be wrong about one team somewhere (especially when injuries come into play), but I’ll wager that at least six and more likely seven or eight of those nine-win teams make the finals.
So, as I was saying before being so rudely interrupted…
I started this article intending it to be one of those “good/bad”, “pros/cons” article that throws two columns of items at the reader: “Pleasantly surprised” and “Marginally disappointed”. So I set up the two lists in my notebook and began sorting.
But in this fantastically topsy-turvy 2018 season, a pleasantly surprising thing happened:
The list was insanely out-of-balance towards the positive side.
It really is hard to look at any of the eighteen teams and feel any sense of profound disappointment. Sure, an individual loss is hard to take, and it seems like just about everyone’s thrown a stinker in somewhere. But it seems like there are positives throughout the league this season – even the two winless teams have a great deal to be positive about.
Carlton has talent throughout its line-up: Patrick Cripps, Marc Murphy, Jacob Weitering, Jarrod Garlett, Levi Casboult, Paddy Dow, Kade Simpson, the Curnows, the Silvagnis… And they’ve had games that make you realize how good they WILL be. Will they win this year? Of course, probably more than once or twice. And yet they’re still the spoon favorite…
Brisbane may be the most competitive 0-fer in recent history (bar the occasional rout), and you can’t really be disappointed when you’ve got Hipwood, Witherden, Rayner and McCluggage growing every game, Charlie Cameron and Steff Martin showing their brilliance every game and Luke Hodge coaching the back line. When the Daynes are firing on all cylinders, this is a good team. But there are eighteen good teams in the AFL, and winning is never a given on any particular week.
I’m pleasantly surprised by Richmond’s defense of their premiership so far. It’s hard to argue they’re not the best team in the league, and that wasn’t even true last year until the end of September! I’m pleasantly surprised by Dusty Martin’s post-Brownlow season: he’s playing like last year was no fluke. He simply is that good.
I’m pleasantly surprised in West Coast and Geelong. I had both of them dropping out of the eight this season, and so far I sure look foolish. (Which is fine – I’m used to looking foolish!) It’s not the superstar trio that’s making the Cats successful; their first two losses came when that trio was intact! It’s been Bews, Blicavs, Duncan, Horlin-Smith, Tuohy, Menegola, Ratugolea, Menzel, Kelly, Parfitt, Stewart… yes, and Dangerfield, and Selwood, and Ablett.
In the Eagles’ case, it’s been the dissed leaders – Elliot Yeo, Shannon Hurd, Luke Shuey, Dom Sheed, Andrew Gaff, Mark LeCras, Jack Darling, Chris Masten, Jeremy McGovern, and even Josh Kennedy and Nic Naitanui. I retract my predictions of failure for these two teams; I’m pleasantly surprised that they’ve found the way.
I’m pleasantly surprised in the renaissance of Nat Fyfe and Lance Franklin. Two of the greatest players of their generation have returned to the top of their games, and it’s a privilege to be able to watch them play at their best.
I’m pleasantly surprised by Ben Brown leading the Coleman race by four goals already. He’s going to be legendary before his career is over.
I’m pleasantly surprised Rory Laird is up there with Tom Mitchell leading the league in disposals. Laird lurks behind Sloane and Betts and Walker and so many other Crows – but when you’re leading every midfielder in the league in the most iconic stat in the league? You’re first-team. (And so is Mitchell, Mr. Buckley!)
The ultimate road warriors, the Gold Coast Suns, have somehow come up with a 3-3 record despite only being favored once (and that just barely, in game one in a Cairns deluge). I had them ranked 19th in an 18-team league this year; I’m pleasantly surprised that I was wrong.
Was it actually the subtlest tanking job in history? Last year’s Hawthorn Hawks shot their season by the time ANZAC day had arrived, and although they approached .500 by season’s end, they never felt like a serious threat last season. Alastair Clarkson, my personal choice as the greatest coach of this century, spent games seven through 22 experimenting and reloading last season, and to my pleasant surprise (though there are others, I’m sure, who are not so happy about it!), the Hawks are right back in the thick of things this season after a single year vacationing in September. Expect them to be right there at the end this season.
I’m pleasantly surprised to see North Melbourne so competitive. Yes, their wins three were against teams with a combined record of 5-12-1, but NOBODY had them at 3-3 at this point in the season. Oddsmakers have favored them in exactly ONE game so far: R4, where they were favored by just eight points over a Carlton team they beat by eighty-six.
And I was pleasantly surprised by Sydney’s seven goal fourth quarter Saturday afternoon. I had chalked the game up in Geelong’s win column already, and was checking out Port’s revival against the Kangaroos, when I noticed that the other game had switched leaders. I LOVE that this sport can have a seemingly insurmountable lead, and yet you can’t just put the subs in and sit on that lead! Fifty points isn’t unbeatable!
For that matter, no record is insurmountable until you’re mathematically eliminated. Sydney’s 0-6 start last year is proof of that pudding, as was Richmond’s nine-game winning streak to move from 3-10 and tied for the spoon in R14 to a 12-10 record and the eighth finals spot back in 2014.
I’m pleasantly surprised that we have a season that is so competitive that only three teams have fewer than two losses and only three have fewer than two wins (out of six). Simple math means that ⅔ of the league is within a game of .500, and that means that when Melbourne and Essendon played this Sunday, two tired teams battling at 2-3 to avoid 14th place, we considered them our “disappointments”. Really? Last season, they each finished 12-10. This season, they are still more than in range to finish 12-10 or better, even at 2-4 right now. That’s a disappointment? In 2018, that’s as disappointing as it gets, yes.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised how long a week is in footy this year. It seems like every time a team throws down a shockingly bad effort one week, we are rewarded the following week with a reminder that this league is very balanced. In R1, arguably the worst performance was the 39 points the Kangaroos mustered in Cairns against a young Suns team – the following Saturday, they routed St Kilda by 50. In R2, Richmond was embarrassed in the GF rematch by Adelaide; the next week, they pounded the undefeated Hawks 102-89. So what does Hawthorn do the next round? Destroy the Demons, 115-48.
The worst performance of the year was in R4, put up by Brisbane in their 110-17 defeat. So the following week, of course, they come within one errant Cam Rayner kick from matching Gold Coast. By this logic, we should expect Geelong to rise up against the Giants next Friday, following their trouncing at home by an undermanned Swans team, and North and Carlton to put together miraculous comebacks on Sydney and Adelaide, respectively on Saturday. It’s THAT kind of season.
I’m particularly surprised that I felt pleased that we had another draw so soon. It’s easy to disparage the “kissing your sister” outcome, but what it does for a team, generally, is shift them “out of phase” with their rivals on the ladder. Now, the Giants don’t really care about their percentage, because they won’t be tying those rivals. Instead, unless they score a second tie (which is impossible, right, GWS?), they’ll be two points off in either direction on the premiership point list.
I’m pleased that I get to watch so many transcendent stars perform every week. Dusty, Paddy, Buddy, Nic Nat, Fyfe… Appreciate them while they’re here, my friends!
And I’m happy that we can follow “projects” like my American brethren Mason Cox or the supremely athletic Majak Daw. With the VFL and its sister leagues to build skills in, those borderline performers have a place to hone their skills, rather than (for example) in the NFL, where you either have a job, or you don’t.
Then, I’m also happy to see the stunning entries of new stars breaking in to the AFL, and the joyous celebration that surrounds them – the presentation of their first guernsey, the video of their phone call home with the news (posted on the Web for all to enjoy), the mob celebrations of their first goal in an AFL game. What delights!
I’m happy to see the reverence and traditions of ANZAC Day, even though I am American. I wish our nation took its traditions more soberly.
I’m pleased to live in the era of the internet, where every game is available on-line from half a world away.
I’m pleased to hear the honesty of coaches and players, willing to talk about their mistakes and acknowledge their failings, in a world where too often our public figures are too willing to blame everything on anyone else.
I’m pleased to see women’s footy treated like a real sport.
I’m pleased to see the reduction in player-forced movement between teams – suck it up, boys. Most of us would gladly move out of state to pursue a career improvement.
And I’m always pleasantly surprised that folks like you are interested in my ramblings half a world away. Thanks for taking the time to read, friends, and thanks to my buddies at the Roar for publishing my weekly columns.
Next week’s predictions: After guaranteeing earlier in this article that a third of our predictions will end up being mistaken, it tickles me to tell you our “ELO-Following Football” season record is now 36-18, exactly two-thirds accurate and one-third upsets! Here’s our ELO-FF point spreads for next week:
Geelong by 6 over GWS; Bulldogs by 18 over Gold Coast; Hawthorn by 25 over Essendon; West Coast by 5 over Port Adelaide; Sydney by 29 over North Melbourne; Adelaide by 51 over Carlton; Richmond by 56 over Fremantle; Melbourne by 11 over St Kilda; Collingwood by 23 over Brisbane.
The Roar – Apr 23 2018
In the 121-year history of the league, only ONCE has a team kicked so accurately that over 60% of its scores during the full season travelled between the big sticks, majors as opposed to behinds. (Keep in mind, the AFL and its predecessors don’t distinguish between a poor kick and a rushed behind – to the statisticians, rushed behinds are always credited as inaccurate kicks to the opposition. Lousy, in my mind, but it does simplify things, and as long as it’s equal for everyone…)
That once happened recently, as you might have guessed. (In 1897, the league-wide accuracy percentage was just 39.6% ; last season, it was just shy of 53%, with generally steady improvement in between.) It happened with an otherwise unremarkable 2004 St Kilda team that went 16-6, placed third in the league before losing by a goal to eventual champion Port Adelaide in the preliminary final, and oh yes, kicked 370 goals on the season (highest in the league that year) while only scoring 223 one-pointers that year (5th fewest, no one ahead of them within 100 goals of the Saints).
Why were they so much higher that season? Honestly, I struggle to find one specific reason. In 2004, their opponent kicking accuracy was also remarkably high (57%, second highest in the AFL), so there may have been a bit of a Paul Westphal “offense-trumps-defense” attitude that year. (Whoops! Sorry! In my native US right now, “trumps” is a dirty word.)
But the Saints were well above average throughout the decade, from their lowest point, gaining just six wins in 2000-2001 combined (when they still kicked 56%), through those landmark near-championship seasons of 2009 and 2010 (except for the one year in 2007 when they not only had more minors than majors for the only time in that stretch, but missed the finals as well).
In 2004, Fraser Gehrig kicked 103 goals and just 38 behinds. Nick Riewoldt went 67.32, Stephen Milne kicked 46.22 for the year, and Brent Guerra was a superb 29.5 on the season. None of the players in double figure goal totals kicked worse than 50% accuracy. That consistency up and down the lineup is undoubtedly part of the reason they achieved a number never seen before or since over a full season.
