AFL Prediction & Analysis

Squiggle on Round 23


You know I don’t believe in the whole idea of Flat Track Bullies, but god damn, Port Adelaide, you are making it difficult. The Power grew ten feet tall upon spotting a spindly, bedraggled Gold Coast, and proceeded to pound the snot out of them, while periodically stopping to flex and grin at nearby girls, and slicking back their hair with a comb. God damn you, Port Adelaide. That’s so uncool.

When Sydney curb-stomped their bottom-4 opponent, they had a little class. They were positively gentlemanly in allowing Carlton to kick 8.9, compared to the Power’s nipple-cripple of the Suns that permitted just 3.2 20.

Port Adelaide’s performance was mainly impressive for its miserliness, since scoring 135 against Gold Coast isn’t that special. It’s only 30 points more than the average team puts past the Suns. As such, the Power go shoooooting off to the right, but don’t climb much vertically. The Swans, on the other hand, see mainly vertical gains after scoring 138 against a significantly better defense.

Gold Coast finish the year as the worst-ranked team, seeing off a challenge from Fremantle.

The Cats and Tigers both had impressive wins. After some accurate goal-shooting against the Saints, Richmond are almost starting to look like a normal team, i.e. one that can score. In fact, the team that Richmond most resembles right now is Geelong, so it’s fitting that they get to Highlander it in a Qualifying Final.

I hope you appreciated my cool detachment in that previous paragraph. I’m like, sure, I write about Richmond making a QF all the time. No biggie. You can’t even tell I have my legs crossed like super tight.

And now for Melbourne. I take no joy in Melbourne. It’s a bit surprising because I was really pissed at Melbourne after the whole Jordan McMahon game thing. But no, apparently I have no more schadenfreude to give. This one sucks, Melbourne. Here is the tragedy of Melbourne in tower form:

And on Flagpole:

Is now a good time to mention that Squiggle was tipping a Swans v Adelaide Grand Final before the start of the year? I feel like yes.

Still no freaking love for the Tigers.

Last year, Squiggle had an impressive 67% hit rate in tipping finals that didn’t involve the Western Bulldogs. After including the Dogs, it was a bit less impressive, going 3-6 (33%). But 2016 was a strange year; the home (higher-placed) team has won finals regularly since 2000, going at about 72%. So you’re normally pretty safe backing them.

Finals previews to come sometime!

Squiggle on Round 22

The most exciting thing that happened this round was the stars aligning for North Melbourne to play Brisbane for last place on the ladder. As such, today’s commentary will be heavily Spoonbowl-tilted.

Look at those two teams, heading for each other like they knew this day was coming. It’s a club on the rise vs a club that rose to half-mast in the first 10 rounds before deciding it was all too hard:

Let’s also take a moment to appreciate that these aren’t the two worst teams. The worst teams are Fremantle and Gold Coast. A Spoonbowl involving Fremantle and Gold Coast would be genuinely terrible. What Brisbane and North Melbourne offer us, by contrast, is a real chance of a decent game. You know how people are always suggesting insane changes to the finals, like wildcard playoffs between 9th to 12th: Spoonbowl 2017 offers a glimpse into that world, where deeply flawed but not completely inept teams battle for something not really that great but still a lot better than the alternative. That is Spoonbowl 2017.

North Melbourne don’t deserve the wooden spoon: For the first half of the season, they were about as good as Melbourne is now, but without winning any games. In the first five rounds, they fell 1 point short of Geelong, 3 points short of the Bulldogs, and got done by 5 points in Perth by the Dockers. In fact, in four games against the Dogs & Dockers this year, North Melbourne have managed to lose the lot by a combined total of 13 points. They have a percentage of 84.8, which is better than four other teams, and not far off Hawthorn (89.8).

Brisbane don’t deserve the spoon, either. Their second half of the year has had a clear upward trajectory, which defies the basic concept, which is that spoons are for terrible teams in terrible situations with no future so sit down and have a cry and a spoon. Other teams have tried to mess with this in the past, by “strategically” “moving” their “players” at “key moments” in order to “fucking cheat,” but Brisbane is the lighter side of that: a side on the rise that’s genuinely tried all year.

