Saturday, July 19, 2014

Who Has Ended Up With The Easiest AFL Draw in 2014?

With a split round in the AFL I am not posting any updated AFL Power Rankings this week. To fill the gap though I thought it might be interesting to revisit which AFL team has had the easiest draw in 2014. At the start of the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons I have rated the difficulty of each team’s draw, based on the ranking of teams at the end of the previous year. But something I should have done before is gone back and re-calculated the results based on how strong teams turned out to be. Fortunately I had the foresight this year in designing my Excel file to make it simple to do this.

Basically, the difficulty of a team’s draw depends on three factors:

- The effect of not playing themselves. For example, Sydney’s draw becomes easier relative to every other team simply because they do not have to play Sydney. If you do not believe this should be taken into account, just subtract this effect from the results.

- Net home ground advantage. This is simply the net effect of the adjustments I make for home ground advantage across the season. It is not always zero, particularly if you are a team with a tendency to ‘sell’ home games interstate.

- The teams played twice. Obviously if you play harder teams twice rather than once, your draw becomes harder.

At the start of the 2014 season, based on the end-of-year 2013 rankings, these were the results (higher score means easier draw):

However, if I recalculate the results based on teams’ rankings at the end of Round 17 2014, this is what I get:

(Those who really pay attention to the rankings will notice that the effect of not playing your own team is slightly different to the reverse of the team’s ranking points as of Round 17. I have adjusted each team’s ranking so that the sum of ranking points across teams is zero; normally the sum of ranking points across teams is slightly negative.)

The Gold Coast Suns are now assessed to have the easiest draw in 2014. Part of this is because they have somewhat improved in 2014, so it is more of an advantage to them not to have to play themselves. More important though is that two of the teams they play twice, Brisbane and St. Kilda, are the two teams whose ranking points have deteriorated the most so far in 2014. Sure, this means that the Lions and the Saints have just gone from bad to atrocious. But at the start of the season the Lions were rated more highly than Gold Coast, and the Saints were considered by the rankings as likely to beat the Suns in Melbourne, so the drop-offs of those teams are still significant.

Richmond is still rated as having the second easiest draw, and its draw is only really considered worse than it was at the start of the year because the Tigers themselves have gone backwards. (As a Tigers supporter I am going to go hit a brick wall now…)

Adelaide, North Melbourne, and West Coast are all still considered to have relatively easy draws. The Bulldogs are also still considered to have a relatively easy draw, but significantly less easy than it was considered to be at the start of the year. Four of the five teams that the Dogs play twice this year – Melbourne, GWS, Essendon, and Gold Coast – are much more highly rated than they were at the end of 2013, particularly Melbourne and GWS. However in contrast to Gold Coast, that may not have affected the Bulldogs’ win-loss record that much; Melbourne and GWS have gone from horrible to not as bad but the Dogs would still be favourites against them.

At the other end of the scale, cellar dwellers St. Kilda, Brisbane, and GWS pay dearly for not being able to play themselves although Brisbane also plays some tough teams twice. Hawthorn though looks to have the most difficult return bouts. At the start of the year Geelong was rated as having the most difficult second engagements, but two of their opponents – Brisbane and Carlton – have dropped off significantly so far in 2014. Meanwhile Essendon’s draw is not as bad as it first seemed as, aside from its own improvement, the other ‘Big 4’ Victorian clubs that it plays twice have all taken a step back.

In general though, the fixtures for most clubs have turned out to be of about the same level of difficulty as they were assessed to be at the start of the season. This is because, with some notable exceptions, most clubs have played at pretty much the same level so far in 2014 as they did in 2013. Now excuse me as I resume hitting a brick wall at the thought of Richmond blowing the best draw they will have in years.

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