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Your team's finals chances with seven rounds remaining

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Roar Guru
9th July, 2019
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Seven weeks left and there are two ladder-related topics to cover.

Every year someone whines about the inherent unfairness of the unbalanced schedule necessitated by trying to fit 22 games into a league in which each team has 17 opponents. Most ‘solutions’ to this ‘problem’ involve having some kind of ‘once-around’ schedule of 17 games, playing each opponent exactly once, and then either going straight to the finals or adding an 18th game for both rivalry and home-away balance purposes.

Neither solution is realistic if you’re expecting owners to give up four revenue opportunities or repurposing those other five games into some kind of six-team pre-finals pod system.

Basically the effort is designed to fix a problem that doesn’t really exist. So for the last five years I’ve tracked what this mythical once-around schedule would result in using the actual games being played. It’s imperfect as we’re excluding the five games with repeated opponents in the back half of the schedule, and without the express written permission of the AFL scheduling committee some teams might end up with fewer than eight or more than nine home games, for example. But it’s close enough for our purpose, which is to demonstrate that we’re going to get the same approximate result for the most part.

So after 16 rounds we’ve had nine duplicated games excluded already – and, again, because the AFL isn’t in on our project, those games aren’t evenly spread among the teams. The Bulldogs have already played three of their doubled opponents twice – and will complete all five games by Round 20 – while five other teams have yet to have any duplicate games through their first 16 games.

So here are the current records, along with their ‘real’ records.

Team AFL record Once-around record Rematch games still to come
Geelong 12-3 11-2 3 to go
West Coast 11-4 10-4 4 to go
Collingwood 10-5 9-5 4 to go
Brisbane 10-5 10-5 5 to go
GWS 9-6 9-5 4 to go
Richmond 9-6 9-6 5 to go
Port Adelaide 8-7 7-7 4 to go
Adelaide 8-7 8-6 4 to go
Essendon 8-7 6-7 3 to go
North Melbourne 7-8 7-8 5 to go
Fremantle 7-8 7-7 4 to go
Western Bulldogs 7-8 5-7 2 to go
Hawthorn 6-9 6-9 5 to go
Sydney 6-9 6-8 4 to go
St Kilda 6-9 5-9 4 to go
Melbourne 5-10 5-10 5 to go
Carlton 3-12 3-11 4 to go
Gold Coast 3-12 3-11 4 to go

It’s too early to draw conclusions, but it’s finally starting to diverge from the ‘actual’ 22-game table. More as the season progresses.

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A few weeks ago we looked at what the probabilities were historically for teams to make finals from the record they hit the halfway mark with. Here are some quick hitters for what the history looks like over the last 24 years for teams with seven games to go in the AFL season:

For the team in first place (Geelong in 2019):

  • the chance of finishing top two is 22/24, or 91.7 per cent;
  • the chance of finishing top four is 23/24, or 95.8 per cent (go back to West Coast in 1999); and
  • the chance of missing finals is 0 per cent.
Geelong Cats

(Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

For the second-placed team (West Coast in 2019):

  • the chance of finishing top two is 13/24, or 54.2 per cent (but it’s happened five of the last six years);
  • the chance of finishing top four is 21/24, or 87.5 per cent; and
  • the chance of missing finals is 0 per cent.
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For the teams in positions three and four (Collingwood and Brisbane in 2019):

  • the third-placed team made the top two eight times (33.3 per cent) and the fourth-placed team just once (4.2 per cent);
  • the chance of staying in the top four are 31/48, or 64.6 per cent; and
  • the chance of staying in finals for these two teams are 45/48, or 93.8 per cent (Richmond dropped from fourth to ninth in 1998 and third to ninth in 2000, while Port dropped from fourth to tenth last year).

The teams in the next four positions – the potential elimination finalists (currently GWS, Richmond, Port Adelaide and Adelaide):

  • the odds of moving into the top four are 20/96, or 20.8 per cent (in 2007 a fifth-place Power jumped all the way into the top two, and sixth-place North Melbourne in a massively crowded 1998 leapt all the way to the minor premiership, so there’s a two per cent chance to host a qualifying final);
  • there’s a 78.1 per cent chance they’ll stay in a finalist position, 75 times out of 96 opportunities (so there’s a 55/96 chance to play an elimination final, or 57.3 per cent); and
  • the chance of dropping out of finals contention is 21.9 per cent, which translates to slightly less than one of the four teams being likely to do so in any given year (in fact, anecdotally, it’s rarely more than one.
Eddie Betts Sydney Stack

(Mark Brake/Getty Images)

Consider the four teams at the door – those currently in positions nine to 12 (Essendon, North Melbourne, Fremantle, and Hawthorn):

  • there’s a 22/96 chance (22.9 per cent) of your team leaping into the top eight in the final ladder (and thus the odds are close to having exactly one of the four doing so); and
  • only once in the last quarter-century has such a team jumped all the way into the top four (St Kilda was just four per cent out of finals at this stage in 2005 yet finished the season in fourth place).

No team has made the leap into finals from below 12th at this late stage of the season since 1995, when the late lamented Brisbane Bears zoomed from 4-11 and 14th place to win six of their last seven (losing only a two-goal match at 20-2 Carlton) and sneak in as the eighth seed, where they were promptly beaten by that same margin to those same Blues back when there was a first-round first versus eighth match-up in the fledgling days of the eight-team finals system.

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However, unless you’re within two positions of last place (looking at you, Melbourne and Carlton), you’re not in danger of catching Gold Coast for the wooden spoon this year.

Also, no team has descended to dead last place from any higher than two wins, or eight premiership points, above where the last team sits, which limits the possibilities to just three teams this season. And the last-place team after 15 games has wound up with the spoon in 18 of the last 24 seasons, a 75 per cent rate, so it really is the Suns’ to lose at this stage.

Speaking of premiership points, here are the calculations of the likelihood of finals activity depending on how far your team is from the cut line – that point line that delineates between eighth and ninth places. This season that line sits at 32 points since both Adelaide and Essendon are on 32. That’s near the average cut-line over the last 24 years, which is 31.75, to be exact.

If you’re more than 12 points above that line – Geelong is currently +16 – you’re guaranteed to make finals.

If you’re between five and 12 points above the line – West Coast is +12, Collingwood and Brisbane are +8 – there’s about a 95 per cent chance that you’ll still be there after Round 23.

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If you’re between one and four points above the line – GWS and Richmond are both +4 – the odds are 41 of 53, or 77.4 per cent. It still looks likely.

At what I call ‘+0’, meaning right on the line but in the top eight on percentage, like the two South Australian clubs are at the moment, your chances are 15 in 21, or 71.4 per cent. If you’re on the minus-zero side – a la Essendon – those odds decrease to 8 in 15, or 53.3 per cent, because you’re fighting the percentage issue.

Below that the odds obviously decrease, but if you’re within four points of the cut line, you’ve still got a 27.7 per cent shot – 13 of 47 teams have done it. So the Kangaroos, Dockers, and Doggies still have a decent chance.

Not so for everyone between four and -14. Only once in the last 20 years has any team in that range made finals, and Tigers fans will remember that in 2014 Richmond won its last nine games to sneak into eighth spot. They’d already made it to 12th, but they were still 14 points out with seven games to go. Before that it was the Bears, who were equally behind in 1995. So Hawthorn, Sydney, St Kilda and Melbourne? You’d better plan on seven straight wins to have even a sniff.

And Carlton and Gold Coast? Thanks for playing. Here’s a copy of our home game.