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Opinion

Meta-predictions for the 2020 AFL season

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Roar Guru
14th March, 2020
13
1515 Reads

Every season I gather as many disparate and sometimes wildly diverse predictions as I can find in cyberspace and synthesize them together into one “meta-prediction” for you, valued Roar reader.

I figure it’s best if I butter you up now (you handsome brute, you) so that if you don’t like what the collective forecast bodes for your favourite team, you may be less likely to blame the messenger.

Did I mention that outfit looks really good on you? All right, let’s get started.

While what you’re going to see is simply an average of all the predictions, I did weight them authoritatively – for example, the forecast representing a major publication gets full marks, while I combined every single Reddit reader list into one pundit’s prediction in weight.

If you’ve read previous editions of this article over the past few years, nothing in my methodology has changed.

And neither will my annual scolding. Folks (long sigh), stop predicting last year’s ladder to simply repeat.

Every single season, no fewer than two and much more often three teams exchange finals positions for a free September (and vice versa, of course), and yet we never predict anything scarier than the ninth-place team sneaking up into eighth. That’s the case again this year, and the only caveat I can provide is that many pundits pick teams to move upwards into finals…and those voices are cancelled out by other pundits picking the same team to fall this season.

So if you’re one of those voices yelling at the screen right now, “But I did put Carlton in the top four!”, relax. Full credit to you, but your vote was cancelled out by the folks predicting a crippled Patrick Cripps and an 18th-place finish from your internet neighbour.

Just for fun, let’s look at what these forecasts looked like last year, compared with both the season-long ladder for the year before and the year itself, following the format of 2018 ladder position, (2019 prediction), 2019 ladder position.

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Richmond: 1st, (1st), 3rd
Melbourne: 5th, (2nd), 17th
West Coast: 2nd, (3rd), 5th
Collingwood: 3rd, (4th), 4th
Essendon: 11th, (5th), 8th
Adelaide: 12th, (6th), 11th
GWS: 7th, (7th), 6th
Geelong: 8th, (8th), 1st
Hawthorn: 4th, (9th), 9th
Sydney: 6th, (10th), 15th
North: 9th, (11th), 12th
Port: 10th, (12th), 10th
Brisbane: 15th, (13th), 2nd
Bulldogs: 13th, (14th), 7th
Fremantle: 14th, (15th), 13th
St Kilda: 16th, (16th), 14th
Carlton: 18th, (17th), 16th
Gold Coast: 17th, (18th), 18th

To be honest, y’all did rather well last year. You pegged the Hawks and Swans to drop out of finals, and they did; you picked the Bombers to move up into finals, which they did; you nailed the Suns dip to the bottom slot and you knew the Lions were set to move upwards – you just didn’t realise how ready they were!

Of course, we missed a couple of key predictions, the most obvious being our optimism about Adelaide and (especially) Melbourne. We meant to say “the Cats and (especially) the Bulldogs” would move up, but somehow that message wasn’t very clear in March of last year.

Let’s look at the aggregate position predictions for this season:

First place: Richmond Tigers (average placement 1.46)
Not hard to believe that the majority of us put the reigning premiers in the top spot for 2020 – if it weren’t for foreign interference in the 2018 prelim final, they might be the three-time defending champs. Oddly, there are very few naysayers, but those that do have the Tigers well off the pace – as low as sixth and averaging below fourth!

Second place: Collingwood Magpies (average placement 3.69)
It’s 2020 or bust the way the Pies’ roster is structured, and that’s the way the pundits are seeing it. While I have Collingwood in fifth, that’s almost as low as they’re selected across the board (there were two sixths and a seventh that I saw), and the vast majority of pundits assume a top-three finish.

Dayne Beams of the Pies celebrates a goal

(Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos)

Third place: West Coast Eagles (average placement 3.56)
Neck-and-neck for the number two spot with the team that edged them out for the crucial double chance last season, the Eagles are assumed to be stronger with Tim Kelly wearing a different hue of blue in two-zeroo. Uh – “ze-roh” (I have them second).

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Fourth place: Geelong Cats (average placement 5.13)
Rarely does the minor premier have so many doubters coming into the next season, but the way the Cats ended 2019, coupled with their eighth-place finish the year before, the loss of Tim Kelly and the ageing of Joel Selwood and Gary Ablett made some pundits do so. I’m one of those, putting them a hair above Port in the eighth position.

Fifth place: GWS Giants (average placement 5.33)
Most people are making the twin assumptions that so much talent coupled with the desire to rectify the disappointment of their performance in last year’s GF will keep the Giants in the upper echelons of the league. I have them as a close third to the Eagles, with WC’s home field and MCG advantages the difference.

Sixth place: Brisbane Lions (average placement 5.42)
The same situation Geelong has applies to Brisbane for different reasons. While their jump was even more dramatic than Geelong’s, it was a long time coming, and while its size and suddenness caught most off guard, the jump itself didn’t. Age and maturity both improve in 2020, and their straight-sets exit should be considered part of their learning curve rather than a strike against them.