Sydney demonstrated how important kicking accuracy is Friday night. Ten minutes into the fourth quarter, with Adelaide leading 85-58 – down 27 points at home – the Swans made the last seven scores of the game, holding the Crows scoreless over the final twenty minutes. Simple math tells us that had they made five goals two, they would have won; four goals three, and they draw. Over the first four games this season, they had kicked 57.33, kicking with 63% accuracy.
Let John Longmire choose his kickers, and he very likely might have chosen Isaac Heeney, George Hewett, Gary Rohan, and that guy named Buddy. That seems a very promising line-up. 63%? Had he known what was coming, he would have thought, we should be safe.
They converted just two out of seven. Two goals five. The Swans lost by ten.
Kicking accuracy is underrated at times. ¨Good kicking is good footy¨, sure. But maybe we fail to take it to heart in practice, like free throw shooting in basketball, or putting in golf. We will have to see what it costs the Swans down the road in this already extremely tight, unpredictable season.
It cost their cross-town rivals a win this weekend as well. The Giants were at least four goal favorites over the Saints Saturday afternoon, but despite the fact that St. Kilda hardly lived up to the standards of their last-decade predecessors, kicking just 10.13 (under 44 percent for the game; their disposal accuracy was equally weak), the charcoal-and-orange was FAR worse, kicking only nine of their 28 scoring shots between the big sticks and having to settle for a draw with their bottom four opponents at 73 apiece. Kicking 9.19 is poor in the worst of conditions, but under the roof at Etihad, for a top-four team to have its stars miss some of the set shots they missed was nothing short of embarrassing.
When you first hear that two AFL teams have played to a draw, as the Giants have now done in THREE of their last fourteen home-and-away games, do you normally assume, as I do, that they probably scored the same number of goals? I mean, would it not seem unusual to you if one team made up for a lack of a goal with six minor scores, coincidentally just happening to land on the same final total?
No? It’s just me? Hmm…
Regardless of our mutual psychological disorders, it happens to be that the more unusual circumstance is to have an identical scoreline across the board! In the history of the AFL (i.e., since 1990), only 20 of the 48 draws had final scorelines that resembled that of the Giants and Cats in R15 last year (10.8.68 apiece), while fully 58.3% of the games more closely resembled not just Saturday’s game (and the Giants/Hawks draw in R16 last season), but the infamous Collingwood/St. Kilda grand final which put an end to the come-back-next-week method of settling finals matches. (In that first GF, the Saints out-goaled the Magpies 10-9, but the black-and-white had six more single-point jobs; Collingwood won the following week with panache, 108-52.)
The trend extends back to the beginning of the sport. From WW2 until its transformation to the national format, the league produced a whopping 57% (33 out of 58) draws which failed to produce matching scorelines. Since the founding of the VFL in 1897, Saturday’s game was the 158th draw (thank you AFL TABLES for these and many other stats in use on this site!), and a full 56.3% have resulted from one team matching six behinds to a goal for the other side, rather than posting identical major-minor scorecards.
Two quick notes on this before we leave the topic: One is that we noticed that the reason the percentage of identical scorelines is continuing to decrease slightly over the decades because the total scores were getting higher for so long – there are more ways to count to, say, 94 than there are ways to count to 49. Also, because accuracy rates are steadily improving league wide, it has become more likely to have one team kick something like 16.6 to offset 15.12 or even 14.16, than it might have been when the average accuracy rate was in the low forties.
Secondly, it would seem pretty obvious that it would be more likely for the teams to differ by one goal to six behinds than, say, by two goals for one team to twelve behinds for the other. But it will be hard to top the 1948 Grand Final, when Melbourne managed to tie Essendon despite the Bombers connecting on FIFTEEN more scoring shots than the Demons.
You read that right: Melbourne kicked 10.9.69, while Essendon managed a woeful 7.27.69! That game remains, alongside a 1935 clash where Carlton only hit 9.25.79 against Footscray (12.7.79), as one of the only two draws in VFL / AFL history where two drawn teams were separated by as many as three full goals. In the 1948 grand final rematch the following week, by the way, Melbourne defeated the minor premiers 89-50 to take the crown.
The kicking issues are bound to be a problem for clubs again this season, if only from game to game. West Coast let Carlton stay in the match with them Saturday despite ten more scoring shots by kicking 10 goals 19 for the match, while the Blues converted over 50 percent. This season, there have been four matches where the losing team scored more often than the winning squad, which anecdotally is on par with past years (just under once per round). It happens more often than it should, quite honestly, and when it looks like the two Harbour City team performances this weekend, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed in practice the following week, at the least.
It’s too early to evaluate all of Round Five’s results, but here’s a quick look at round six:
Four games look like easy wins for GWS, Hawthorn, Adelaide, and West Coast (over Brisbane, St. Kilda, Gold Coast, and Fremantle respectively). Richmond and Port seem like the preferences in their games (against Collingwood and the Kangaroos), leaving the Bulldogs/Blues, Geelong/Sydney and Essendon/Melbourne games to flip coins over.
I really want to take Footscray Friday against an inferior and injury-racked Carlton team, but it’s hard to after their R5 performances. Neither club deserves a Friday showcase right now, regardless of how competitive the game might end up being. The Swans are the better team in the Saturday matchup, but at Kardinia Park, the lineups will make the difference. And as for the ANZAC aftermath, I want to see how the holiday game performances go before picking a Dons/Demons winner.
First published in The Roar, April 16th, 2018
Here’s my initial reaction to the 110-17 Lions loss on Saturday. (“Loss” seems like such an inadequate word here. “Demolition”? “Implosion”? “Self-immolation”?)
Step 1: Enter the team into the Witness Protection Program. (Witness to what, you might ask? To its own murder, perhaps; the team at no time Saturday appeared to be participants, so they must’ve been witnesses.)
Step 2: The team is assigned at least two federal agents to aid them in this process.
Step 3: Put uniforms on those agents and play them in next week’s game. They can’t be any worse than the players who wore the lion this weekend.
Seventeen points, believe it or don’t, actually flatters Brisbane’s performance. Until the final two minutes of the third, the Lions had been stuck on FOUR for about a full quarter of play. Zero goals. There were a few times when it seemed a certainty they would put one between the sticks; David Astbury outplayed Stefan Martin for a ball in the third when it seemed the latter had a sure goal coming his way. But for the most part, the Lions never felt as though they had a chance to score. Their defense was laughable at times; their offense ranged the gamut from ineffective to nonexistent. The last of Dustin Martin’s six goals came off a ball sent to him in the goal square by Jack Riewoldt with (I kid you not) a full third of the field between himself and any defensive player.
When young Cam Rayner scored Brisbane’s second goal with eleven minutes left in the game, it prevented the score being the lowest of the AFL’s nationwide history – Fremantle tallied just 1.7.13 against Adelaide’s 130 on July 11 of 2009. Before that, though, you’d have to go back to 1989 to find another score under 17 points in the league (technically the VFL). On that Saturday afternoon, the two predecessors of the Brisbane Lions combined for just 40 points: the Brisbane Bears put just 26 on the board, ironically at the MCG against Richmond as this year’s Saturday afternoon debacle was; and the Fitzroy Lions managed only one goal-eight for 14 points at Princes Park against the Kangaroos. The year before, the Brisbane Bears kicked two-five themselves, losing 80-17 to the Hawks in round 12.
Had the 2018 Lions not put that second goal on the board, you’d have had to go all the way back to 1961 to find a team less fruitful on the board in a game. In fact, it was this very Richmond Tiger franchise which had the dubious honor of being the last team to play a full game stuck in single digits, the last team to play a full game without scoring a single goal, and the lowest-scoring team in the last 65 years in a 91-8 R16 drubbing by St. Kilda on August 12th at Princes Park.
If you wanted to go any lower still, you’d have to go back to a Fitzroy game in 1953 to find it (those Lions scored just once against Footscray, a fourth quarter goal that prevented a shutout!), and to go still lower you’d have to retreat to the 19th century, when the average game scores were in the thirties, to any of a number of (mostly Saints) games. The worst of the defeats those original St, Kilda teams suffered, which went 0-48 its first three seasons, was a description-defying drubbing by the Geelong Cats on the final in-season afternoon of the 1899 season. Trailing South Melbourne (now Sydney) by a game for the final spot in the finals, the Cats apparently decided that they needed make darned sure that IF South lost, they wouldn’t be nipped at the line by percentage. And since South Melbourne was playing Essendon simultaneously on the opposite side of Melbourne, and Geelong couldn’t know for sure what was happening there, they decided to take no chances with the hapless Saints.
162 to one.
Read that again, just to make sure you understand that score.
One hundred and sixty-two… to ONE.
St. Kilda registered a behind sometime in the first quarter, and Geelong score four-goals-seven, leading 31 to 1. With the victory already well in hand, the Cats could have coasted from there. But, as stated, they weren’t going to take any chances in case South Melbourne lost. Essendon was a good team that year, completely capable of beating South, and if they did, Geelong wanted to be ready to step in. So the goals kept piling up. At halftime, they led by 90 points. Before the third quarter ended, they’d broken the league record for points for a full game, set by Essendon against this very Saints squad two games ago at 120. By game’s end, the Cats had 23 goals and 24 behinds, 162 points, to St. Kilda’s solitary point in that first quarter.
It didn’t help. South defeated Essendon 29-13 and took the Grand Finals spot against Fitzroy, where they lost by one, 27-26. But Geelong had at leashed smashed the league’s scoring record, and held it until Essendon did them one point better in 1911. Meanwhile, of course, nobody has erased St. Kilda’s futility from the record book, except perhaps to distinguish the low-scoring era of the 19th century (and even into the first decade or so of the 20th) and give Fitzroy’s one-goal effort a place of reverse-distinction.
Carlton felt safe to put a mere thirty points up Saturday night against the Ben Brown Tasmanian All-Stars, knowing that as long as they surpassed two-goals-five, they wouldn’t be the talk of the footy community this week. Likewise, Adelaide’s script flip from thirty-point favorites to fifty-point losers is likely buried on page two now, as is Port’s fall for undefeated grace, following the record-pressing ineptitude of Queensland’s footy triple royalty.
(By the way, in sixteen AFLW matches, the lady Lions have never been held to just seventeen points, even in the shortened game format used by the women’s league. Their lowest score, interestingly, was 21 points in this year’s Grand Final loss to Footscray, 27-21; before that, it was a 22-15 WIN in round four over Fremantle.)
Since we brought up the Crows’ rout at the claws of the Magpies, it brings up an interesting topic that struck as we were analyzing round four in advance: what percentage of the time do heavy favorites actually win those games? (Or, conversely, how often do heavy underdogs actually pull the upset?) We used data from this season and last to get the beginning of an answer.
