Well, here we are. Just over five months since season 2019 began, we’re staring at the very end of another gripping home-and-away campaign.
Congratulations to the AFL for the foresight to install its new supplemental scheduling for the 2019 season.
After all the hullaballoo of the imbalanced schedule, trying to fit 17 opponents into 22 games, they’ve hit the mark this season with their clever formatting of the final two weeks of the season.
When the season began, we all foresaw three general tiers to the AFL in 2019 – four stellar clubs at the top, a rigidly defined bottom six, and a middle of the pack in slots five through 12 that could be determined by random draw as easily as calculated prediction.
So that’s what the AFL schedule-makers set up in these last two home-and-away rounds, and it has the potential to keep everybody engaged through the rest of August.
The double-chance mini-maul at the top is set for its first round of games this weekend, with West Coast travelling to Richmond and Geelong at the Gabba for the biggest footy game in Queensland in the last 15 years.
In Round 23, Brisbane goes to the MCG to play Richmond, while Geelong and West Coast have semi-byes, earned from spending much of the season in the top two spots, playing Carlton and Hawthorn respectively.
The one controversial aspect of the AFL’s plan was the compromise of allowing Richmond both home games when they entered the double-chance mini-maul, a game behind the other three teams. Had it been me, the final weekend game would have been up in Brisbane, despite the size of the Tigers’ fan base. But that’s nitpicking.
The bottom six battle looks exciting too, if you like that sort of thing. Melbourne host Sydney in the Friday night kick-off (the under card to the weekend tournaments), with St Kilda and Carlton in the second game early Saturday and Hawthorn (the highest seed of the six) hosting Gold Coast (the lowest) in the wipe-down Sunday afternoon. Just like a good fight card arrangement!
With North Melbourne’s surprising collapse over the last fortnight, they originally hadn’t been scheduled into the bottom six battle, but they’ll get to partake in the second round against Melbourne, while Sydney gets to host the Saints. Hawthorn and Carlton are serving as practice opponents for the double-chance mini-maul.
The most exciting one of the three mini-tournament extravaganzas is the survival of the least flawed, where the four hottest mid-range teams will be granted passes into September to be sacrificial lambs for the top four. The genie’s one magic wish was used on the Dogs three years ago, so none of these teams has a shot in a sandstorm of being the diamond in the rough this season.
In the first stage, we’ll get to see the teams in those up-for-grab spots compete solely against each other: Adelaide hosting Collingwood, North hosting Port Adelaide, Fremantle hosting Essendon, and the Giants hosting the Bulldogs.
Because the games had to be determined two weeks out for travel purposes, the Giants were given a bye in the second round – a vacation on the Gold Coast – which in hindsight they clearly don’t deserve. But no system’s perfect. Maybe if it doesn’t snow, they’ll show themselves worthy. Meanwhile, North will face Essendon.
Round 23 pits against each other Essendon and Collingwood, Adelaide and the Doggies in Ballarat, and Fremantle at Port in the final game of the round.
Those two rounds will see the four lowest records eliminated, and the four top clubs move on to the third round, where they’ll play each other for the right to have their entrails dragged around the field by the two top-four clubs needing an extra week of training before their prelim finals.
For the record, our ELO-Following Football ratings have an incredible eight of the nine games this weekend forecast within two goals! Two guesses which game falls outside that range – and you won’t need the second guess. Hawthorn are favoured by more than 60 points over the Gold Coast.
In the double-chance mini-maul, both home teams are slight but significant favourites: Brisbane (currently the highest rated team at 70.2) are an 11.5-point choice over first-place Geelong, while the Tigers’ home ground advantage gives them a seven-point edge over the Eagles.
If that holds to form, Richmond will be about a point-and-a-half preference over Brisbane next week, which (assuming victories by Geelong and West Coast), would leave all four clubs at 16-6, meaning that Geelong and Brisbane would host Richmond and West Coast on percentage in the qualifying finals. I pray that the Cats can use GHMBA for their home games, at least against MCG tenants. Anything else is completely unfair.
In the survival of the least flawed, the favourites this weekend are Port (by 10 over North), Adelaide (by 5.5 over the Pies), Fremantle (by 10.5 over Essendon), and the Bulldogs (by 4 over GWS).
Next week’s games should see Collingwood win by three goals, the Dogs by two, and Port by four, with GWS in a walkover and North over Melbourne.
If everything pans out that way, the four teams advancing would be Collingwood (14-8), GWS (13-9), Port (12-10, 110%), and the Bulldogs (12-10, 103%). The Crows and Bombers would suffer the cost of their inconsistency (11-11), with Hawthorn and Fremantle (10-12), and North and the Saints (9-13) filling out the middle of the ladder.
