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Rounding up the season’s possibilities

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Roar Guru
20th August, 2019
24
1093 Reads

The highest any team from position 15 or lower has ever leapt up the ladder the following year is to third place.

The Lions went from 16th in 1998 to third in 1999, and Footscray went from 15th in 1996 to a new name and third place in 1997.

Additionally, the lowest position a team jumping into the minor premiership has ever leapt from the previous year is 12th, the most recent being the Adelaide Crows, who made the bounce in 2005 but lost in the prelim final to West Coast.

If Brisbane take home the top seed this week, they will eclipse both of those records.

And as an aside, if you ever wanted a concrete sample of the difference between the teams at the top of the ladder and elsewhere, watch some of the Melbourne-Sydney game (and either of the Adelaide teams), and then watch the two top-four match-ups. No comparison. Only Collingwood has a chance to reach the heights of these four teams.

Gold Coast have clinched their second wooden spoon in the club’s short, nine-year history, which puts them fourth with a spoon frequency of 18.2% among all teams in VFL/AFL history.

What’s that? You can’t think of three others ahead of them?

One, of course, is expansion buddy Greater Western Sydney, who earned two spoons during their two formative years (three wins in 44 games), giving them a 25% spoonage rate over eight seasons and second place on the list. One fewer season equals a lower denominator when dividing, and thus a higher dividend. The Giants are now riding a four-year finals streak, though, which separates them from the other clubs on this list.

The second, some of you may have sullenly realised, is St Kilda, who have more last place finishes (27) than finals appearances (26) in their 121-year history. Their 22.3% percentage is third all-time, and first by a wide margin among clubs with more than ten seasons under their belt.

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I’m curious how many readers could name the all-time leader – the University team, who played in the then-VFL for seven seasons from 1908 through 1914. They not only finished in last place during each of their final four years of existence, but amassed win totals during those seasons of one, one, none, and none, respectively.

Surprisingly, they didn’t disband because of poor play, but because the majority of their players were doctors or other medical practitioners who were called away for World War One, and upon the school’s resumption of footy, chose to play alongside other similar universities, where they’ve been much more successful over the decades.

Their 57.1% last-place frequency will probably never be broken, barring a ridiculously weak single expansion team’s entry somewhere.

Gold Coast Suns players huddle

Even the Gold Coast can’t match University’s spoon record. (Photo by Graham Denholm/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

What are the odds of a four-way tie at the top of the ladder, which is a chance of occurring this season?

Of course, percentages will decide the order of finish, but how likely is it that all four of the contenders will end at 16-6, the only record that would achieve this goal?

Two years ago, remember, there were six teams with either 14 or 15 wins (third-place Richmond eventually won the flag), and the year before that, six teams had either 16 or 17 wins (and the premiership went to a 14-win team behind them).

Each season had three-way ties at the top, as did 2014, but to find four with even the same number of wins, we have to go back to 1993, when the Bombers and Blues were each 13-6-1, and the Roos and Hawks were 13-7. Three more finished at 12-8. In fact, 12 of the 15 clubs in the AFL that year were 10-10 or better. Only Brisbane and Richmond (both 4-16) and Sydney (1-19) fell below that line.

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The year before was similar – three top teams at 16-6 with a fourth at 15-6-1 – and in 1963, five teams hit 13 wins (with a tie between Geelong and Hawthorn all that saved them from our scenario), but according to the VFL/AFL records, no season has ever had four teams match first-place records.

The key would be for Richmond to defeat Brisbane at the MCG, where ELO-FF has them favored by four. Also, Geelong and West Coast must both win, but they’re both strong favorites at home, so the chances are good that they’ll hold serve. That would create the first-ever four-way tie in 123 years of league history.

But what are the actual chances of that happening? Our translation chart says Richmond’s point spread implies about a 57% chance of victory. Similarly, Geelong and West Coast are both high-probability victors: Geelong 84%, West Coast 68%.

Multiplying those together tells us that the overall chances of a four-way 16-6 is about 32.5%. That’s not at all unlikely, and almost entirely dependent on a Tigers victory. A Tigers loss, however, probably knocks them out of the top four altogether, assuming a Magpies victory on Friday night.