Remember that neither of these teams care a whole lot about defending, and it will be glorious. It will be a beautiful, amazing game.

Tip: Brisbane 110 – 104 North Melbourne

In other news:

Richmond finally generated a decent score, albeit against an indecent team. The Tigers are a little flattered by their accuracy in kicking 25.5, and the chart can’t adequately capture the way Fremantle players spent the second half jogging half-heartedly around the field like they were thinking about the load of laundry they had to do when they got home and whether they needed to stop off for milk. Still, it was a great performance by the Tigers, and made even clearer their year-long improvement.

We didn’t learn a whole lot from Adelaide vs Sydney, other than that it was about as competitive as expected. The Crows shouldn’t be too unhappy with that game, which they lost only due to some wayward goalkicking.

Essendon should be unable to cock up a finals berth from here, since they host the Dockers next week. And the current top 4 and top 8 will more likely remain unchanged. But there’s a crazy raft of possible scenarios on offer:

Richmond have a big chance of finishing 3rd (if they defeat St Kilda) and 6th (if they don’t). They are much less likely to finish 4th or 5th, because Port and Sydney have highly winnable games and will overtake them.

Similary, North Melbourne will probably finish 15th if they win Spoonbowl 2017 and 18th if they don’t.

If Melbourne and Essendon don’t claim 7th and 8th, the Eagles are most likely to slip in there, but it’s still possible in a benevolent universe for the Bulldogs and Saints.

Only the Giants can take top spot from Adelaide, and this scenario requires them to defeat Geelong at Kardinia while the Crows do a repeat of 2016 and drop their final game to West Coast.

The top 6 cannot change; that is, no-one currently lower than 6th can break into it, and none of the top 6 can fall out of it.

Similarly, the block of teams currently 7th to 11th is fixed, with only the order within that block still to be decided.

Here’s an animated tower, which shows Carlton’s last-minute leap to safety, and the final snuffing of Hawthorn:

Flagpole this week is mostly notable for Richmond’s little jump and some new clarity around who’s likely to play finals:

Discuss on BigFooty!

The Quality and Quantity of Shots Created by Each Club

A super interesting and insightful article on shot generation and shot quality from Figuring Footy:

GWS have been the polar opposite of the Dees in regard to shot quality. The Giants have taken, on average, the toughest shots of any team this year. This is usually a high variance strategy, but the Giants have managed to get through some close games (relatively) unscathed, benefiting greatly from the sublime kicking skills of their young talent.

Source: The Quality and Quantity of Shots Created by Each Club – Figuring Footy

What Do Adelaide and Brisbane Have In Common?

Blowouts! They both get involved in a lot of blowouts. Matter of Stats takes a delightfully graphic look back over the decades to illustrate how 2017 compares in terms of scoring and evenness:

The 2017 season has been a close one, with any team a genuine chance of dominating and maybe even toppling any other team on a given day. More than once, a team near the foot of the competition ladder has defeated a team near the top, and we sit here at the end of Round 20 with the final 8 far

Source: How Close Has the 2017 Season Been? — Matter of Stats

Squiggle on Round 20

That was a big round of football!

Sometimes a round is full of crucial matches and they turn out to be close games, so, sure, they’re entertaining, but you don’t learn a whole lot about either team, other than that they’re evenly matched.

Then you have rounds like this one!

Adelaide firmed into a solid, erect position, thrusting firmly into the open, inviting premiership zone. That’s quite a trajectory you’ve made there, Adelaide. There’s a real cockiness about it. It came about after a graphic display against the Power, the Crows taking a liking to the wet, slippery conditions and dominating, especially the behinds (18.22 to 7.4).

Less phallically, Sydney demolished Geelong to move into that part of the chart I should really just go ahead and name THE SYDNEY AREA, because the last season they didn’t spend time there was 2010. No-one else wants to live there, Sydney. It’s really just you and whoever Ross Lyon was coaching at the time. But you keep coming back, year after year.