With 36 games played thus far in the season, there have been as many as 18 which seem to fall in the “heavy favorite” category. At “Following Football”, we track quite a few prognosticators for accuracy, including how certain they were about the outcome. For ex., there are twelve experts picking games at The Age, and six (counting the poll pick and “mastermind5991”, who posts in-depth picks here weekly as well) at The Roar. Afl.com.au also shows percentages for its “crowd bet” for the two hundred thousand folks who tip games on their site. And we also track a half-dozen sources of “point spread” predictions that, for the purposes of this research, we’re going to convert to a guesstimate of probabilities of the favored team winning based on some work done by Matt Cowgill at The ARC, a good site with a similar bent as our Following Football site.
Here are the games from THIS season so far which meet any of these thresholds: 90% of forecasters at the Age/the Roar favor the same team, 90% of the afl.com.au “CrowdBet” tipsters lean towards the same team, or there’s a point spread over 30 points for the favorite, which corresponds mathematically to an 80% expectation of victory for that team.
ROUNDFavorite/UnderdogRoar/AgeCrowdBet Point spread UPSET?
1 Richmond/Carlton 17-1 96% no no
1 St Kilda/Brisbane 17-1 93% no no
1 Port Adelaide/Fremantle no 93% yes no
1 GWS/Western 18-0 92% no no
2 No Melbourne/St Kilda 18-0 91% no YES
2 GWS/Collingwood 18-0 no no no
2 Melbourne/Brisbane 18-0 90% no no
2 Essendon/Fremantle 17-1 no no YES
2 Sydney/Port Adelaide 18-0 no no YES
3 Port Adelaide/Brisbane 18-0 98% yes no (but almost!)
3 Melbourne/No Melbourne 18-0 91% no no
3 Adelaide/St Kilda 17-1 91% no no
3 Essendon/Western BD 17-1 no no YES
4 Adelaide/Collingwood 18-0 96% yes YES
4 GWS/Fremantle 18-0 96% yes no
4 Richmond/Brisbane 18-0 99% yes no
4 West Coast/Gold Coast 17-1 96% yes no
4 Geelong/St Kilda 17-1 97% no no
TOTALS (12 up, 5 dn) (11 up, 2 dn) (5 up, 1 dn)
(70.6%) (84.6%) (83.3%)
Interesting totals. Despite the illusion of “90% accuracy”, we’re really not getting any better than about 84% or so.
What about last year’s numbers? For CrowdBet, of all the games where the favorite was at 90% or higher, the favorite went 59-17 (77.6%). Combining the two publication panels, again where the favored winner hit 90% of experts or higher, their record was 72-29 (71.3%). And finally, in the situations where the point spreads from the punters and from Following Football were over thirty, where we therefore expected an 80% probability of victory, the actual record last year was 34-6, a robust 85% accuracy rate but in direct contrast to the percentages we came up with for THIS year’s games so far!
Our predictions for next week, round five? Are you kidding? On a ladder where the top fourteen teams are within a game of the lead? Literally, any of those fourteen are just one overwhelming game away from the top of the ladder – or out of the finals. What an amazing season this is shaping up to be!
Sydney or Adelaide? Good question; ELO-FF says Swans by 2. GWS over SK by several goals. West Coast and Port Adelaide with comfortable space. Fremantle loses a one-point game to the suddenly surging Bulldogs. North or Hawthorn? Good question; we’ll take Clarko in a pinch. Brisbane or Gold Coast? Depends on which team has more pride and was more embarrassed by its last game or two. Brisbane’s more “due”. ANZAC warm-up: all Richmond. ANZAC main event: Collingwood is surging.
Last week: 7-2 (like everyone else, missed on Collingwood and Essendon).
Overall: 21-16. Unremarkable but in this topsy turvy season, well above average.
Where SHOULD your footy team be right now?
Originally printed in The Roar, Monday, April 9, 2018
If you look at the standings early in the season, it’s hard to tell how your team’s actually doing unless you’re paying attention to the competition they and the teams around them have faced so far. Gold Coast’s impressive start comes on the back of three opponents who were all in the bottom third last year; Sydney’s had to repeat last year’s front-loaded schedule that saw them go 0-6 to start 2017, followed by 15-3 the rest of the way. Eventually, it will all balance out. Eventually.
But right now? Here’s a quick way to tell – let’s compare each team’s record with what the various prognostication methods led us to expect of them so far.
Adelaide (currently third, 2-1, 131% [+73 points], ELO-FF rating of 76.7)
The oddsmakers expected them to win all three games (3-0, +35.5 points). My ELO-Following Football rating system projected them at 2-0-1, +48 points. AFL.com.au does weekly predictions, and they thought the Crows should be 2-1, +29 points. The Roar also predicted 2-1; the pundits at The Age said they’d be 1-2, and the CrownBet’s “CrowdBet” percentages suggest that the populace foresaw a 3-0 start to the Adelaide season.
Overall? About where we all thought they’d be: competitive and towards the top of the ladder. Collingwood, Gold Coast, and Carlton are all coming to Adelaide over the next four weeks – you’d think they should be able to have at least 5-2 under their belts by the time they play Port in R8.
Brisbane (currently 17th, 0-3, 82% [-56], rating of 32.5)
Oddsmakers, ELO-FF, AFL.com.au, The Roar, The Age, and CrowdBet all predicted 0-3 for the Lions so far this season. Point spreads range from -78 to -90.
Overall? Slightly better than expected, mostly from Sunday’s close game with Port, despite the bagel in the W-column. Guarantee they won’t be 0-8: one (or more) of Richmond, Gold Coast, GWS, Collingwood, or the Bulldogs should give them a win.
Carlton (currently 18th, 0-3, 74% [-84], rating of 29.2)
Oddmakers predicted 1-2, -27.5 points. ELO-FF predicted 1-2, down 36 points. AFL.com.au actually said 2-1, +12 points at this juncture. The Roar, The Age, and CrowdBet all had the Blues at 1-2 at this point in the season.
Overall? Disappointing – nobody had them winless at this juncture. We won’t be surprised if they go 0-8, however, even with winnable games v. North and Dogs coming up.
Collingwood (currently 14th, 1-2, 90% [-26], rating of 47.8)
According to both the oddsmakers and ELO-FF, the Magpies were expected to be 1-2 with about a one point differential in the red. AFL.com.au has them 0-3 (-66 points), while the Roar, the Age, and CrowdBet all forecast a 1-2 start to the season.
Overall? Right about where we expected them, which isn’t necessarily good news for Magpie Nation. They play the Crows, Dons, Tigers, Lions, and Cats the next five weeks: 1-7 is not impossible, but 4-4 seems unlikely.
Essendon (currently 13th, 1-2, 92% [-25], rating of 42.7)
Oddsmakers foresaw a 2-1 start, +21.5; our ELO-FF system thought their 2-1 start would have a +5 margin. All the other prognosticators saw a 2-1 start as well, except for The Age, which thought they’d be 3-0 at this point in the season.
Overall? Disappointing. ELO-FF rating dove nine points last two weeks. Possible they go 1-6 if things go as this game did. (Port, Magpies, Demons, Hawks.)
Fremantle (currently 10th, 2-1, 98% [-6], rating of 31.0)
Oddsmakers: 1-2. -17. ELO-FF: 1-2. -47. AFL.com.au: 0-3, -54. All others 1-2.
Overall? Above expected, thanks partly to the convenience of Gold Coast’s “home” loss this weekend. Rating and percentage indicate it’s somewhat smoke and mirrors. But three of their next five games are winnable; they may not be done surprising us yet.
Geelong (currently 12th, 1-2, 96% [-13], rating of 59.4)
Oddsmakers thought they’d be 2-0-1, with a tie to Melbourne the only blemish. ELO-FF had a tie to Hawthorn making them 1-1-1. The others are all across the board: AFL.com.au said 2-1, as did The Roar; the Age said 1-2, but CrowdBet thought they’d be 3-0 by now.
Overall? “Dangerwoodlett” is 0-2. (I feel prescient right now.) You could’ve made good money forecasting the Kangaroos ahead of Geelong at this stage. After St. Kilda on Sunday, they get Port, Sydney, and GWS. 2-5 is staring them in the face.
Gold Coast (currently sixth, 2-1, 111% [+22], rating of 26.5 [18th])
Oddsmakers had them 1-2 at this point, down 28 points. ELO-FF started them in last place, so they’re “supposed” to be 0-3. AFL.com.au figured they’d be 2-1 (-1 point), The Roar, The Age and CrowdBet 1-2.
Overall? Take a wild guess. Even outnumbered at their “home” game in the stands hundreds to one, they held their competitive edge against a Purple Haze that was fortunate for the freebie. 5-2 would not surprise me before their trip to China, and I was the one who originally had them in 19th place this season. (I will eat my Adelaide player later.)
Greater Western Sydney (currently second, 2-1, 135% [+82], rating of 68.4)
The oddsmakers and ELO-FF both have them at 2-1 at this stage (+31 and +22 respectively). AFL.com.au and The Roar both said 3-0 was their bet; The Age has them 2-0-1 (a tie with Sydney), and CrowdBet at 2-1.
Overall? They own the highest percentage and margin (even over 3-0 Port), and will be favorites to be 8-1 entering June unless injuries keep mounting. Hard to complain.
Hawthorn (currently eighth, 2-1, 108% [+22], rating of 56.3)
Oddsmakers said 1-2 (-14.5 points); the ELO-FF had them at 1-1-1 with the aforementioned tie to the Cats in there. AFL.com.au thought 1-2 as well, although the Roar has them at 2-1, while the Age and CrowdBet thought 1-2 more likely.
Overall? Better than most expected. They face Melbourne, North, Saints and Bombers the next four weeks: win three, which they should, and they’ll be favorites to make finals.
Melbourne (currently fourth, 2-1, 123% [+60], rating of 56.0)
Oddsmakers have the Demons in a 2-0-1 mode, that tie with Geelong the only battle scar. We have them at 2-1 in the ELO-FF. While AFL.com.au predicted a 3-0 start, as do The Roar and The Age, CrowdBet only have them 2-1, and two of my other sources had them at 1-2! All over the place…
Overall? Kind of in the middle of where they were forecast. Their one loss was by three to the Cats; their two wins were over bottom four quality teams. It’s hard to tell what the Demons really ARE as of yet. Hawthorn, Richmond, and Essendon in rounds 4-6 may tell us a ton more.
North Melbourne (currently 11th, 1-2, 99.6% [-1], rating of 39.7)
The only one of our quoted sources that expected a single victory out of the Kangaroos so far was our own ELO-FF system…but we thought it would be against Gold Coast, not St. Kilda. Everyone else had them on the way to the spoon at 0-3.
Overall? Any win is a good win. And they’re at the top of the 1-2 teams right now, above Geelong and Essendon. Hard to complain!