By the way, a percentage tie among these four is impossible. Brisbane will have to lose, Geelong will have to win, and the Cats are already ahead of the Lions on percentage. In fact, if there is a four-way tie, it’s almost certain that Geelong and Brisbane will hold the top two seeds, unless the Eagles break records against the Hawks this weekend.

Tom Lynch

(Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos/Getty Images)

What about a similar scenario at the bottom of the finals ladder? Could it end up being a four-way tie for eighth spot with Adelaide, Port, the Dogs and Hawthorn?

The Bulldogs have 11 wins – they’d have to lose to Adelaide (30% probability).

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Adelaide have ten wins – they’d have to beat the Bulldogs (covered above).

Port have ten wins – they’d have to defeat Fremantle (74% probability).

Hawthorn have ten wins – they’d have to defeat West Coast.(32% probability).

Multiplying those three percentages gives us the chances of all of those things happening, which this time is a rather improbable 7% . The more probable result is that the eighth-place team will be the Western Bulldogs, winning and moving to 12-10. Hawthorn are unlikely to beat West Coast, so Port are most likely to finish ninth alone at 11 wins.

Finally, it is possible to have a six-way tie for ninth if Freo beat Port (26%), Hawthorn (68%) and Adelaide (70%) lose as expected, St Kilda beat Sydney (about 30%) and North defeat the Demons (about 72%) – all very possible outcomes. The numbers crunch to about 2.5%, but it’s possible!

The last club to go entirely goalless for a full game was Richmond in Round 16 of the 1961 season, when they lost 0.8.8 to St Kilda’s 12.19.91. Fortunately for Essendon and North (Round 21), Adelaide’s first half and GWS’ second (Round 22), that record will remain for at least another week.

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It’s strange to see good teams go so cold – and not even GWS-in-Canberra cold, but giving-up-21-goals-in-a-row cold when you’re theoretically a top-eight team. It shows how much of this game is psychological – North can score 14 one week and 144 the next. That’s not (entirely) the competition: that’s a mindset, and a testimony to their new coach that they didn’t turn one horrific loss into two.

Finally, here are the ELO-Following Football ratings, alongside the combination rating using nine of the most solid mathematical systems (both centered on 50 as the mean), and the system’s predictions regarding the last nine home-and-away games of a terrific 2019 season.

Collingwood (62.3; 63.67 – 5th) vs Essendon (41.6; 47.56 – 11th) = Magpies by 23.

Sydney (51.3; 47.51 – 12th) vs St Kilda (33.3; 34.14 – 16th) = Swans by 24.

North (60.7; 55.97 – 8th) vs Melbourne (30.6; 32.46 – 17th) = Kangaroos by 34.

Geelong (65.9; 70.03 – 1st) vs Carlton (40.6; 36.01 – 15th) = Cats by 29.

West Coast (67.9; 65.92 – 4th) vs Hawthorn (59.9; 57.51 – 7th) = Eagles by 16.

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GWS Giants (46.4; 53.95 – 9th) vs Gold Coast (3.2; 04.57 – 18th) = Giants by 39.

Western Bulldogs (68.8; 59.99 – 6th) vs Adelaide (44.1; 47.44 – 13th) = Bulldogs by 28.

Richmond (66.6; 66.56 – 2nd) vs Brisbane (68.9; 66.23 – 3rd) = Richmond by 4.

Port (52.8; 52.58 – 10th) vs Fremantle (35.4; 38.51 – 14th) = Power by 25.

If these predictions are accurate – and the spreads all suggest they shouldn’t be close – then your finalists all remain in place – except Geelong pass Brisbane on percentage, while the Bulldogs secure the No.8 slot – and the bottom ten remains in its current order as well.

So far, virtually every prediction tool picks the same nine winners – the exception is that our HFA/percentage method picks the Lions.

It all looks rather anti-climactic, which if history is any guide, probably means strap in and hold on – it’s gonna be a bumpy ride!

Remember, 25-30% of unanimously picked games have gone to the unpicked underdog this season.

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