The most even AFL season in years
There is something unique about this season, and no, I’m not talking about the fact that the AFL has 18 teams in it for the first time in its 115-year history.
I believe we are witnessing the most open premiership race in years.
Yes, it’s true that we have two new teams who are likely occupy the bottom two rungs, unless the Demons beat them to it first, and Brisbane and Port aren’t faring much better.
But there’s a lot to like about what’s happening among the next 13 teams, and when you sit down and think about it, 13 teams are a lot of teams.
First thing’s first, let’s have some context. How do we determine how open this season is?
Let us start with the pre-season predictions that invariably had three teams raffling the premiership amongst themselves: Collingwood, Geelong and Hawthorn.
It has long been said that at the end of round seven, you get a pretty good gauge of how the top eight will end up by season’s end.
As it happens, at the end of round seven, we have Collingwood sitting in the seventh spot and both of Geelong and Hawthorn sitting outside of the top eight.
Next, it was only a couple of weeks ago when West Coast, Carlton and Sydney were being hailed as the next contenders, and all three have suffered big defeats in the past two weeks.
What’s more, some of those defeats have been against teams who, at the start of the season, were universally declared as belonging in a tier below the flag favourites, who themselves are now knocking on the door of flag favouritism themselves.
Enter Essendon and Adelaide, now sitting equal top with the Eagles on six wins and a loss.
Now we may have witnessed such things in other seasons, of course, but this is the thing – we have not been witnessing this sort of unpredictability over the last four seasons.
In the last four seasons, we have witnessed the top two and three teams go on big undefeated runs, only losing games when they met each other, but sweeping all else before them.
There are early signs that that will not be the case this season, that top clubs might be expecting tough battles all the way down to 13th position on the ladder, and that teams on the edge of the eight are every chance of knocking off teams in the top four.
Let me give you another benchmark. Exactly 20 seasons ago, the top three sides ended the season with 16 wins apiece, or 48 wins in total.
For much of the 20 seasons since, the top three teams have had total wins slightly below that, occasionally slightly above that, until we reach 2008, and then that figure jumps to 53 wins, and stays there the following season.
This is an interesting indicator, because the more concentrated the wins in the top three, the more predictable the season is and the narrower the range of contenders for the flag.
In 2011, the top three’s wins jumped to an all-time high of 57, as follows; Collingwood with 20 wins, Geelong (19 wins) and Hawthorn (18 wins).
Incredibly, West Coast rounded off the top four with 17 wins, which is indicative of the domination of those teams over the rest of the competition.
Contrasted against that we have the 1993 season, which comprised only 20 rounds that year. The top 3 sides have 39 wins in total, a very low number, so low, that Footscray in ninth spot was only two wins behind, indicating perhaps the most open season of the modern era.
With Hawthorn and Geelong currently sitting outside the top eight, and below them North, Richmond and the Bulldogs showing already that they can mix it with teams above them, I have a feeling that this season will be the most open and even since that 1993 season.
And who knows – an Essendon vs Carlton grand final wouldn’t surprise me either.
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