The week belonged to those two teams, who put a lot of space between them and the rest of the field.

But it was also terrific for Richmond! In fact, I now think Richmond is going to win the flag. This is not supported at all by squiggle. It’s more of a vibe. I’ll explain more below.

It was an interesting week if you’re on Scoring Shot Watch. Essendon’s victory over Carlton wasn’t so narrow (11.18 to 11.10), Collingwood’s over North wasn’t so great (16.15 to 7.15), and GWS really destroyed Melbourne (14.13 to 10.2). Fremantle put away Gold Coast pretty handily, too (12.18 to 10.7).

Gold Coast have had a pretty ordinary second half to the year after a promising start. So have North Melbourne, who were far more competitive a few months ago, even though they weren’t winning games.

And on the chart, Carlton and Freo became one. Think about that for a moment. It’s horrible, isn’t it. There is literally nothing good about that for anyone.

This time of year, the Season Predictor becomes less helpful, because with so few matches remaining, you can just about figure things out yourself. Also it averages out a team’s chances of winning each match, which works much better over the long-term than just three games.

But Tower of Power is always interesting! Lots of movement this week:

Most noticeable is Adelaide turning into a banner ad in the #1 spot. It would take an Adelaide-grade implosion for them to miss from here. Of course, if anyone can do an Adelaide-grade implosion, it’s Adelaide. But top spot is almost certainly theirs.

The trapdoor opened up beneath Geelong, but with games against Richmond (at Kardinia), North, and GWS, they still have a pretty good path to 2nd. And with a 1.5 win break over 5th, things would have to go horribly wrong for them to miss the top 4.

Since Geelong, GWS and Richmond play each other in the remaining three rounds, the effect of each result is magnified. So right now those three teams have a pretty even chance of finishing 2nd, and it will go to whichever of them manages to stand up.

The desolation of Port Adelaide left a lot of room for Sydney and Richmond to move into.

And the Bulldogs still have a remarkable array of plausible finishes! They have a 5% chance or better in every slot from 4th (where Geelong lose a lot) to 11th.

On Flagpole, it’s good night to the Hawks:

And otherwise the usual story. Adelaide are surrounded by premiership cups on the main chart; they are going to be 1st.

Now: Why Richmond will win the flag!

Obviously I’m 100% only writing this because I’m a Richmond supporter. Squiggle doesn’t foresee good things for Richmond in the finals. But this section applies to other teams as well.

It’s all about the killer bye. The bye is bad, for mysterious reasons, and has always been bad, going back decades. More specifically, it’s bad for teams that had a bye last week when their opponent didn’t. There is plenty of data on this: Those teams underperform.

The only mystery has been why the bye becomes good when you get one thanks to a qualifying final victory. In those cases, the bye works like it’s supposed to, and they win repeatedly and reliably.

Until last year, when we had a pre-finals bye for the first time, and after winning Qualifying Finals, Geelong and GWS both lost. Instead, the Bulldogs won the flag from 7th. Now we all know that had never been done before, which is remarkable enough in itself. But what makes it amazing, and a little suspicious, is that no-one came close before.

If the Final Eight system offers a reasonable chance for 7th to win the flag, you would expect, at some point this century, a team to have at least made the Grand Final from 5th or 6th. Not win the premiership; just make the GF. But nope.

For 16 years, we had a near-perfect statistical distribution where the team that finished 1st was most likely to make the GF and win the flag, then the team that finished 2nd was, then 3rd, and then 4th could make the GF sometimes but never win the flag. And 5th-8th never made the GF.

Then in 2016, 7th wins the flag!

It may well be that 2016 was just one of those years, and the Bulldogs one of those teams, and it’ll never happen again. But another explanation is that this answers the mystery of why the Qualifying Final winner bye was good: It was only because it came right at the very end of the year, when all teams were exhausted, which caused the restorative benefits to outweigh the usual negative effect. But since the AFL introduced a pre-finals bye last year, that benefit vanished, and all that’s left is the usual killer bye, where teams that had a week off do worse against teams that didn’t.