Port Adelaide (currently first, 3-0, 135% [+78], rating of 63.2)
All across the board, the Power were expected to be 2-1 at this juncture, from 56 to 74 points to the good.
Overall? One more win than expected, and a big scalp for a supposed “flat-track bully”, so kudos to the league leaders. Adelaide in round 8 looks like their most likely loss opportunity before travelling to China.
Richmond (currently ninth, 2-1, 101% [+3], rating of 69.4)
Oddsmakers thought they’d be 2-1; ELO-FF had them at 2-0-1 (tying Adelaide), both AFL.com.au and The Age figured the Tigers would be 3-0 by now, while the Roar and CrowdBet both thought 2-1 was more likely.
Overall? We’ve had them drop ratings points in all three games so far, so the record’s not as impressive as it looks. (Insert “Richmond in ninth place” joke here.) But every game from now until June is winnable, and except for West Coast at Optus, the Tigers should be favored to be no worse than 9-2 going to Port Adelaide in R12.
St. Kilda (currently 15th, 1-2, 73% [-76], rating of 38.0)
The Saints were universally expected to be 2-1 at this juncture, with wins against Brisbane and North followed by a loss to the Crows.
Overall? They’ve lost rating points every week (including their win), and only the Dogs have a worse percentage than the Saints. With Geelong, the Giants, Hawthorn, and Melbourne on deck, they’re looking 1-6 squarely in the halo unless something turns around quickly.
Sydney (currently seventh, 2-1, 108% [+22], rating of 73.0)
The ELO-FF and the oddsmakers had identical 3-0 records for the Swans (both +39 points, in fact). The others run 2-1, 2-1, 2-0-1, and 3-0 (Crowdbet loves the two Sydney squads).
Overall? A competitive loss to Port this year isn’t embarrassing. They host Adelaide in R5, but otherwise there’s no reason they couldn’t make it to their R14 bye now with at least ten wins, maybe 11 or even 12 if Buddy stays healthy.
West Coast (currently fifth, 2-1, 114% [+37], rating of 55.4)
The oddsmakers have yet to make the Eagles a favorite, listing them 0-3 so far. ELO-FF has them at 1-2, favoring them this weekend hosting the Cats. All other pundits are similar, either 0-3 (AFL.com.au and Crowdbet) or 1-2.
Overall? Better than expected, obviously. But Gold Coast, Carlton, and Freo make 5-1 look very manageable. After that, a .500 record probably gets them into September…
Western Bulldogs (currently 16th. 1-2, 67% [-112], rating of 34.8)
Oddsmakers and ELO-FF have identical 1-2 marks with a -28 margin. Everyone else has the same 1-2 record except The Roar, which figured them with an 0-3 record, having not gone with the crowd and picked West Coast to win in Etihad in R2. (They went with reason and bet against them last week, but so did everybody. No shame there.)
Overall? The Dogs were at a negative 133 margin after two games. TWO. Ask yourself which is more likely: this week’s defeat of Essendon is the real Footscray, and they’ll play Sydney close at Etihad this Saturday, or the real team is the one the Giants cruised over by eighty-plus in week one, and the “other” Sydney squad will have the chance to beat that mark this weekend.
Yeah, me too.
So, looking ahead, what do the pundits see happening in the next couple of rounds?
The favorites next week are generally going to be Adelaide, GWS, Richmond, Sydney, probably Port, Hawthorn, Geelong, North, and West Coast. In Round 5, expect the favorites to be GWS, West Coast, Port, Hawthorn, and Fremantle, with four games that could be tossups in two weeks: Sydney/Adelaide, Brisbane/GCS, Melbourne/Richmond, and Collingwood/Essendon (depending on how they’re trending by then).
If that’s the case, we could very well be looking at a ladder that looks something like this in two weeks:
Port Adelaide (5-0)
GWS, West Coast, Hawthorn (4-1)
Sydney, Adelaide, Richmond (4-1 or 3-2)
Melbourne, Gold Coast (3-2 or 2-3)
North Melbourne, Geelong (2-3)
Essendon, Collingwood (2-3 or 1-4)
St. Kilda, Western BD (1-4)
Brisbane (1-4 or 0-5)
And we were projecting records for most of the teams around Round 8 in this piece…
Port, GWS, Richmond (7-1)
Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney (6-2)
Hawthorn, West Coast (5-3)
Fremantle, Gold Coast (4-4)
Collingwood, Essendon, Geelong (3-5)
No. Melbourne, Western BD (2-6)
Brisbane, St. Kilda (1-7)
Of course, since the best prognosticators we could find last year were only right ⅔ of the time, as always, take every prediction you read with a grain or seventy of salt!
Week Two of AFL 2018
Originally published in The Roar, April 3, 2018
Does anyone have a handle on the 2018 season yet? I sure don’t.
Four teams are undefeated: GWS and Port (very expected), Hawthorn and Gold Coast (not nearly so much). Four teams are winless: Carlton and Brisbane (understandable), Collingwood and Footscray (a bit more startling).
The first eighteen games produced surprising results – North over the Saints by fifty-two? Fremantle defeating Essendon? – and some classic games – follow Geelong around and watch the fireworks blow! They’re two for two in producing instant classics!
Digging into the numbers a bit deeper may give us a better perspective regarding what’s happening and what’s going to happen in the next few rounds.
Better Than Anticipated: All three of these teams have beaten the spread twice, raised their ELO ratings twice, and shown themselves BTA twice.
***Gold Coast may have beaten two of last year’s bottom four sides to amass their 2-0 record, but given that I had them in (fictional) “19th place” before the season started, I’m impressed anyway. My ELO-Following Football ratings had them as the lowest rated team in the league, having lost the only top 20 rated player in their history, and yet they’ve persevered with a superb offensive plan, a solid defense, and a never-say-die attitude that only the young are naive enough to maintain. (I wish I was young enough to still have that attitude!). They’ll be tested more deeply soon as they continue on the longest road trip in AFL history: this Saturday, somehow, they become the third AFL team to hold a “home” game at the brand new Optus Stadium as they “host” Fremantle. (To the league’s credit, they then get to stay there to play a “road” game in the same facility against West Coast in round 4. Well played, AFL.)
***Port Adelaide defeated a top team on the road! Stop the presses! More to the point, Sydney had Franklin Crankin’, andPort still managed to pull away in the late stages Sunday, thanks not only to their new recruits but to star-in-training Riley Bonner, who kicked what felt like the clinching goal Sunday. (And let’s add an additional BTA to ***Lance Franklin, who’s already at a dozen goals for the year, some of the spectacular variety. Everyone in this league can kick one sideways/half-backwards; only Buddy can do it standing on the arc.)
***Hawthorn is good again. I don’t know how it happened, but that I have a sneaking suspicion that they werenever that bad. I wouldn’t put it past the best coach in the league to have cleverly disguised #HawkTank2017 in such a way that made them look old and beyond repair last season, once he saw that they had no shot at a high seed after six games last year. But superstar Tom Mitchell was better than Dangerwoodlett by himself Monday, Ben McEvoy and Liam Shiels are suddenly irreplacable, and Jarryd Roughhead won the game Monday night with a shot that showed he understood the situation perfectly: a behind was as good as a goal right then. It’s hard to beat a smart team that tries hard.
Which, unfortunately, leads to the Poorer Than Expected segment: three teams who have dropped ELO rating points in both games and shown us that a reconsideration of their prospects in 2018 may be in order already.
***Western Bulldogs. Their post mortems from others will probably fill the pages of this publication. No need for me to pile on right now, except to add that playing smart is something they’re not doing right now.
***Saint Kilda was the most disappointing single-game team in round two, although the Dogs take the cake for their current body of work overall. Losing to one of the spoon favorites is one thing; losing to them on the ground you’re used to defending is worse; losing to them by fifty-two is worse still; scoring just five goals-thirteen in perfect weather requires a Saturday morning meeting to make sure you don’t lose the team entirely after two weeks of the season. Their win over Brisbane was more difficult than we expected, but we all thought “perhaps the Lions really ARE moving forward”. Instead, we may need to rethink the Lions as well.
***Collingwood was one of my picks to surprise and move into the final eight this season. After watching their scoring options reduce to the American Pie and a handful of Australian cookies, none of whom seem to be able to bake enough goals to beat teams of substance. If their injured forwards are out for as long as it seems they might be, any team that can score ninety will find the Magpies easy pickings.
What does the ELO-Following Football computer think about Round 3? It’s still obsessing over Round 2, that’s what! It agreed with the crowd on Adelaide, Melbourne, and GWS winning; it lost alongside the crowd with the Roos, Blues, and Bombers losing. We wanted to bet Portside but had too much faith in Buddy, forgetting he was but one man. We saw that the Bulldogs were in trouble but pulled the trigger on them anyway, and we knew the Geelong/Hawthorn game would be a virtual tie but flipped the coin and it landed Cats. Officially, then, the computer went 3-6 but felt like Carlton after Round 1 – a moral victory that feels good and means nothing.
In Round 3, we agree with the oddsmakers giving Collingwood a two-goal margin over Carlton Friday night. Saturday afternoon, we like Port to win but Brisbane to cover, and Melbourne to win but North to cover, mostly because history. In the twilight game, we’re hopping on the Stewie-Dewie train and taking Gold Coast to go three-and-zero in their west coast “home debut”. On Saturday evening, ELO-FF likes the favorites, Sydney and Adelaide, to win and cover, as do I. In the early game Sunday, I’m going to disagree with the computer: it sees Richmondwinning by 25, while I think Hawthorn pulls the upset here. We both like Essendon over the Bulldogs (me more than the computer, because it can’t see the blood in the water), and we both think West Coast will upset the Cats in Optus Sunday afternoon. (West Coast has raised its rating five points already this season, and the Cats have lowered its rating both weeks this season.)
Records: 11-8 overall (for both the human and the ELO-FF).
ELO Observations on round one, round two and the AFLW grand final
Originally published in The Roar, March 29, 2018
The ELO-Following Football AFL rating system did better predicting last week’s games than the human behind it did. Reviewing last week’s forecasts, the only one we both missed – as most folks did – was Adelaide’s loss to Essendon.
I adjusted three of my choices away from the ELO recommendations and was only right with the Gold Coast-North Melbourne slobber knocker. My leans towards Melbourne and Collingwood in closely predicted games turned out to be wrong.
So if you count nailing the women’s final, the ELO-FF system is 8-2, and I’m 7-3. Neither is particularly impressive because it looks like this was a remarkably ‘in-form’ first round.
First rounds are notoriously hard to forecast, especially for systems like mine which are results-based rather than speculative. I make adjustments based on pre-season form, draft and, most importantly, on the projected starting 22 going into a game, but first-round games are hard when the only results available, arguably, belong to a significantly different team from six or seven months ago.
My observations coming out of round one.
