2024 FIXTURE ANALYSIS

As we all know, the AFL Fixturing is far from fair.  I’m sure I covered this before, but my statistical Leviathan was developed to help me make sense of the inequities of the draw and try and remove some of the emotion from conversations by having some hard datatistical (I’m going to try and make that a new word for the dictionary this year) facts that a conversation could fall back on.  I soon found though, that while conversations without emotions are convivial, they lack a certain substance that is required to be engaging.  For example, a previous, emotion-charged conversation goes like this:

Footy Fan: “No wonder your team made the finals, just look at how many MCG games they get.  It’s unfair.”

Me: “F. U Buddy! Your team gets way more advantage than my team.  Look at all the handouts they get.  In my book they’re just a bunch of cheats!”

Footy Fan: “You’re an idiot.  It’s my shout.”

But things are different now that I have all of this data available to me:

Footy Fan: “No wonder your team made the finals, just look at how many MCG games they get.  It’s unfair.”

Me: “Well statistically, based on opponents played per ground, they have a 6.9% chance of making the finals in any given year.  Whereas your team, based on the same criteria at their own ground have an 11.3% chance, all things being equal.  This puts your team at significant advantage.  Here, I have drawn a graph based on my regression analysis.  And see this multivariate analysis of covariance which shows the data has a very strong correlation indeed.

Footy Fan: “You’re an idiot.  You’d better get the next beer after that crap.”

I enjoy my conversations with people, but statistics just seem to empty my pocket more rapidly.  Look, here is a chart of my pocket wealth over time…

Anyway, as February crawls along to the inevitable start to Round 0 (probably sponsored by one of those non-alcoholic beers, or Coke Zero) and we start thinking about footy, I thought I could crank up the ol’ statistical leviathan and feed it this years fixture and see what it has to tell me.  I’ve never tried to use it as a ladder predictive tool before.  I usually wait until I have all of a season’s data, put it in there, change my model to fit the outcome and then show everyone how good my model was as the past data clearly, accurately predicted the past.  Predicting the Past…imagine the fortunes you could reap!

Let’s look at what this season has in store for 6 of the 18 teams (yep…I’m gonna drag this out for three weeks).

ADELAIDE

I must say Adelaide is one of the pinnacles of unevenness in the fixturing.  Gather Round comes to mind.  All you want to do is give everyone an even chance, and then you go and give the Adelaide teams more games at home.  And don’t get me started on Round 0 or Opening Round or whatever you want to call it.  That took me hours to work into the statistical leviathan.  Adelaide has one of the easiest draws of 2024.  The 16th hardest actually (note, draw difficulty is based on opponent “strengths” and where you get to play them).  Expect them to be doing well early in the season with an easier draw at the start with a slightly tougher finish.  Underpinning the ease of their draw, the toughest run of 5 games comes in their easiest half of the season and the easiest 5 games in the draw comes in the toughest part of their season.  Look for them to get off to a great start and then be challenged in rounds 6 to 10.  But then a really easy run into the Bye from rounds 11 to 15.  The good news for them is they have a slight tendency to play the harder teams at home and the easier teams away which should give them what they need to make the finals in 2024.

BRISBANE

The vanquished from last year, have been handed the toughest draw of all teams this year.  But how tough is anything really when you have the Gabbatoir to play at?  For Brisbane the start and end of the season are both not too bad.  The grind will come in the middle of the season when they face a bevvy of tough teams just after the bye in rounds 13 – 17.  However, in the lead up to the bye (Rounds 8 – 12) they have some teams they can really beat up on and as we know the unquantifiable thing called momentum can be crucial.  The real thing that is important for Brisbane is where they play the best teams.  As it turns out, for Brisbane they got lucky and of the most powerful seven clubs, they play 6 of those at The Gabba.  There will be some hunger from last year and if they can maintain it, expect Brisbane to feature prominently in the finals again in 2024.

CARLTON

Speaking of momentum, Carlton were kings of that last year.  After a poor start, they rolled into a string of easy wins which then got the boulder rolling and it was such a downhill slope that it only stopped once it reached Brisbane.  As a reward, the AFL handed them the 7th hardest draw which is pretty tough in the first half of the season but then they get a nice downhill run at the back end of the year.  It’s a bit like ski jumping.  They need to do the hard yakka to get to the top, but then they just whizz down the ramp into the finals.  Will they be like Stefan Kraft or Eddie the Eagle?  They’re season is bookended by some easy games but they have a tough run in rounds 5 – 9, but should be able to get rolling around the mid-season bye…just like last year.  Was Finals a fluke last year or does the footy world have to suffer the smugness of a Blue supporter during the finals once again?

COLLINGWOOD

Top of the pops last year which usually results in being dealt the toughest draw, but the gods looked favourably upon them gifting them the 8th hardest draw overall with a mixed bag at the start of the season.  They get a nice soft run from the mid-season bye before facing the third toughest run into the finals.  Sometimes this is a good match-hardening thing, sometimes it can blow you up.  Certainly we know they have the cattle to go all the way, but with the oldest list (thanks mostly to Pendlebury and Sidebottom), going deep again could be difficult.  The biggest bonus for Collingwood is not having to face either of the Adelaide based teams at Adelaide Oval.  A strange fixturing decision that one and perhaps worthy of conspiracy scuttlebutt.  But which way should the conspiracy manifest itself?  Collingwood not playing at Adelaide Oval sounds like a benefit to Collingwood.  But having won their last 8 matches there perhaps they have been denied that advantage?  The plot thickens when you see their average winning margin at that venue in the last 5 matches is just under 4 points.  Perhaps it is the AFL themselves that is the loser here?  It’s probably lizard people, or Trump…or are they one in the same!?  Never fear for Adelaidians though, you still get to watch the Pies at Adelaide Oval against Hawthorn in Gather Round…bet that makes you happy!

ESSENDON

Much is advertised about the last time Essendon played in finals, let alone the last time they won one.  Looking back through the record books and I don’t think they have won a final since Sumerians started writing.  Having finished 11th last year, they get that doldrums kind of feel to their future.  When you finish just out of the 8, you don’t get rewarded, but you don’t get punished either.  You can’t draft your way out, nor trade your way out, the AFL doesn’t fixture you a solution.  You only have two options…peptides (been tried before) or tank your way out.  I think Samuel Taylor Coleridge put it best:

They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose,
Nor spake, nor moved their eyes;
It had been strange, even in a dream,
To have seen those dead men rise. 

Their best chance to get moving is rounds 8 – 12.  But it might be too late by then already, with a tough run of matches in rounds 3 – 7 which might have their ship dead in the water. 

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean. 

Again with the Coleridge!

FREMANTLE

Fremantle are always an enigma.  A team, that after 2022 promised so much, but delivered so little in 2023, begs the question…what can they do in 2024?  They do get a nice home ground advantage and the benefit for them is that they play some of the tougher teams at home this year so may be able to pinch a few of those and then consolidate their ladder position with some good wins against poorer opposition on the road.  They will want to get some early wins on the board as a tough run from round 10 to 14 will define their season.  They want to be better than 50:50 heading into that stretch.  Watch out if they are within striking distance of the eight as a soft run from rounds 17 – 21 could put them in contention.  But we should be cautious in our assessment.  I’ve known a few Freo supporters in my life and the last thing a Freo supporter wants is hope.

 

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