I picked them fourth.

Zac Bailey.

(Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Seventh place: Western Bulldogs (average placement 5.60)
The Dogs are wedged close behind the two cats, with the difference being the occasional pundit nudging them out of finals, while Geelong and Brisbane are with almost no exception top eight. But almost everyone has these first seven clubs in some order, solidly competing for finals.

I have the sons of the west in sixth, on Bont’s back.

Eighth place: Hawthorn Hawks (average placement 7.79)
If you expected a logjam at this critical spot, be disappointed. Hawthorn is the universal choice to move into finals – the only “new” team compared with the 2019 ladder, as discussed earlier. The surprise is how few dissenters there are: about 80 per cent have them making finals in 2020, with Tom Mitchell back at midfield vacuum this year.

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Seventh on my list.

Ninth place: Port Adelaide (average placement 9.69)
The most optimism of the other ten teams was placed on the shoulders of Ken Hinckley and the Power’s young roster. With guns like Connor Rozee and archers like Xavier Duursma, this is assumed to be a team on the rise; I have them a hair’s breadth out of finals, although far fewer than half place them even that close.

Tenth place: Essendon Bombers (average placement 10.85)
If the Hawks are moving up, someone has to come down, and almost 90 per cent of the forecasts I found suggest it’ll be Essendon. I have them 12th this season, so I can’t complain.

The Joe Daniher trade debacle seems to have been a driving factor for dropping them this far for some pundits.

11th place: North Melbourne (average placement 11.71)
The highest of the three coaching change teams from mid-2019 lands here, just barely in 11th place. No major advancement is seen for a team which stood fairly still over the spring and summer, and with a roster that isn’t getting any younger, I found myself placing them 11th as well.

12th place: Melbourne Demons (average placement 12.10)
While this isn’t precisely the average between fifth in 2018 and 17th in 2019, that’s the obvious theory for Demon-pickers: last year was a market correction, for lack of a better term, and with an off-season to come to terms with their fall, the Demons return to the home-and-away season “properly chastised”, as one forecast put it.

I moved them up, but only to 14th place this year.

Max Gawn of the Demons celebrates a goal

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

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13th place: St Kilda Saints (average placement 13.00)
If you average 13th on the nose, and there’s so much space on either side of your spot on the forecasted ladder, you’re probably going to land in 13th. And yet the predictions were evenly spread from 17th all the way up to ninth – nobody seemed to think finals are likely this season – and just “happened” to average out to what I personally expect.

14th place: Carlton Blues (average placement 13.40)
While I have the Blues moving farther up than this (tenth place – not even a Brisbane-jump, man), I get the vibe: it feels like what the Lions actually did last year, forecasting a two-spot mini-jump when what the young team really expects to do is match the Lions’ 2019 season in spades.

15th place: Sydney Swans (average placement 14.25)
As I’m writing this text, the Crows are very slightly behind Sydney for the 15-spot, a place neither team wants to be in 2020. But I believe the Swans will win the wooden spoon because I’m sceptical Lance Franklin plays anywhere near a full season.

Nobody except Pat Cripps has meant as much to his team’s success as Buddy, and Carlton’s growth this year means that Franklin may be the most important star to his team’s success or (if he’s still frail) lack of same.

16th place: Adelaide Crows (average placement 14.54)
Certainly Adelaide’s players and supporters will tell you this isn’t where they’ll land. But that’s the reality we’re expecting for both former September mainstays – the best offer the Crows are getting right now is tenth; many have them challenging for the spoon this season, and I’ve got them landing 16th as well and closer to dropping lower than moving higher.

17th place: Fremantle Dockers (average placement 15.04)
Despite the change at the top, there’s very little belief in the Dockers this season. While I’ve got them 15th, I completely get it. Where’s the scoring coming from? If Nat Fyfe goes down, could Michael Walters carry the team on his back for an extended run?

Joel Hamling of the Dockers in action

(Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

18th place: Gold Coast Suns (average placement 17.48)
Like last year, it was a safe assumption when reading forecasts that the pundit would place the Suns last. Unlike last year, however, there was optimism on all fronts, with the plethora of (very) young talent the team possesses and the way they seem to already be gelling, it’s entirely possible that this Gold Coast team matches the relative success that the women’s team has enjoyed: picked last, they have a 2-3-1 record after six matches, although they won’t be favourites in their final two.

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But even if they finish at two-and-a-half wins, multiply that by three and give it to the men’s team (in a three-times longer season) to aim at. I can pick out seven-and-a-half games they have a solid chance in on any given day, mostly against the teams in the five or six slots right above them, although I’m still only thinking 17th place.

Can Gold Coast reach eight wins? Can Port make finals? Will Richmond make it three of four? Those and 15 other questions await answers in the next six months – assuming we get to watch the 2020 season play out at all, of course.