Buddy be Buddy
I could watch Lance Franklin play football every day for the rest of my life. He can do things no other player can, plain and simple.
Watching a game like Sunday’s, where he single-handedly kept the Eagles from celebrating the opening of their parking lot-less stadium (does that change when Domain gets torn down? Is that how it’s set up?) was awe-inspiring.
Gazza looked like Geelong Gazza
With the bald head, you can’t tell eight years have passed since Gary Ablett Jr last roamed the field in blue and white. 39 disposals, and he was still zipping around like he was the only one with the tracking device on the footy, knowing where it would end up so he could be there when it happened.
The test will be if he’s still doing that in Round 18. I was surprisingly impressed with Ablett’s debut last weekend, every good game he plays on the road for the Cats should irritate the Suns faithful no end.
Missing stars were noticed
West Coast really could have used Josh Kennedy to counter the Bud; I think he would have made a difference. Hard to believe an Adelaide line-up including Taylor Walker, Brad Crouch and Tom Lynch doesn’t hold onto its lead in the fourth quarter.
You expect to fight your own ‘holes’ mid-season; dealing with them in round one is tough. While there was nothing the Bulldogs were going to do to slow the Giants down much, the horrific injury to Tom Liberatore shot a hole in their hearts early on.
Moving forward without them is tough, too
Ask Port Adelaide who, despite all the positive vibes coming off their victory and the way their new additions added to their productivity, despite the naysayers’ opinions, are going to have to makeshift their ruck position again with Paddy Ryder out six weeks.
All you need is to be deficient in one key position to lose in this league, and the difference between Ryder and anyone else the Power can put up will be huge.
Debutants shined across the league
Port’s Riley Bonner rightly won the Rising Star nomination for week one, but there were plenty of actual first-game stars.
Talented rookies like Paddy Dow for Carlton, Cameron Rayner for the Lions, and Andrew Brayshaw for Fremantle all looked like they belonged. But so did Esava Ratugolea, a Geelong starter for the first time after waiting his turn last year.
As did Brayshaw’s teammate, Bailey Banfield, who was definitely not a first draft pick and had to prove himself in pre-season to earn his guernsey this week.
It may not be smart to be moving your stars around the field, after all
Hey, let’s put Harry Taylor in the forward line. Oh, crud, we need him on defence more! What about moving Easton Wood to the front? Paging Easton Wood, paging Easton Wood; has anybody seen Mr Wood?
Sometimes you move a star because you have to. But most of the time, it’s worth remembering that those players are stars because they know their positions so well. It takes someone of Patrick Dangerfield’s raw talent to be thrown into an unfamiliar position and excel without any prep. 98 per cent of players can’t do it without a bunch of extra training, at best.
I would argue that this league-wide experimental phase will be short-lived.
Before we get too far past, I want to share the results of the AFLW Player Of The Year meta-results, from combining all the sources I can get my hands on for you.
Last year was pretty straight-forward – Erin Phillips was universally acclimated as the MVP in Adelaide’s championship season. This season, it’s not so clear. Courtney Gum? Emma Kearney? Chelsea Randall? Daisy Pearce?
All four had MVP honours from at least one source I found.
Once the votes were totalled, however, it seems the ultimate player of the year is Emma Kearney of the Western Bulldogs! Her total on my meta-tally was 182 points, and led definitively second-placed Chelsea Randall of Adelaide with 165 points, and bronze medalist Kate Lutkins of Brisbane with 148 points.
The rest of the top ten included Daisy Pearce (MEL) – 138, Courtney Gum (GWS) – 136, Elle Blackburn (WB) – 134, Elise O’Dea (MEL) – 131, Alicia Eva (GWS) – 128, Dana Hooker (FRE) – 121, and a tie for tenth between Karen Paxman (MEL) and Sabrina Frederick-Traub (BRI) – both with 114 points.
Chloe Molloy had the highest point total for the Collingwood Magpies, placing 14th at 104 points. The highest total for Carlton was Brisbane transfer Tayla Harris with 73 points.
For the record, last year’s winner placed 18th with 88 points, despite Phillips missing the first two games of the season for Adelaide this year.
Finally, let’s look at the probabilities going into round two for the men.
The ELO-FF computers pick the same nine winners this week as both the punters and I do, but the margins differ. You take a look and decided who you think’s got it sussed out for Easter weekend.
Adelaide hosts Richmond, and the memories of round six linger over those of the grand final, with the consensus forecast of a Crows victory. As of Monday evening (all punters’ lines are quoted from Monday), the Crows are an 8.5 point choice. My computer says it’ll be a rousing, um, 0.1 point Adelaide victory. I guess that’s when the ball doesn’t hit the behind post, but merely becomes quantumly entangled with it.
I’m taking Adelaide but betting the ‘under 16 either way’ bet on this. It’ll be close.
Good Friday sees North Melbourne play St Kilda, where we commemorate the death of our Lord by watching the Saints crucify their enemies. Every one of us has this as a 19-point victory – nothing either team showed last weekend gave the Kangas any renewed hope in this one.
Carlton and Gold Coast, at Etihad. I don’t think of Etihad as being the home of the Blues, but of their eleven home games this year, six are here and only five are at the MCG. So they’d best get used to it, and this is a good game to start with.
Despite a good result for the Suns in Cairns last Saturday, we all foresee a two-to-four goal win for Bolton’s Boys this weekend. The computer likes Carlton to cover with ease.
Collingwood versus Greater Western Sydney. While the oddsmakers have been in love with GWS for over a year now, I have this as just a single-digit spread on the computer. Still, without the only real tall for the Magpies, as ineffective as he was last week, it’s easy to imagine a Giant domination this Saturday.
Brisbane versus Melbourne, at the Gabba, where the Lions should have good support from the locals if they’re ever going to get it. Optimism runs high, despite an opening loss, and my computer has them covering the 18.5-point spread, though I think we all think the Demons will win the game.
Fremantle takes on Essendon, in the Optus for the first time and, while the Eagles got the first official men’s home game last week, the Dockers’ women’s squad got the first official run-out in February. Will that help the men’s team?
I have Essendon winning by almost double the 9.5-point spread the punters are betting on, so my answer is “no”.
Western Bulldogs versus West Coast. What does it say about the Eagles that the Bulldogs could come off of an 82-point beatdown (that was worse than the score because it seemed like the Doggies just gave up at one point in the second half) and they would still be 7.5-point favourites against them this Sunday?
Both teams lost ELO rating points last week, but the Dogs lost far more than West Coast.
I have it as a two-point game, still in the Dogs favour, but I personally wouldn’t bet on this game unless my life depended on it. Motivation will be the key – how does each team react to their opening loss?
Port Adelaide at Sydney. Here’s the flip side of that previous match. If you want an Easter Sunday theme, the first game represents the empty grave (because believe me, that glass is half-empty), and this represents the resurrection: two teams which made the most of their week one hit-outs and come into Sunday’s game on a positive.
The odds say Swans 15.5; ELO-FF has it at 13.1, and I’m thinking that I’d be afraid to bet against Port right now unless you can promise Buddy week two looks like Buddy week one – which he very likely will, so I’m taking Sydney.
Easter Monday, Geelong ‘hosts’ Hawthorn.
If I were a Geelong supporter, I’d be upset about the result produced by the AFL’s rationale here. Nine of their eleven home games are at their real home, the GMHBA… excuse me, “down at Kardinia Pa-ark.”
But the two games they have to ‘host’ at the MCG, ostensibly to accommodate larger crowds, are against teams whose actual home is the MCG.
In my mind, that cost the Cats a good shot at the premiership last year, having to play Richmond at ‘home’ at the MCG in the qualifying final.
They play the Tigers there in June and Hawthorn there this weekend in their annual Easter Monday blockbuster. Oddsmakers give them 9.5 points to the good, my computer says they only have a 0.2-point advantage.
Make no mistake, this is a road game for Geelong, but beating Melbourne is much more impressive right now than beating the Magpies. I’ll take Geelong for 400, Alex.
To summarise:Adelaide, St Kilda, Carlton, GWS, Melbourne, Essendon, Bulldogs, Sydney, Geelong.
ELO-Following Football record:8-2
My personal record:7-3
AFL Round 1 and AFLW Grand Final predictions!
March 21st, 2018
First of all, we picked the Western Bulldogs to defeat the Brisbane Lions, 33-30, despite playing outside their regular home ground and losing their captain to suspension, in our previous Following Football post (below). Going to stick with that… no reason to change now!
As for the start of the men’s season, we’re off to our normal half-blind start. You never know for sure how the team’s changed from one season to another. But we’ll look at the range of predictions from throughout the realm, and then I’ll provide ours.
Carlton at Richmond, Thursday – Universally, everyone’s picking Richmond by somewhere from five to eight goals, and we think it’ll be towards the higher end of that.
Adelaide at Essendon, Friday – Adelaide is not the universal favorite you might think of the reigning minor premier; both of afl.com’s “Pick-a-Winner” experts, Wayne Carey and Campbell Brown, think the Dons are the choice here. Still, we’re taking Adelaide to win a close one on the road.
Brisbane at St. Kilda, Saturday – The consensus here is to say, “Hey, we really like what the Lions are doing so far this young year!… yeah, but the Saints will win.” And we agree. Four goals or so.
Fremantle at Port Adelaide, Saturday – If the Dockers can be competitive at Adelaide Oval against a finals favorite, our Following Footy forecast putting them in the finals will look pretty prescient! Even if they lose by four to eight goals, as predicted, we’re not writing them off yet – Richmond lost big here in round six last fall.
North Melbourne at Gold Coast (Cairns), Saturday – The numbers crunch to say the Kangaroos, and most of the predictions are bucking the numbers and (frankly) hoping that Stuart Dew gets some return for the hard work the Suns have exhibited this summer. We’re sentimental, too. Suns in a squeaker, maybe only because of the heated conditions and the fact that the Kangaroos have looked terrible so far this pre-season.
Collingwood “at” Hawthorn, Saturday – Both play in the MCG, so there’s not much of an advantage. Nobody’s really risking a bet here, and we’re not expecting anything but a close game, either. Collingwood because we put them in the finals this season.
Western Bulldogs at GWS, Sunday – Giants in a romp. Lowest prediction I’ve seen is sixteen points. Next.
Geelong at Melbourne, Sunday – The oddsmakers have this game dead even. The picks are leaning the way my head is: Geelong hasn’t had the chance to test-drive its terrific trio of midfielders yet, let alone figure out where its goals come from. Demons for us, despite the fact that our ratings (left over mostly from last season) still call for a four point Geelong win.
Sydney at West Coast, Sunday – The grand opening of Optus Stadium, Perth’s grand jewel of a stadium. If it weren’t for that, everyone and his mother would have Sydney waltzing away with this. As it is, we’re still calling for a close Swans victory, about nine points; we’re taking West Coast and the points.
