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Who's leading the Brownlow race at this stage of the season?

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Roar Guru
12th August, 2021
30

Consider: In each of the last four seasons, one of the top eight with two rounds before the end of the season was replaced by a team in ninth or tenth in the final fortnight.

2017: Essendon (tenth) passed Melbourne (seventh)
2018: Geelong (ninth) snuck past Port Adelaide (eighth).
2019: The Western Bulldogs (tenth) passed the Power (eighth) as well. Poor Port!
2020: Once again, the Bulldogs (ninth) waited for the last minute to climb past GWS (eighth).

Over the eight years before that, however, the only times the final eight was not already entrenched by now were two unique and probably unrepeatable circumstances.

In 2014, Richmond completed a nine-game winning streak to come from 3-10 and the bottom four into eighth place, knocking Adelaide out in Round 22 and somehow defeating first-placed Sydney in Round 23 to hold on.

In 2013, the eight teams would have remained in place but for the AFL’s last-week decision that Essendon would be removed from the finals for their role in the ASADA scandal. They were replaced by Carlton, who ‘should’ have placed ninth. To their credit, they won their elimination final, so the all-time record of ninth-place teams in finals is 1-1.

No other teams managed to squeeze into finals over the last two rounds between 2007 (when tenth-placed Adelaide replaced eighth-placed St Kilda) and 2017.

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In fact, none did in 2006, either; you’d have to go back to 2005 to find an occasion when two teams fell out of the top eight over the final fortnight (Brisbane and Fremantle were replaced by Melbourne and Port).

So the odds of anyone replacing teams in this top eight are low, and the chances of more than one team falling out are infinitesimal. It would have to either the seventh or eighth place teams; the top six are safe both historically and mathematically.

On a tangential topic, the once-around ladder (the 17-game fixture in which every team plays every other team precisely once, and we mentally delete the second games against the five repeated opponents) has not yet reached its conclusion, but we already know the winner – and it’s not the Bulldogs. It’s also not the Kangaroos, who have clinched the once-around wooden spoon with one unique opponent left to play.

With Geelong’s loss to the Giants Friday night, they finished their Once-Around season at 13-4, and every team in the league now has at least four losses on their record – except for Melbourne, who were 14-2 at the time and couldn’t finish with more than three losses following their meeting Monday night against their final unique opponent, West Coast. Their victory completed their once-around season at 15-2-0.

Meanwhile, the Demons are 0-2-1 in their “duplicate” games so far, with two more to come against Adelaide and Geelong in the final two rounds – but none of those count on the once-around ladder! So, congratulations Melbourne!

Here’s the Following Football update in the race for the 2021 AFL Most Valuable Player – plus our weekly inaccurate poke at predicting how an increasingly erratic footy league’s set of games play out in Round 22.

First, the forecast, so we can get the comedy portion of the program out of the way. Given the circumstances surrounding Round 22, including its likely postponement by a week at this early writing, we’ve set the perspective game sites as neutral as we could. Make adjustments in the “ELO-Following Football” rating predictions as needed when the actual locations are eventually announced by the AFL.

Collingwood vs Brisbane at the Louvre, Paris: Lions by 21.
St Kilda vs Geelong at Yankee Stadium, New York City: Cats by 18.5.
Essendon vs Gold Coast at the Roman Colosseum: Dons by 20.5.
Richmond vs GWS at Candlestick Park, San Francisco: Giants by two.
Bulldogs vs Hawthorn on the International Space Station: Doggies by (less than) 29.5.
Adelaide vs Melbourne at Tierra del Fuego National Park, Argentina: Demons by 36.
Sydney vs North Melbourne in Red Square, Moscow: Swans by 24.
Carlton vs Port Adelaide on Moon Base Alpha: Power by 20.
West Coast vs Fremantle at Optus Stadium, because where else? Fremantle by one, depending on fans.

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As for the MVP race, we track it in three different ways – our traditional, all-inclusive method that uses 24 sources of varying focus, including samples from the AFLCA 5-4-3-2-1 method to a few “Team of the Week” evaluations to some fantasy point tallying to some simulated Brownlow voting and so forth.

In the six years that “Following Football” has been involved with footy, we’ve had the same MVP as the Brownlow count has, and we stand by our choice of Max Gawn over Tom Mitchell in the one year we didn’t match (Mitchell was second in our count).

This season, Marcus Bontempelli has led since the bye weeks concluded, and with two rounds remaining our overall vote-point count (originally designed to parallel most “Best and Fairest” tallies) is still his to lose, with only about three to five men within even conceivable striking distance.