This makes me far less certain that it’s necessary to (a) finish top 4 and (b) win a qualifying final to take out the premiership. The fact that the Bulldogs did it last year makes it less certain, and the possibility that it’s due to the pre-finals bye makes it doubly uncertain. It may even be bad to finish top 4 and win a qualifying final.

If so, it’s a far more open race to the flag than anyone thinks. A team like Sydney, in fine form but up against it to make the top 4, has a perfect run to the flag. A team like Richmond, who might finish 4th but be unable to beat 1st in a Qualifying Final, has a much better shot at redemption than history would suggest. And a team like the Bulldogs, or Essendon, who in previous years would be dismissed as just making up the numbers, can actually go all the way if only they find form at the right time.

The only certainty of the finals campaign this year may be that the form team wins no matter where they placed on the ladder.

That aside, the other reason why I think Richmond will win the flag is that statistical analysis like squiggle is only about what’s most likely to happen. Unlikely things happen all the time. They happen all the time in football. I’ve followed the Tigers my whole life and I wasn’t paying much attention to football the last time we were anything like a flag threat, so I don’t want to spoil this one with an over-reliance on what stats say usually tends to happen. I’m going to roll with the fact that anything might.

Discuss on BigFooty!

Squiggle on Round 19

Honestly, Squiggle is no good this week. It was one of the greatest rounds of football in history; I can’t add anything to it with charts.

That’s the good stuff. Miracles happening right in front of your face.

But since we’re here:


A good week for the Cats, who belted Carlton while the Crows, Swans, and Power struggled. It was just a little spoiled by the fact that Adelaide’s last-gasp draw against Collingwood was no good to the Crows for anything other than pride and finishing above Geelong, since now their percentage matters again. Assuming no more draws, that is. Of course, three weeks ago I said, “assuming no more draws,” and there were immediately two more. Teams are drawing all over the place. So who knows.

These 11-goal-wins-over-bad-teams are the kinds of games that squiggle rates and humans don’t. They’re easy to overlook, because you expect the better team to win comfortably. But it’s worth taking notice when the margin is 70-odd instead of 30.

It’s also worth looking at scoring shots. This year I’ve been trialling a new algorithm in the background that will probably take over from the venerable ISTATE-91:12 in powering squiggle next year. One of the main differences is that it pays attention to scoring shots, since teams don’t tend to remain unusually accurate (or inaccurate) for very long. Most weeks it doesn’t make a huge difference, but this week Squiggle 2.0 rates GWS much higher for their 13.20 to Fremantle’s 13.8, as well as Richmond for defeating Gold Coast 14.14 to 10.5. Geelong’s victory over Carlton becomes even more emphatic (18.15 to 8.10), and Essendon (13.19) look a lot more competitive against the Bulldogs (19.13). Also St Kilda get a technical victory against Port (8.13 to 9.9), as do Collingwood over Adelaide (15.13 to 16.7).

Meanwhile, after Adelaide’s slide, Sydney are now rated the #1 form team! Just. That’s based on their strength in home & away matches; finals will be a little different, both because Sydney are unlikely to finish high enough to get home finals, and because they’re more of a defensive specialist than most premiership teams.

A bit of separation has emerged after the top 2, with Adelaide and Geelong likely to claim those spots. Then Port, GWS, and Richmond form a tier, for the moment, being the most likely to take out 3rd to 5th. Sydney are the most likely to jump up alongside them.

On the Tower, the long, snake-like tendrils of Hawthorn are creeping upward:

That’s a pretty significant chance of a Hawks finals campaign for a team that’s spent most of the season eyeing off 17th.

But there’s a bit of a hard line below that, formed by Collingwood. Basically if you’re better than Collingwood, you might play finals, but if you’re worse than Collingwood, you can’t. Also you can’t if you’re Collingwood.