ALL RECORDS SO FAR: 0-0.
The Final, Definitive, UItimate Prediction for AFL 2018! (Maybe.)
Originally published in The Roar – March 19th, 2018 –
Each year, I gather the widest range possible of predictions for the sports I cover and write about for various on-line sites in Australia and the United States. Then I weight those predictions as best I can (random YouTubers don’t carry the gravitas of, say, Cameron Rose or anyone else paid to study this stuff), and combine them into one grand Meta-Forecast.
As an example, here was the meta-forecast for the AFLW season just concluded (we’ll touch on the women’s GF at the end of the article) —
- Adelaide (a close second!)
- Brisbane (grand finalist)
- Western BD (minor premier and grand finalist)
- Carlton (closer to fourth than believable now)
We tend to cling to the previous year’s outcomes more than we should. For example, every year since the eight-team finals format was adopted, at least two of the eight men’s finals teams have changed (sometimes three, never yet more than four). This empirical “rule” is well-known and almost legendary in its own right. And yet it’s almost infallible that the vast majority of predictions will fail to have even two changes on their list.
Consider our meta-prediction from the 2017 men’s season. Here’s the 2016 standings, the meta-prediction for 2017 we compiled from a similarly vast array of sources, and the actual 2017 results:
2016 results >>>>> Meta-prediction for 2017 >>>>> Final 2017 ladder
- Sydney >>>>>GWS Giants >>>>> Adelaide
- Geelong >>>>> Western Bulldogs >>>>> Geelong
- Hawthorn >>>>> Sydney Swans >>>>> Richmond
- GWS >>>>> Adelaide Crows >>>>> GWS
- Adelaide >>>>> Geelong Cats >>>>> Port Adelaide
- West Coast >>>>> West Coast Eagles >>>>> Sydney
- Western BD >>>>> Hawthorn Hawks >>>>> Essendon
- No Melbourne >>>>> St. Kilda Saints >>>>> West Coast
- St Kilda >>>>> Melbourne Demons >>>>> Melbourne
- Port Adelaide >>>>> Collingwood Magpies >>>>> Western BD
- Melbourne >>>>> Port Adelaide Power >>>>> St. Kilda
- Collingwood >>>>> Fremantle Dockers >>>>> Hawthorn
- Richmond >>>>> Essendon Bombers >>>>> Collingwood
- Carlton >>>>> Richmond Tigers >>>>> Fremantle
- Gold Coast >>>>> North Melbourne Kangaroos >>>>> No Melbourne
- Fremantle >>>>> Gold Coast Suns >>>>> Carlton
- Brisbane >>>>> Carlton Blues >>>>> Gold Coast
- Essendon >>>>> Brisbane Lions >>>>> Brisbane
The extent of our “adventurous predictions” for finals as a mass community (and I’m including myself in this to some extent) is to have recognized that the Kangaroos released all their veterans and were going into rebuilding mode, so we replaced them with the ninth place team sliding into eighth.
Ooooh… Going out on a limb there, aren’t we?
But while it’s true that singly we don’t generally risk major moves, the other issue that clogs up the waterworks here is that even when individuals do, we all predict DIFFERENT major moves, and those often cancel each other out. As many people who thought Port and Richmond were going to move into finals, there were a comparable number who thought they’d fall LOWER instead.
(Side note: I must confess that I was one of those. And I’m MOST embarrassed by my prediction of Port Adelaide not making finals, because that failure violated the most ironclad rule if you’re looking for a team to move up the next year: Port had too high a percentage for their record in 2016. When that’s a significant gap – and the Power was 10-12 with a 106% in 2016! – it almost guarantees a big improvement in record the following year. I’m NOT making that mistake again: Collingwood was 9-12-1 last year but was just three goals short of even in percentage. I’m expecting them to sneak into finals this season, as per my column two weeks ago.)
In fact, each of the errors we made in our forecasts last year is explicable in hindsight. GWS might have been first (change their two draws to victories and they were!) but for a horror run of injuries last year. Footscray was never a top three team – except for four weeks in September of 2016. They moved from seventh in 2016 to one game out of seventh in 2017. We had Sydney and Hawthorn falling; we just didn’t know how far. Similarly, we had Adelaide and Essendon climbing; we just didn’t know how far. And we almost nailed the bottom four. So, not so bad!
Enough looking backwards. Here’s your 2018 AFL Meta-Forecast!
- Adelaide Crows
- GWS Giants
- Sydney Swans
- Geelong Cats
- Richmond Tigers
- Port Adelaide Power
- Melbourne Demons
- Essendon Bombers…
Wait a second! Dang it, guys, ya did it again! You replaced a fading West Coast, who was in eighth place and losing their veterans, and simply replaced them with ninth place Melbourne and called it your finals forecast? Have We Learned Nothing From History?
Sigh… Alright, let’s give you a few plaudits before we go on. We didn’t repeat the Bulldog mistake – Richmond’s still a top team, but let’s see them back up their finals run before we acclaim them a dynasty. Fair enough. To be honest, I’ve got them at third again, moving Port up and Geelong down (a looong way down – to 10th, in fact). But that’s a reasonable statement. Similarly, with the exception of our two-team-out rule, it’s hard to argue with most of those teams.
[But we’re going to anyway…Why would Sydney move up? Their schedule’s just as tough in games 1-6 as it was last year, and there’s nothing to suggest an improved Swans team to face it. And yet we don’t see Port moving any higher? THEY actually ADDED pieces to their weaponry!] Going on…
- Western Bulldogs
- Hawthorn Hawks
- St. Kilda Saints
- West Coast Eagles
- Collingwood Magpies
- Fremantle Dockers
- Brisbane Lions
- Carlton Blues
- Gold Coast Suns
- North Melbourne Kangaroos
Alright, again, it’s hard to argue with the general feel of this list. I actually tried to put the Suns in 19th place, as insane as their schedule is this season. Down the road, they’ll be tougher and better for it, but this season is going to be a firing squad for the young Suns.
But this looks suspiciously like last year’s final ladder, with the obvious adjustments: Brisbane on the rise (three places? That’s winning just ONE more game. I have them in 12th this year.), West Coast down to 12th (it’s hard to know, but if you’re basing this on history, the Roos fell to 15th last year), and North continuing to rebuild and suffering the consequences because of it.
Doggies, Hawks, and Saints? Last season, they were in the same spots (removing WCE from their position as we have), except that now we think Hawthorn will pass St Kilda? Why?
And I suspect the majority of folks simply don’t know what to do with either Collingwood or Fremantle this season. I have them BOTH in my final eight. There’s some faith involved in that suggestion, true, but I truly believe these meta-predictions are the residue of “move-’em-over” thinking. Where were they last year? Yeah, that’s about right…Move ‘em over. But looking at their schedules, their pre-seasons, and frankly the lack of progress above them? I wrote this all out in this space a couple of weeks ago, but nothing I’ve watched has changed my opinion: I’m starting the season thinking these are the two new teams in finals, not Melbourne or St Kilda.
(Mind you, I’d love to be wrong, especially the part about the Demons and Saints missing out on finals yet again. Talk about starving fan bases! Tigerland and Bulldog Nation just had their moments of glory – let’s see a finals victory or two for Melbourne and St Kilda sooner rather than later!)
Comment on the following combinations below – whichever pairings intrigue you. Every one of these pairings interests me! Pick any of the dozen and comment below…
Which team will have the better record after Round 23?
*** Optus Opening) Fremantle or West Coast?
*** SA Special) Adelaide or Port? (Or do you wanna wait for the Grand Final to decide that?)
*** Opera House Oracle) Greater Western Sydney or – what, “Greater Eastern” Sydney? (The two were flipping back and forth between second and third throughout the tally.)
*** Queensland Quandry) Brisbane Babes or the Gold Coast Wanderers?
*** 19th Century Knockdown) Carlton or Collingwood? (The officials will be wearing white jackets…)
*** Dangerfield Dilemma) Geelong or Adelaide? (Notice there’s already an Ablett Answer…)
*** War of the West) Eagles or Bulldogs? (Which West Will Win?)
*** Spoon Shindig) North Melbourne or Gold Coast? (These two were nip-and-tuck throughout the tally. Or do you have a third contender in mind?)
*** Tasmanian Tussle) Hawthorn or the Kangaroos?
*** Etihad Edict) Western Bulldogs or St Kilda Saints?
*** ANZAC Trio) Collingwood, Essendon, or Melbourne? (Richmond gets to sip champagne from its Grand Final chalice and just watch this season…)
Finally, let’s take an ELO-Following Football look at Saturday’s AFLW Grand Final, which should come close to selling out Ikon Park if it doesn’t actually do so. (Best case scenario for the AFL: three seats short of capacity.)
Western Bulldog and Melbourne Demon fans alike knew it was coming – they were just surprised it took until there were ninety seconds to go before Brooke Lochland slammed home the winning goal Saturday night. With the wind at their back, the third-quarter lead was never going to be large enough to hold up against the Dogs’ scoring prowess, and yet the Demons kept them out of the sticks for that winning score for a lo-ong time.
And with their collapse over the last twenty minutes Sunday afternoon, the Adelaide Crows made sure that they wouldn’t have the chance to defend their title. Instead, the team they defeated for the prize last year, the Brisbane Lions, stood up when the challenge was there to be won Friday night and took second place when it seemed like a shot in the dark. But losses by the Demons and Crows landed the Lions where they were last year: in the Grand Final.
So, who wins this Saturday? The minor premiers or the defending minor premiers?
The Doggies are slight favorites (2.1 points) on the ELO-Following Football ratings, as well as with the punters (5.5 on CrownBet as of Sunday night), but then the Lions were favored last year by more than that and still lost. Technically, the Bulldogs are the home team this weekend, but they haven’t even played at Ikon Park this season, and when they played Carlton there last year, they lost 54-48. Brisbane, ironically, HAS played at Ikon this year, defeating the Blues there in round three for Carlton’s first loss of the season, 40-18.
Over the last three games, ever since that 86-point game against Carlton, Western has failed to match what its rating says it should have done in each game, despite winning two of them by narrow margins. (The same is true for the professional odds, except that Saturday’s game was a wash, depending on when you bet.) Meanwhile, Brisbane had the same three-game streak until the surprise blowout of GWS last weekend. The question becomes, was that a change of circumstance for the 4-3 Lions, or a trend that makes them more likely to stay hot this Saturday?
The two teams played up at South Pine in Round Two this season, with the Lions favored in a battle of 1-0 teams but then losing their first regular season game ever to the Bulldogs, falling 33-24 in a pretty competitive game. That’s about the result I expect to see happen again this weekend, only closer; call it 33-30 instead. It should be a competitive game, so pull up a chair and watch! The AFL’s done their auxiliary league a solid by not putting any men’s matches in the opening slot on Saturday, so you’re not going to “miss anything”!
