Alternate universes: the final rounds that might have been

We are into the final round of season 2017, and what a great time to look at the fixture that awaits us and see how those matchups would look if just a few things had broken a bit differently. Join us as we journey into the football multiverse and explore what might have been.

First up, the table below is the usual HPN team ratings.

ratings r22

We just want to note here first of all that Brisbane are currently, adjusted for opponent defensive strength (they don’t get to play themselves after all and they have a terrible defence) the best offence in the comp. That is, they have scored more per inside-50, adjusted for opponent, than any other side this year. What a weird season.

The top 8 here is the actual current top 8; bar Essendon being very slightly behind West Coast. In all likelihood the Bombers will make finals unless the Eagles can beat the Crows and jump either a losing Melbourne or Essendon via a loss or vaulting them on percentage.

The HPN team ratings over the year would expect to see the Swans in the top 4, we don’t need to rehash why that hasn’t happened. Geelong being outside the top 4 is about to be a recurring theme on our journey, alluded to in the title of the post.

So let’s go with some hypothetical ladders, from alternate universes:

What if every losing team had scored another goal?

Below is what the ladder would look like if every losing team had scored another goal, reversing a lot of results. We haven’t recalculated percentages but current percentages have been included as a guide:


The Tigers, who have been on the wrong side of a number of storied narrow defeats, would sit half a game clear heading into the final round, and they and Adelaide would have had the top two spots sewn up weeks ago. In this universe, Damien Barrett is floating the prospect of Richmond and Adelaide tanking to try to avoid GWS or Sydney and play Port Adelaide instead.

Down in tenth would sit Geelong, out of contention in finals as they rued last minute losses to Fremantle, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and North Melbourne.

The current North Melbourne vs Brisbane Spoonbowl would instead see the Lions trying to jump Fremantle and yet again escape a wooden spoon.

What if we could bloody kick straight?

A simplistic and somewhat inaccurate measure of luck is scoring shot conversion. All things being equal, the expectation is that inaccuracy or accuracy regresses to the mean over time. Figuring Footy has done some wonderful work fleshing this out by adding scoring expectations, but for this exercise, let’s assume everyone coverts scoring shots at the same rate.


Port Adelaide now sit top 2, their accuracy having secured them wins over West Coast and Richmond at the cost of a loss to St Kilda. The Saints, naturally, make the 8 on this measure, as do a Hawthorn presumably not hobbled by Will Langford’s set shots.

The teams dumped from the finals, assuming everyone kicked straight, are Sydney (who would hypothetically still remain in contention this week), and Essendon (who would be long gone). The Bombers crash to 40 points, sitting well out of finals, thanks to draws with Hawthorn and the Bulldogs and losses to Geelong and Collingwood. This would be compensated only by the cold comfort of having beaten Brisbane, in an ever fading “revenge for the 2001 Grand Final” type manner.

We should note that that shot quality produced and conceded differs by team. Sydney for instance have conceded the equal 2nd-lowest quality chances (they’ve done similar for a few years) and Port Adelaide take a lot of low quality chances so it’s no surprising they’re kicking a higher number of behinds per goals.

Essendon generate and concede scoring shots of roughly average quality, so they’re probably more likely to have benefited from something approaching pure luck in scoring shot accuracy terms.

What if everyone only played each other once?

In this world, the season is 17 games long and starts in May or has time off for representative clashes or something. Or, as is looking more likely, is the front half of a 17-5 type scenario.

Below we’ve compiled the first result this year for every clash, ignoring double-up return games. We’ve also assumed the upcoming weekend of matches is Round 17, and excluded any previous clashes between teams playing this week (eg the previous GWS-Geelong draw is omitted).

17 game season uniberse

Here, we see teams down to Collingwood still in distant contention for finals, the Pies apparently having been bad in return games this year. They, here, need to beat Melbourne and rely on unlikely losses by those above them.

The top 8 hasn’t changed, and West Coast are still relying on beating Adelaide, but in this world the Crows need to win to lock down a top two spot while Richmond will know whether top 4 is up for grabs by Saturday night.

In a 17-5 world, the entire bottom six would have been long settled, with these clubs facing little to play for (assuming the points are reset for the final five matches). Additionally, the top 3 would have also faced several weeks of near meaningless footy before the split. If the points aren’t reset in this 17-5 world, several teams would have several more dead rubbersin the last few weeks of the season, and there would be a decent chance that 7th, 8th and maybe 9th would finish with more wins than 5th and 6th.

These are just some of the reasons that the 17-5 proposal is not a good thought bubble – we promise to look at more of them later down the track.

What if teams won exactly as many games as they “should” have?

Now we’re stepping into the realm of abstract footy geometry, where the laws of football premiership ladder physics such as “you can only win whole games” no longer apply.

Each year we run an analysis of the footy fixture’s imbalance incorporating a Pythagorean Expectation assessment of team strength as well as straight wins and losses. Pythagorean Expectation tell us how many games a team “should” have won based on their scores for and against. It’s probably best thought of as a quantification of the intuition that teams with a higher percentage are better. It’s another measure of luck, and tends to punish teams who only win by small margins. We used the method to help project the 2017 ladder as well and it had Hawthorn finishing 12th.

Here, we’ve used it to work out how far over or under each team in 2017 is from the expectations created by their scoring. That ladder is below.


Finally, we have a ladder which doesn’t put Brisbane last. Fremantle look like they’ve won three more games than they should have, and on Pythagorean expectations might be expected to have won just the five games this year. Spoonbowl in this world happened already and Freo lost.

Our current top eight remains the top eight in the Pythagorean ideal world.

Port Adelaide, by virtue of the extreme flat track tendencies we documented last week, appear in this universe to have won an extra 1.5 games, while Sydney also sit a game and probably percentage inside the top 4, their early season weakness reduced to the abstraction of a slightly dampened balance of scores for-and-against.

But of course there’s one final source of luck.

What if the fixture was completely fair?

Here, we’ve stuck with Pythagorean expectations but used it to work out the impact, in fractions of a win, of the uneven fixture.

The fixture in an 18 team, 22 game season is impossible to make fair, but in our final bizarre universe, it’s what’s happened.

Each team’s “expected wins impact” is the difference between the strength of their opponent sets (including double-ups) and what would be expected to happen if they played everyone the same number of times (ie, the average of every other team’s strength).

We’re still in “fractions of a win” territory here, but the table below is interesting.fair fixture universe.PNG

At the top of the ladder, Adelaide and GWS have faced difficult fixtures and would be expected to do even better if they faced the same strength teams as everyone else.

In this universe where wins come in fractions and the fixture is impossibly fair, St Kilda jump into the 8 by a full one third of a win thanks to a fair fixture, at the expense of the Bombers. West Coast still sit 9th, while the Bulldogs lurk closer to the eight than they do in reality, a win over the Hawks potentially enough to get them into the finals.

This ladder tells us that the teams most benefited by a soft fixture this season are Gold Coast, Richmond, North Melbourne, and Essendon, to the tune of about half a win each. We’ve noted Richmond’s bad luck with close games above, but perhaps this is balanced by having benefited from the softer draw they got as a bottom-6 team last year.

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