I had a little time on a flight back to Sydney from Melbourne last Friday night to contemplate life's abiding truths. So naturally I wondered: how likely is it that a team finishing in ladder position X at the end of one season makes the finals in the subsequent season?
Here's the result for seasons 2000 to 2010, during which the AFL has always had a final 8:
When you bear in mind that half of the 16 teams have played finals in each season since 2000 this table is pretty eye-opening. It suggests that the only teams that can legitimately feel themselves to be better-than-random chances for a finals berth in the subsequent year are those that have finished in the top 4 ladder positions in the immediately preceding season. Historically, top 4 teams have made the 8 in the next year about 70% of the time - 100% of the time in the case of the team that takes the minor premiership.
In comparison, teams finishing 5th through 14th have, empirically, had roughly a 50% chance of making the finals in the subsequent year (actually, a tick under this, which makes them all slightly less than random chances to make the 8).
Teams occupying 15th and 16th have had very remote chances of playing finals in the subsequent season. Only one team from those positions - Collingwood, who finished 15th in 2005 and played finals in 2006 - has made the subsequent year's top 8.
Of course, next year we have another team, so that's even worse news for those teams that finished out of the top 4 this year.