After all, in this most parity-packed season in the history of just about any league imaginable, we can only hope and pray that the league’s Grand Final will hold suit!
Originally published in The Roar – March 13, 2018 – Aussie Rules
If you were going to create a league with parity as your goal, you’d have to go to some great lengths to out-do what the AFLW has accomplished in 2018. No team has fewer than two losses OR two wins in their first six games, and with only one week to go, five of the eight teams can still make the Grand Final.
Roger Vaughn has already done a nice piece laying out the possibilities for Round Seven in terms of possible championship pairings, so there’s no need to repeat those except to bring up the following: About a year ago, I wrote a piece for this magazine detailing the post-season structures of about a dozen major sports leagues around the world, and determined that the healthiest playoff structure a league can have was one where about 40% of the teams made the post-season, with some sort of home-field or bye advantage for the highest placing teams. (The AFL men do exactly that – 44% of the 18 teams reach finals, and the double chance gives the top two and four significant advantages.) So for the eight-team AFLW, a three-team finals would be ideal, with teams 2 and 3 playing for the right to meet the minor premiers in the Grand Final.
While the AFLW didn’t veer from its two-team final on paper, it’s reassuring to see that on Saturday evening, the de facto semi-final between the Demons and Bulldogs will take place, the winner to host the Grand Final the following week!
So back on point…
Rather than tell you the possibilities for determining a champion, let’s consider what the result might be if the following occurred…
- Brisbane defeats GWS by ten, say, 40-30,
- Fremantle and Carlton play to a 300-300 draw. (We’re dreaming here to improve their percentages.)
- Melbourne and Western play to a 275-275 draw (same thing in reverse), and
- Collingwood defeats Adelaide by one, 31-30.
Isn’t this just about the most parity-ridden ladder you’ve ever seen?
- Western Bulldogs 4-2-1 (554/463) 119.7%
- Melbourne Demons 4-2-1 (522/482) 108.3%
- Brisbane Lions 4-3-0 (224/202) 110.9%
- GWS Giants 3-3-1 (230/218) 105.5%
- Adelaide Crows 3-3-1 (228/227) 100.4%
- Collingwood Magpies 3-4-0 (259/252) 102.8%
- Fremantle Dockers 2-4-1 (471/508) 92.7%
- Carlton Blues 2-4-1 (425/561) 75.8%
I mean, change just a couple more games into upsets during the season, and this could have been an eight-team finals race all the way to the final round! Say what you want about the level of athleticism or skill – and deal with it, people! Biologically, female athletes aren’t going to jump as high or kick as far as male athletes, although they still outshine anything I could do on the pitch – but there’s no denying the competitiveness and the effort put forth by AFLW players who are continuing to improve and raise the quality of the game as they do. I enjoy watching both genders of our league for the same reason I enjoy watching men’s and women’s basketball. They’re two different games, played under similar rules.
Okay, you’ve gotten me started, so let me finish this argument: If you want to complain about the “quality gap” between men’s and women’s footy (or any other comparable sport – football, hockey, whatever), tell me why you would still watch youth sports. Or the Paralympics. Or any other sporting event which doesn’t involve the very best athletes in the world in that sport.
Enjoy the AFLW for what it is: a competitive league in the sport we love, with athletes we’ve come to know and admire and care about.
For the record, our ELO ratings and I both see the Bulldogs winning the minor premiership Saturday night, and GWS’s win that afternoon being the deciding factor in making them the visiting team (at 4-2-1) the following week in the Grand Final.
Change of topic – I haven’t touched on the meta-player of the year award recently. Readers of my columns know I gather votes from as many diverse knowledgeable sources as I can and combine them into one overall “meta-award”, and with some of the votes still out for round six, here’s the current standings for, let’s say, five-and-a-half rounds…
- Chelsea Randall, Adelaide – 129 points
- Emma Kearney, WB – 127 points
- Daisy Pearce, Melbourne – 122 points
- Kate Lutkins, Brisbane – 119 points
- Elle Blackburn, WB – 113 points
- Courtney Gum, GWS – 101 points
- Elise O’Dea, Melbourne – 97 points
- Alicia Eva, GWS – 89 points
- Chloe Molloy, Collingwood – 86 points
- Ebony Marinoff, Adelaide – 85 points
Six teams are represented here. Carlton’s leading vote-getter is still Brianna Davey at 62 points, although Tayla Harris is at 45 as we speak and could still pass her; and Fremantle’s fairest is Kara Donnellan, who has 79 points and is in twelfth place overall.
Not surprisingly, the Bulldogs and Demons lead the overall vote standings, with the Lions just behind and Carlton pulling up the spoon in this department as well. Also not a shock, Emma Kearney leads the league in “dominant” performances through five rounds – a dominant performance being one which receives recognition or votes from at least 90% of our sources in a round. (R3, 4, and 5 were all such games for Kearney, and R2 was a “prominent” performance, denoting a player earning recognition from 80% or more of our sources.) Pearce, Lutkins, and Gum are right behind her on this table as well.
NEXT WEEK: our preview of the AFLW grand final, and all of your forecasts gathered into one grand “meta-forecast” for the 2018 AFL men’s season!
Who Will Win? Let’s look at the evidence!
Originally published in The Roar – March 4, 2018 – Aussie Rules
Let’s start with the “easy” one to predict: the AFLW.
I say “easy” just because we have a preponderance of evidence pointing towards a conclusion that’s just three weeks away at this point. But just like the men’s version, the evidence seems to point completely different directions from week to week. Carlton was atop the ladder after week two…and hasn’t won since. Adelaide was dead after week two, and now sit comfortably above the Blues at 3-2, within striking distance of a return trip to the Grand Final. And in Round Four, an unbeatable Melbourne club hosted a winless Collingwood. So of course, the Magpies won by 34 points.
But looking at the R5 standings, let’s consider what’s left for each team to make the final:
Western: 4-1-0, 177%, rating of 62.2. Last two games: at GWS, v. Melbourne.
Plays at GWS and hosts Melbourne. Neither are gimmes, but will be favored in both, and either win guarantees a spot in finals, and that percentage virtually guarantees hosting it. Even if they were to lose both, somehow, they might still make it with a loss from any three of the four clubs behind them. Pencil them in to the Grand Final.
Brisbane: 3-2-0, 122%, rating of 55.7. Last two games: v Collingwood, at GWS
Favored in both games; should end up 5-2 with a percentage above 120, which under almost every scenario imaginable would be enough to make finals. Even though Melbourne’s playing better, it’s Brisbane’s spot to lose.
Melbourne: 3-2-0, 103%, rating of 52.0. Last two games: at Carlton, at Western.
Favored big next week (must win something like 50-11 to catch Lions percentage); MUST win finale at Whitten Oval to go 5-2 and hope they can get a percentage above Brisbane’s (or that the Magpies or Giants upset the Lions). Not unreasonable, but I’ll bet Lions at Dogs instead.
GWS Giants: 2-2-1, 103%, rating of 44.8. Last two games: v Western, v Brisbane.
Has more control over their own destiny than Adelaide does because of who they play. If they win both games, they pass Brisbane and only need the Demons to lose once (and stay ahead of the Crows’ %) to make finals.
Adelaide: 2-2-1, 99%, rating of 55.7. Last two games: Fremantle, at Collingwood.
Winning out is an absolute. THEN, Brisbane and Melbourne must each lose one, and GWS must either lose or be passed on percentage (they’re only one goal ahead of the Crows, though).
Fremantle: 2-3-0, 80%, rating of 41.9. Last two games: at Adelaide, v Carlton
Win out. Brisbane must really lose two (or one and Freo makes up ten goals on them? No.); Melbourne must lose two (or one and lose five goals); and the Giants must lose to Western.
Possible. Not very likely, but possible.
Carlton: 2-3-0, 51%, rating of 39.0. Last two games: v Melbourne, at Fremantle.
Win out. Brisbane and Melbourne must both lost twice. GWS and Adelaide must lose once. Given the combination of opponents, it’s at least possible in theory. Given the way Carlton’s played the last three games, it’s inconceivable.
Collingwood: 1-4-0, 96%, rating of 48.7. Last two games: at Brisbane, v. Adelaide.
It was almost possible! If it weren’t for the fact that GWS hosts Brisbane in round seven, it would have been possible for all four teams with only two losses to lose both of their games, and allow the Magpies to maybe accumulate percentage to overtake them all at 3-4-0 and be in position for that second Finals spot. But then, Carlton and Freo would’ve won two each and stayed ahead of the Pies. Never mind…
Before moving on, I have a JLT scoring question: Let’s say the final siren sounds when the Bulldogs’ Marcus Bontempelli has the ball in hand after a mark just outside the 50. Hawthorn leads by eight points, but with super-goals being worth nine, the Hawks could lose if the Bont makes the kick after the siren. What’s to stop Luke Breust from fouling him and invoking a 50-meter penalty, thereby making it a six-point goal and negating the chance for Western to win? Can they refuse the penalty? Or is this a flaw in the system that isn’t worth caring about in the pre-season?
Alright, let’s do the foolish prognosticating: imagining the men’s outcomes seven months in advance.
First of all, let’s see what the people who make money doing this kind of thing say. The oddsmakers are offering the lowest odds for Sydney, closely followed by Adelaide. The next four teams on their list, depending on which list you’re looking at, are Geelong, the Giants, Richmond and Port Adelaide. The seventh and eighth place teams are generally Melbourne and Essendon, and usually in that order. (Below that, there are two groups of also-rans. The “mayyyyybe” group are Collingwood, the Bulldogs, Hawthourn, St Kilda, and West Coast; the “not a chance” group includes Carlton, Brisbane, the Kangaroos and the Suns; and Fremantle usually sits in the no-man’s land in between.)
Not an unreasonable grouping. If you look at our ELO-Following Football ratings, here’s the only significant differences – Richmond is up there with the Swans and Crows; and we don’t see Melbourne and Essendon as standing out from the five teams grouped immediately below them. And it’s not hard to argue that if you expect Richmond to excel in 2018 the way they did in 2017, you were probably surprised that the Bulldogs didn’t make finals last year, too. (That was our rating system. Oops.)
But have the Dons and Dees separated themselves from the pack to be significantly favored over the six teams most often considered finals contenders? The most reliable indicator of a mid-level team moving up the following year is an abnormally high percentage compared to its win-loss record. None of these contenders had a particularly out-of-line number either direction, but Collingwood was close to 100% despite a 9-12-1 record, so that’s as close to above-average as we saw. Probably not enough by itself to make them the most likely candidate for finals, however.