The bottom-six games should put Sydney (by five over the Demons) and Carlton (by nine at St Kilda) in the winners’ column alongside the Hawks this week, and next week we would expect to see the Swans win by 20 over St Kilda, North beat Melbourne by 17, and losses by Hawthorn (by 18 to the Eagles), Gold Coast (by 50 to the Giants), and Carlton (by 28 to Geelong) outside of the bottom six.
With Hawthorn in 11th, North 13th, and St Kilda 14th, the bottom four would be Sydney (8-14) in 15th, Carlton (7-15) in 16th, Melbourne (5-17) in 17th and the Suns earn their second spoon finishing 2019 on an 18-game losing streak.
Here’s how unpredictable footy is. We monitor dozens of sources of predictions and rating systems and player evaluations and such for Following Football. In particular, we track 22 different predictions for each game of each round. In over 90 games so far this season, every source agreed on the predicted winner of that game: 22 out of 22.
Thirty per cent of the time, that unanimous opinion was wrong.
The most recent occasion was the GWS-over-Hawthorn forecast, in which we all apparently neglected the weather forecast (or the fact that the Giants played like rubbish). Seriously, though, Alastair Clarkson coming out in shorts and forbidding the sleeves was a masterstroke – it’s a standard psychological ploy here in the States when we play cold-weather football or other outdoor cold-season sports.
So while it may seem obvious what’s going to happen, trust us. Nothing’s guaranteed in sport, or in life.
Nothing. Good luck to all the teams.
On a related now, we’ve followed the once-around schedule each of the last four seasons, and the finalists and champion have been remarkably consistent when comparing the real 22-game schedule with the imaginary 17-game schedule – which is the exact same fixture deleting the five repeat opponents (or four, if you want to keep the derby rematches to make an 18-game schedule with nine home games for all).
With two (or fewer) games left in the once-around schedule left, here’s the current standings, which, you’ll probably notice, are rather similar to what’s on the official ladder. Or more precisely, what the ladder looked like a few weeks ago, since our schedule takes the first game that any two teams play.
Geelong – 12-3 (two non-repeat games to go: Brisbane, Carlton)
West Coast – 12-4 (one game to go: Richmond)
GWS – 11-5 (one game to go: Gold Coast)
Brisbane – 10-5 (two games to go: Geelong, Richmond)
Collingwood – 10-6 (one game to go: Adelaide)
Richmond – 9-6 (two games to go: West Coast, Brisbane)
Adelaide – 8-7 (two games to go: Collingwood, Bulldogs)
Port Adelaide – 9-8 (done)
Fremantle – 9-8 (done)
Essendon – 8-9 (done)
Bulldogs – 7-8 (two games to go: GWS, Adelaide)
Hawthorn – 7-9 (one game to go: Gold Coast)
North – 7-9 (one game to go: Melbourne)
Sydney – 6-10 (one game to go: St Kilda)
St Kilda – 6-10 (one game to go: Sydney)
Melbourne – 5-11 (one game to go: North)
Carlton – 4-12 (one game to go: Geelong)
Gold Coast – 3-13 (one game to go: Hawthorn)
Anywhere two teams have identical records, they’re ordered by percentage. If you include the 18th game, the only significant difference comes from the fact that we have to be a bit arbitrary with our Victorian derby choices, since it depends on having five pairs of doubles that don’t overlap.
Geelong lost their second game to Hawthorn, their derby partner for 2019 (and frankly the most appropriate anyway), which means they’re 12-4, while West Coast are 13-4 with their second win over the Dockers added in.
Except for the Cats, Crows, and Dockers, every team showing a winning record also won their second derby game, and except for Essendon and Hawthorn (and the winner of St Kilda vs Carlton, which are still to play), every team below 50-50 has lost their extra game, so there’s not much that including an 18th game would change.
If we take the predictions made in this article as gospel, then our final eight in the 17-game once-around would be (in order using percentages): Geelong (13 wins), GWS (12), West Coast (12), Brisbane (11), Richmond (11), Collingwood (10), Port (9), and Adelaide (9). Fremantle and the Dogs would also be 9-8 but out on percentage.
If we’re using head-to-head results to break ties, which would be highly appropriate in this schedule, then the final order would be Geelong, West Coast, GWS, Richmond (based on the Round 23 prediction), Brisbane, Collingwood, Adelaide and Fremantle.
Four teams finish 9-8 – Port lost to all three, while the others went 1-1 against each other. On percentage, Adelaide edges the Dockers, and beat them on the field as well, if that matters.
Finals would pit Geelong hosting Brisbane (or Richmond), and GWS playing West Coast somewhere in the qualifying finals. Collingwood would host one of the SA clubs and either Brisbane or Richmond will host either Adelaide or Fremantle.
If it matters to anyone, let me know in the comments if in this sort of schedule we’d break ties with head-to-head results, or continue to use the long-standing tradition of percentages.