If Collingwood had won the 2018 grand final, things would’ve been different for Nathan Buckley.
Here are our Following Football predictions, given what we now know about game locations for Round 13.
Thursday night at Adelaide Oval: Port Adelaide (8-3) vs Geelong (8-3)
A chance for the winner to move clear of the competition into third place alone; presuming the winner of the Friday game goes to 9-4, tonight’s winner will be one half-game up at 9-3, dropping the loser out of the top four for the moment.
(There’s a long way to go, no matter what the outcome.)
Our ELO-Following Football ratings give the Power the slimmest of margins: one half-point, the minimum required for it to call Port Adelaide its pick as ‘favourite’ for this game.
However, I’m going to rely on a different stat.
Geelong’s record after their bye is nothing short of phenomenal: between 2012-2019, the mighty Cats were 0-8 after their week off, but 7-0 the week after that!
In the COVID year of 2020, that got flipped on its head (they defeated Essendon but lost to Richmond, both as would be expected), but I’m going to disregard much of last year’s data out of sheer spite for the perversity of the circumstances the pandemic caused.
My gut feeling says that Port wins this handily, covers the point spread of 3.5, and jumps back into the top four. Meanwhile, that 7-0 will be tested in Round 15 when the Cats host the Western Bulldogs immediately after the Dogs’ bye.
Friday night at the SCG: Sydney (8-4) vs Hawthorn (2-9)
The big advantage for the Hawks is that they’re coming off a break, whereas Sydney are just going into theirs.
That’s a big edge in this league (except for Geelong) as far as the victory margin goes, but it’s not enough to sway the final outcome. The ELO-FF ratings place a 26.5 point preference on Sydney in this one, and we see nothing to make us disagree with that.
With the point spread currently higher than that (hovering around 32), the safest bet that makes any money for us is the 1-39 victory category for the Swans, which pays $4.30 on our hypothetical $2 wager (they’ve only surpassed that margin once in the last eight home games they were favoured in).
If that’s too risky, take the Swans at $2.32 return for the $2 wager.
Saturday afternoon at Optus Stadium: Fremantle (5-7) vs Gold Coast (4-7)
The week off for the perennially tiring Suns just about balances the Dockers’ home advantage here, and the net effect of all the factors on their ratings leaves Gold Coast with a predicted margin of 2.5 points over Freo by the ELO-FF in this match-up.
The classic term ‘eight-point game’ applies, and the Dockers’ injury list (when healthy) could probably defeat their ‘healthy’ list straight up right now. And most of those injuries are not factored into our point spread.
Take the Suns to win, currently paying $4.70 on $2. If you like some healthy risk, I think they’ll actually win by double digits.
Saturday night at Cazaly’s Stadium, Cairns: St Kilda (5-7) vs Adelaide (4-8)
Our ratings give the Saints a one-goal edge in this one, and if they avoid wilting under the pressure as they did last weekend, they should indeed win this (and cover the 2.5-point spread currently posted).
While it’s tempting to jump on the pound-on-the-Saints bandwagon, they’re actually 2-1 this season in single-digit margin games, winning over GWS and Gold Coast before losing last week to a determined Sydney.
Meanwhile, the Crows are 1-2 in such games, famously winning over Melbourne on Tex Walker’s kick but losing to Hawthorn and last week’s five-pointer to Collingwood.
So we’re going to take St Kilda in a close one; the choice becoming whether to use the point spread or not.
I usually figure that anything much less than a goal, certainly less than half of one, is no worse than just taking them to win – what are the chances of them winning by one? (Adelaide’s had their one-pointer already.)
Last thought: with everyone loudly beating the Saints up for their erratic goal kicking, I look for them to be top-heavy on the scoreboard this weekend, which should improve that margin even more.
Saints win and cover ($3.80 on a $2 bet, the standard payout for an ‘even money’ wager, because ‘the man gotta get his share’, as nobody says).
Sunday afternoon at Blundstone: North Melbourne (1-10) vs GWS (5-6)
Both teams are coming off their mid-season bye, which could mean wild variability in the result, depending on what each team has worked on during their gameless week.
Disregarding that, the Giants are much better overall – we predict a 34.5 point victory – so without saying that North couldn’t make that much ground up on a historically volatile team, I’m still recommending the Giants to win, with the fourth quarter never in doubt.
With a 21.5 point line, this should be the easiest win of the weekend.
Sunday evening at Optus Stadium: West Coast (7-5) vs Richmond (7-5)
On paper, this recently time-shifted game should burn the barns down. (Given the still-recent bush fires across the country, please protect your property from the incendiary elements of this fixture on paper, which is a notably flammable substance.)
On the narrow field at Optus, the Eagles are every bit as good as the Tigers at this moment and using West Coast’s ‘home field’ rating, they are four-point favourites over Richmond in this game by our numbers.
But as is often the case for the two teams who have to make approximately 20 cross-country flights a season, the injury list is lengthy and won’t be improving any time soon.
Despite the wide range of scheduling and compensatory strategies thrown at the problem over the decades, it’s an issue that won’t be going away and leaves the Eagles and Dockers at a slight competitive disadvantage every season. So we’re agreeing with the line that has Richmond winning by a goal.
Which leaves us in a pickle as to how to bet. The safest thing to do if we’re comfortable with our choice of victor is to simply take the Tigers straight up at $3.36 on $2.
But the other possibility is to take the ‘tri-bet’, where we’re picking the game to end within 15 points (or 24, or 39), which pays $5.10 (or $3.56, or $2.52) on your $2 ticket.
It’s too risky to ignore the easy garbage time goal or two that pushes the margin to 16, 18, 20 points and makes you lose the 15-point tri-bet; the others aren’t rich enough payouts to dissuade me from sticking with a simple victory for Richmond.
Monday at the SCG: Melbourne (11-1) vs Collingwood (3-9)
We’re very proud of Collingwood for picking themselves out of the proverbial mud pile and holding together down the stretch to defeat Adelaide where the Crows had proven their mettle by defeating Melbourne here just a few weeks ago.
And after two consecutive showcase battles against the two most highly rated competitors for the flag in 2021, defeating the Bulldogs and Lions decisively in both match-ups, the Demons would absolutely be forgiven for a let-down against a 3-9 team, even one on a one-game winning streak they weren’t expected to be on.
Having said all that… our numbers say the Demons by 33 points. It won’t be close, and I suspect that margin of 33 only comes after Collingwood nets a couple of late goals to reduce a margin of 45 or 50 once the cue is back on the Melbourne rack.
With the line currently under 30, I’m taking the Demons to cover.
Seven games this weekend, five next. I know I’m in the minority, but this is as constructive and fair a solution to the bye as the AFL has utilised in my experience.
Six games fill a weekend very well – it was satisfactory for every weekend during the 12-team era from 1925 through 1986, so I don’t know what the trouble is.
We lost hypothetical money on our hypothetical wagers for a change last weekend, missing two of the six games and bets (we promise not to doubt the Demons for a while, and while we did pick Collingwood, we missed West Coast winning in Sydney, which they hadn’t done in two decades or something).
So although we were down $1.34 on our $12 wagered last weekend, we are still over $8 to the good for the season, and our ELO-Following Football ratings are picking games correctly at a 77/105 clip (73.33 per cent), and picking the correct side of the professional point spread 63 times (over 60 per cent of the time, getting just 41 wrong).
If we’d only bet the correct side of the point spread each time with our $2 bets, we would be $31.40 to the good this season!
Remember, though: past performance is not a guarantee of future profits. And I’ll guarantee the moment I start to put my own real money into my bets, it all goes up in smoke.