North’s continuation of their long-running curb stomp over Melbourne had the unfortunate side-effect of making a Round 23 SpoonBowl vs Brisbane less likely. But we can always hope.

This week’s adjusted Flagpole has the Swans slip below the Cats! On original Flagpole, as seen on, Sydney are still a clear 2nd. So I’m not sure about that. But we’ll go with it for now:

Discuss on BigFooty!

Squiggle on Round 18


Every week I say, “It was Adelaide’s week,” and you know what? It’s Adelaide’s week. It has to be when they put away the 2nd team while a likely 3rd and 4th in GWS and Port Adelaide turn to water. Literally, in GWS’s case. I was at that game. Super wet. Adelaide missing the Top 2 from here would require something extraordinary, like when Adelaide missed Top 4 last year, or Adelaide failed to finish 1st in 2006. Actually, Adelaide does this a lot. But those are coincidences, probably.

Sydney are rolling on, too. In fact, let’s skip right ahead to the brand new Flagpole, which I redesigned due to popular whinging. This one builds in a penalty based on the team’s likelihood of making finals, so flags can no longer fly high on teams with no realistic chance of making the Top 8. More detail to come in another post sometime. The Swans still sit second even though they have more chance of missing finals altogether than their rivals:

There was an article by Rohan Connolly about how the pre-finals bye may mean it’s better than it used to be to finish 5th-8th, since you get to play more than a single game in a month of football, unlike the Qualifying Final winners, who have to sit around waiting for longer than is really ideal. That would be handy for the Swans, if the year that they get off to an 0-6 start, they don’t actually need to finish Top 4. Then again, if they keep up their current form, they’ll snag that anyway, because this is also the year when you won’t need many wins for 4th.

Speaking of 4th, that’s where Richmond now sits on the official ladder. Squiggle, however, probably won’t have any faith in Richmond until Trent Cotchin is on the dias holding the premiership cup. Oooh. That felt good to write. I mean, squiggle is so down on Richmond, it wouldn’t rate us if the team was jogging a victory lap of the MCG as “Yellow and Black” reverberates around and I cry hot salty tears of three decades of pent-up frustration while hugging the old guy in the seat next to me and it’s the best day of my life, it’s just the best day ever, oh God, oh God.

Squiggle can’t get past the fact that Richmond has the third-weakest attack in the league. To be sure, it’s hard to kick a lot of goals in a swimming pool. But the Tigers have been low-scoring all year, and low-scoring teams don’t win premierships. Sometimes, moderately-scoring teams with excellent defences do it. Not often. Not as often as you’d expect, given how many try. But sometimes. Richmond are far short even of that mark.

Hawthorn showed a lot in dispatching Fremantle away, but given that finals are probably out of reach, it doesn’t seem to mean a whole lot. Aside sticking it to St Kilda over that first round draft pick. That’s something.

I want to be hard on Port Adelaide, because it was another disappointing performance by a team that should be capable of more than this, but I actually watched some of the game and Melbourne were red hot. And losing by 23 points (23 scoring shots to 20) interstate to a team that’s challenging for Top 4 is not too shabby. The Inside 50 count was pretty lopsided. But still, it wasn’t exactly a capitulation, and isn’t reason to give up on the Power.

In fact, the ladder predictor still has Port for 4th. But it’s pretty ridiculous:

Thirteen wins for third place would be obscene and probably won’t happen, not unless we get a long-running repeat of that popular game show from last year, “Who Wants to Drop a Critical Game?”

But what it shows is that it’s wide open from 3rd down to 9th or 10th, and Top 4 spots are going cheap.

It was a brutal weekend for West Coast, who dropped a very winnable game while Sydney, Richmond, Melbourne, Essendon, and the Bulldogs all won. That’s knife-in-the-heart stuff.

St Kilda were up against it with Sydney away, and not really expected to win. But they didn’t look much like a finals team, either, and so also faded, partly because of new pressure from the Hawks from below.

But the Lions won! This raises the real possibility of a last-round spoonfight between Brisbane and North Melbourne. Now that’s entertainment.

Discuss on BigFooty!