Their duplicate opponents, though, are Carlton, Richmond, Essendon (all six games at the MCG!), Brisbane, and Fremantle. A 13th–place schedule could be a huge help for them this year, especially if three of their last five games are the Kangaroos, Lions, and Dockers! (And six of their first eight games, including their first two “road” games, are all at the MCG, so they could get off to a great start!) Finally, their ELO-FF ratings are actually (slightly) higher than all of their competitors for those last two September spots. I’m not particularly a Magpie fan, but I’m putting them in my top eight this season.
I’m content to say that Sydney, Adelaide, GWS, Richmond, Port, and Geelong are the obvious six for six of the finals spots – which means that it’s an absolute certainty that at least ONE of those six will fall from grace! Remember, in the 24-year history of the eight-team finals, there’s never been fewer than TWO changes from one year’s finalists to the next! The chances of all six staying in finals this season are almost zero. So, which one is the MOST likely to drop out?
Adelaide seems the LEAST likely. Besides having a team on the rise, and being arguably the general public’s favorite, their roster places first on every one of our metrics for this season. And Port Adelaide picked up a ton of talent over the off-season: Steven Motlop, Tom Rockliff, Lindsay Thomas, Jack Watts. It’s hard to see a pretty average schedule throwing this team for a loop and preventing them from at least reaching and more likely surpassing last year’s achievements. Oh, and I’ll start the petition to hold the Grand Final in Adelaide Oval if they both make it there.
Sydney showed signs of frailty last year in March and April, and this season’s opening six could ALSO put a terrible start to their campaign: at West Coast (for the grand opening of Optus, when the Eagles will be highly motivated), v. Port Adelaide, v GWS, Western BD at Etihad, v. Adelaide, and at Geelong. I’m telling you that a record of 1-5 is feasible before they see a string six of non-finalists starting in May. But while that may prevent a double chance, as it did last year, they should still make finals comfortably.
GWS has lost a ton of talent, but they’ve got a ton more behind them. My question would be: did their attitude of entitlement leave with those players, or are they still going to play some games like they can mail it in on talent alone? If it’s the latter, they don’t have the horses to survive the season and make September. If their first JLT game is any evidence, they’re on the right track.
Richmond has a similar question to answer – how do they convert from being the underdog to being the hunted? The advantage they have compared to last year’s Bulldogs is that the Tigers really WERE a top three team last year, whereas Footscray was merely a seventh place team which made a fantastic run. They couldn’t afford to play any less intensely. The signs so far for the Tigers (and the Giants, for that matter) are that they understand the hazards facing them and are at least starting pre-season on the correct foot.
That leaves Geelong. Geelong only has one new part, but how Ablett fits in with Dangerwood is the big question. There were times last year when the Cats simply looked too slow for the game in 2017, and while their newbies helped overcome that on several occasions, it’s hard to imagine that adding an almost 34-year old injury-prone superstar isn’t going to exacerbate that issue. Their ELO-FF rating is already closer to the middle than the top, and their percentage of 117% was the lowest for any top two team in ten years. Geelong is my pick to fall from the top eight.
So, who will the other two teams in finals be? Let’s look at the year-by-year patterns.
On the way up: Essendon (I think?). It’s hard to tell, given what they’ve been through. But it’s easy to give them the feel of upward bound because they’ve survived the ramifications of the drug scandal half-a-decade old.
On the rebound: Fremantle. If Nat Fyfe 2018 is anything like Nat Fyfe 2015…if Michael Walters and Bradley Hill 2018 are like the 2017 models…if Fremantle Nathan Wilson is as good as GWS Nathan Wilson…then the Dockers may indeed be closer to three years ago than the last two years.
On the way down: Hawthorn. Sorry, Alastair. You are the best coach I’ve ever seen. But you don’t have an AFL championship team anymore, and after last year, your uniforms don’t hold the fear for your opponents that they did. Next.
On the way down: West Coast. Second to sixth to a miracle eighth (and a miracle semifinal). Don’t expect another miracle. Next.
On the way… um… St. Kilda. Seemed destined to make finals in 2017 – they had gone from the wooden spoon in 2014 to 14th the next year to 9th the previous year. And yet they never felt like a threat.
On the way up?: Melbourne? Okay, I get it. 17th to 13th to 11th to 9th. The natural progression demands that they move up into a finals position in 2018. But then…well, see St. Kilda…
I’m taking Essendon and Fremantle to fill out the eight this season. Melbourne and St Kilda could very well become the new perennial bridesmaids – until one of them shows the killer instinct when it matters, like the Tigers did, I’m not jumping on board.
On the other hand, I love what I see happening in Brisbane – I’m expecting big things from them this season. Not top eight big – the league’s got too many good teams for that kind of jump – but maybe a 12th place big? If Hodge is the kind of positive influence that he appears to be from a distance, and (a big) if the AFLX culture shift is to be believed, they could win ten games. Remember, even in last they won five last year, and two more wins would’ve had them in 15th, halfway there.
Gold Coast has the schedule from HELL this season, and they weren’t going to be very good to begin with. Two wins is NOT too low a prediction. I wish I could be more optimistic – I love what I’m hearing from Dew’s camp. But the schedule for the young team is too daunting.
So, let’s put this all together: Top four – Adelaide, Port, Richmond, GWS, in that order.
Check this space in August. I’ll own up to my mistakes, because I guarantee my work:
“We Promise Mistakes Or Your Money Back!”
Prescient: Again, nailed the title game. Did incredibly well on that front. Even had Stanford tied with UW in the North! Oregon’s return to decency, and Colorado’s return to mediocrity.
Woeful: The Arizona schools did better than I thought. And USC never looked like a 12-0 team. But that’s about it.
Score: 8 1/2 out of 10, maybe even nine.
SEC East Division) SEC West Division)
Florida 8-0 (10-2) Alabama 8-0 (12-0)
Georgia 5-3 (9-3) LSU 6-2 (10-2)
Tennessee 5-3 (9-3) Auburn 6-2 (9-3)
Kentucky 2-6 (5-7) Texas A&M 4-4 (7-5)
Vanderbilt 2-6 (5-7) Arkansas 3-5 (6-6)
South Carolina 2-6 (4-8) Mississippi State 2-6 (6-6)
Missouri 1-7 (5-7) Ole Miss 2-6 (6-6)
SEC title game: ALABAMA def. Florida by 11 points.
Prescient: Texas A&M went 7-5? Um, LSU was 10-2? And ‘Bama did win a trophy this year…
Woeful: Everything. Auburn won the west, Georgia won the east, Florida fired their coach even before TxA&M did. South Carolina was outstanding, Tennessee was embarrassing. The Mississippis were better than forecast. Missouri started like the team predicted, but transformed miraculously mid-season into a good team. Other than that…
Score: 4 out of 10.
Notre Dame 7-5
U Mass 1-11
Prescient: Army was good, UMass was bad, Notre Dame was good.
Woeful: Army and Notre Dame were actually REALLY good. And BYU forgot that offense is part of the game, too, which is weird for BYU.
Once I typed BYE instead of BYU into my scheduling matrix. The computer refused to correct me. It was that kind of year for the Cougars.
Score: 7 out of 10.
American Athletic Conference
AAC East Division) AAC West Division)
South Florida (8-0) 12-0 Tulsa (7-1) 9-3
Temple (6-2) 9-3 Houston (5-3) 8-4
Central Florida (5-3) 7-5 Memphis (5-3) 7-5
East Carolina (3-5) 3-9 Navy (4-4) 7-5
Cincinnati (2-6) 4-8 SMU (2-6) 5-7
Connecticut (0-8) 1-11 Tulane (1-7) 4-8
AAC title game: USF def. Tulsa by 8 points.
Prescient: We correctly predicted which teams would be competing in Conference USA this year. That’s almost all we got right.
Woeful: We put Rice ahead of FAU! What more do you want? UAB was amazing, Marshall, UNT, and FIU were far better than expected, and the teams we had at the top weren’t as good as those teams were. A disaster of Biblical proportions.
Score: Negative two out of a million.
MAC East Division) MAC West Division)
Ohio (6-2) 9-3 Toledo (8-0) 11-1
Miami-OH (5-3) 7-5 Western Michigan (7-1) 9-3
Akron (4-4) 5-7 Northern Illinois (5-3) 6-6
Buffalo (2-6) 4-8 Eastern Michigan (4-4) 4-8
Kent State (2-6) 3-9 Central Michigan (3-5) 4-8
Bowling Green (1-7) 1-11 Ball State (2-6) 4-8
MAC title game: TOLEDO def. Ohio by 7 points.
Prescient: On the other hand, we just about nailed the MAC from top to bottom.
Woeful: Toledo won by more than seven – they were definitely the class of the league this year. Akron was the rising star and made the title game over Ohio, by tiebreaker, but Ohio was the better team in the east this season by rating. WMU fell a bit farther than expected, too. Changing coaches does that.
Score: 8 1/2 out of 10.
Mountain West Conference
MW Mountain Division) MW West Division)
Boise State (7-1) 9-3 San Diego State (8-0) 10-2
Colorado State (6-2) 8-4 Nevada (4-4) 5-7
Wyoming (6-2) 8-4 Hawaii (3-5) 5-7
Air Force (4-4) 6-6 San Jose State (2-6) 2-11
New Mexico (4-4) 6-6 UNLV (1-7) 2-10
Utah State (2-6) 3-9 Fresno State (1-7) 2-10
Mountain West title game: BOISE STATE def. San Diego State by 2 points.
Prescient: Actually, the vast majority of this was correct, including the Boise victory by a small margin over…
Woeful: …the one team that we and everyone else failed to reckon with: Jeff Tedford did an amazing job in his first year at Fresno State, and went 10-3 instead of 2-10. Marvelous job.
Score: 8 out of 10.
Sun Belt Conference
Appalachian State (8-0) 11-1
Arkansas State (8-0) 9-3
Troy (7-1) 9-3
Idaho (5-3) 8-4
UL- Monroe (5-3) 5-7
Georgia Southern (4-4) 6-6
UL-Lafayette (4-4) 5-7
South Alabama (4-4) 5-7
Coastal Carolina (2-6) 5-7
Georgia State (2-6) 3-9
Texas State (1-7) 2-10
New Mexico State (0-8) 1-11
Prescient: The top three were pretty easy to pick. ArkState wasn’t quite as hot as we thought, though. Everyone else in the Sun Belt is mediocre of one flavor or another. ULM did lead ULL, which is usually an upset and did get ULL’s coach dismissed.
Woeful: But we missed one of the best stories of the year by placing NMSU last: they went to their first bowl game in six decades or something like that. (And won!) Idaho wasn’t as good as I’d hoped.
Score: 8 out of 10, I suppose. Maybe just a 7.
Overall, not a bad set of prognostications. C-USA messed us up, but generally we beat the Vegas folks and the Sagarin number crunchers. We’ll have to see how 2018 turns out!