After nine rounds of the 2015 AFL season, Fremantle were 9-0 and two games clear on top of the ladder.
After nine rounds of the 2016 AFL season, Fremantle were 0-9, behind Brisbane and a team missing literally half its best 22.
The Dockers’ streak in 2015 ended the next week with an upset loss to Richmond; and the losing streak ended in Round 11, 2016, after beating Essendon by thirteen goals.
Clearly, both of these streaks were out of the ordinary. The question is – how out of the ordinary?
For the first time in AFL history, eight teams were undefeated (and the reciprocal) after Round 2. This broke the record of seven teams in 1995 and 2013, which you can see in this blog post from last year.
Looking at the fixture for the upcoming round, at least three teams will be 3-0 after three rounds: Richmond/West Coast, Geelong/Melbourne, and Pt Adelaide/Adelaide. The Western Bulldogs and Essendon, if they beat their opponents, will join those three, meaning we have between three and five undefeated teams after this round.
Based on the website Squiggle1, as of when I’m writing this, there is a 12.6% chance both the Bulldogs and Essendon will lose, a 39.6% chance they will both win, and a 47.8% chance that one of them will win. This gives us an average of 4.27 wins, or roughly 4.
There are also going to be at least two winless teams, Sydney and whoever loses out of Gold Coast and Hawthorn. There could be up to four more: North Melbourne, Fremantle, St Kilda, and Carlton.
Again using Squiggle, we have
- a 3.51% chance of just 2 teams being winless,
- a 21.12% chance of 3,
- a 42.16% chance of 4,
- a 30.56% chance of 5,
- and a 4.85% chance of 6.
Using a miracle calling multiplication, we work out that there will be 4.20 winless teams, or ~4.2
So, we should have four undefeated, and four winless. How does that compare with other seasons?
I looked at all seasons since 2008, with the exception of 2011, because that had an odd number of teams and it would screw things over. In both of them, there are an average of five teams 2-0 or 0-2, and three teams 3-0 or 0-3.
This means that the four we could get here is above the average. How does the average progress as we go along?
It’s nice and pleasing, as well as intuitive, that the number of undefeated and winless teams are roughly equal as time goes by. For both of them, it rounds to 1 or more for every round up to Round 9, and none afterwards.3
Here you can see the raw graphs for undefeated teams:
And winless ones:
In both cases, the graphs look pretty similar: a rapid decline at the start, but a few teams that stay on winning (or losing).
Now, onto the title. In the 8 seasons here, there have been a total of 138 team seasons – three 16-team years (2008-2010) and five 18-team years (2012-2016). Out of these, only five of them, just 3.62%, have been 10-0 or 0-10. The two 10-0s happened in the same season, 2009, when Geelong and St Kilda were at the top for the entire year. When Geelong were finally beaten, in round 14, it was at the hands of St Kilda. The Saints, in this case, won nineteen games in a row, the fifth longest streak in AFL history. When they did eventually lose, they lost two in a row, before losing to Geelong in the grand final.
And out of the three 0-10 teams, two of them were expansion teams in their second season. The remainder, as we know, was Fremantle last year.
However, a word of warning: the team that’s out of the blocks at the start almost never seems to win:
- 2008: Hawthorn. Started the season 9-0, and is the only team here to win the Grand Final.
- 2009: St Kilda. Started 19-0; lost three of their next six games, including the Grand Final.
- 2010: St Kilda and Brisbane. Both were 4-0; Brisbane finished thirteenth and St Kilda lost in the Grand Final.
- 2012: West Coast. Started 6-0; finished fifth and were eliminated by Collingwood in the semi final.
- 2013: Geelong. Started 7-0; upset by Fremantle in the qualifying final and eliminated in the preliminary final.
- 2014: Geelong. Started 5-0; out of the finals in straight sets.
- 2015: Fremantle. Started 9-0 and two games clear; lost the preliminary final to Hawthorn.
- 2016: North Melbourne. Started the season 9-0 and two games clear; went 3-10 and were eliminated in the first week of the finals.
Cheer on the team that starts off undefeated, you may have the last laugh.
1Made by, of all people, Max Barry (you may know him from his novels, or maybe NationStates).
2I’ll admit it, I love using the tilde~.
3I can’t be the only one who sees the winless figure as going upwards in rounds 7-9, when it’s actually staying the same.