Marcus Bontempelli

Marcus Bontempelli (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

1. Marcus Bontempelli, Bulldogs – 756 points
2. Sam Walsh, Carlton – 681.5 points
3. Clayton Oliver, Melbourne – 667 points
4. Christian Petracca, Melbourne – 634.5 points
5. Touk Miller, Gold Coast – 627 points (we don’t have ineligibility criteria)
6. Ollie Wines, Port Adelaide – 615.5 points
7. Jack Steele, St Kilda – 603 points
8. Darcy Parish, Essendon – 599 points
9. Jack Macrae, Bulldogs – 566 points
10. Zach Merrett, Essendon – 565 points
11. Tom Mitchell, Hawthorn – 509.5 points
12. Jarryd Lyons, Brisbane – 482.5 points
13. Max Gawn, Melbourne – 469 points
14. David Mundy, Fremantle – 454.5 points
15. Tom Stweart, Geelong – 444.5 points
16. Hugh McCluggage, Brisbane – 441.5 points
17. Rory Laird, Adelaide – 437.5 points
18. Callum Mills, Sydney – 422.5 points
19. Taylor Walker, Adelaide – 416.5 points
20. Toby Greene, GWS Giants – 412 points
21. Dayne Zorko, Brisbane – 411 points
22. Cam Guthrie, Geelong – 408.5 points
23. Sean Darcy, Fremantle – 407 points
24. Luke Parker, Sydney – 402 points
25. Nic Naitanui, West Coast – 398.5 points
26. Travis Boak, Port Adelaide – 377.5 points
27. Josh Kelly, GWS Giants – 377 points
28. Tom Hawkins, Geelong – 371 points
29. Andrew Brayshaw, Fremantle – 363.5 points
30. Daniel Rich, Brisbane – 354 points

For perspective, Peter Wright had a season-high one-round score of 82 points with his spectacular seven-goal effort against the Bulldogs in Round 21. We were down a couple of sites in midseason, however, which reduced the potential highest scores at the time into the seventies.

So, in theory, a player would probably have to be within 160 points to overtake Bontempelli in the final two games, which only includes down to Parish in eighth. Realistically, however, the Bulldog mid has a season low of seven vote-points in a game, so not even Steele and Parish have reasonable shots at the top spot assuming the Bulldogs’ captain plays the last two games.

We’ve also used our data to construct a consensus version of what the Brownlow voters do: pick the best players on the field in each game. Using blue (best), red (second), green (third), and yellow (fourth), we colour code the four highest total point-gainers from each game and assign colour-code points to each (5-3-2-1) to come up with tallies that match with Brownlow voters.

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My personal preference is to reward four players from each game because of the variability that shows up in human choices (it’s rare that two individuals identify the same three players in a game) and the historical accuracy it’s shown (in the mere six years of data we’ve collected); others believe that to be truly authentic to the Brownlow credo, we should use the exact same 3-2-1 recognition and not count the “yellows” in fourth place.

So to be fair, we present you both versions – the three-colour that has scores matching the Brownlow numbers, and the four-colour mode that includes more likely candidates in the possibility pool with more historical accuracy. The results are very similar, possibly because first place is the same value as second and third combined in both versions.

But because Bontempelli’s forced to share Brownlow votes with other great players on his own team like Jack Macrae and Bailey Dale, both in the top 50 here themselves, he loses ground to players like Steele and Walsh, who rarely have that impediment to those magic three-vote games. So in this version, the Bont and Jack Steele are neck-and-neck after the latter’s best-on-ground performance against Sydney last round.

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1. Marcus Bontempelli, Western Bulldogs – 46 points (four-colour version) – 27 points (three-colour version)
2. Jack Steele, St Kilda – 45 points – 27 points
3. Sam Walsh, Carlton – 43 points – 24 points
4. Clayton Oliver, Melbourne – 43 points – 23 points
5. Touk Miller, Gold Coast – 41 points – 24 points
6. Ollie Wines, Port Adelaide – 37 points – 20 points
7. Zach Merrett, Essendon – 36 points – 21 points
8. Darcy Parish, Essendon – 31 points – 18 points
9. Christian Petracca, Melbourne – 30 points – 17 points
10. Tom Mitchell, Hawthorn – 29 points – 16 points
11. Jack Macrae, Bulldogs – 27 points – 15 points – 9th overall (tiebreaker)
12. David Mundy, Fremantle – 27 points – 15 points – 14th overall
13. Jarryd Lyons, Brisbane – 25 points – 14 points
14. Taylor Walker, Adelaide – 22 points – 14 points – 19th overall
15. Josh Kelly, GWS Giants – 22 points – 14 points – 26th overall
16. Dayne Zorko, Brisbane – 22 points – 13 points – 21st overall
17. Sean Darcy, Fremantle – 22 points – 13 points – 23rd overall
18. Cam Guthrie, Geelong – 22 points – 12 points – 22nd overall
19. Karl Amon, Port Adelaide – 22 points – 12 points – 33rd overall
20. Tom Stewart, Geelong – 22 points – 11 points
21. Callum Mills, Sydney – 21 points – 12 points – 18th overall
22. Toby Greene, GWS Giants – 21 points – 12 points – 20th overall
23. Max Gawn, Melbourne – 20 points – 11 points
24. Travis Boak, Port Adelaide – 19 points – 11 points
25. Rory Laird, Adelaide – 19 points – 10 points
26. Dustin Martin, Richmond – 18 points – 11 points
27. Hugh McCluggage, Brisbane – 18 points – 9 points – 16th overall
28. Ben Cunnington, North Melbourne – 18 points – 9 points – 35th overall
29. Jordan de Goey, Collingwood – 17 points – 10 points
30. Isaac Heeney, Sydney – 17 points – 9 points

This one’s easier to forecast, as there’s a definitive max score for both three-colour and four-colour one-round tallies. With Bontempelli already at 46 and 27, only the top seven have even a theoretical shot at catching him in two remaining games, and realistically, I expect the winner here will come from the top five.

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