AFL Finals History 2000 to 2016 : How Does the 2017 Cohort Stack Up?

Last year, the Western Bulldogs bucked recent Finals history by going on to win the Flag after finishing 7th in the regular home-and-away season.

Just how unlikely that was is reflected in the tables below, which record how teams from each ladder position have fared in each week of the Finals across the period from 2000..

Prior to the Dogs of 2017, teams in 7th had won only 5 of 16 Elimination Finals, and none had proceeded beyond the Semi-Finals. In fact, before last season, no team without the double-chance had made the Grand Final.

Ladder position has been a generally poor predictor of Grand Final success, however, with the team finishing lower on the ladder prevailing in 10 of the 17 Grand Finals hat have been decided. Contests involving the Minor Premiers and Runners Up have been particularly problematic for the higher-finishing team, these contests having been won by the Runners Up on five of seven occasions.

Not every Finalist from a given ladder position is of equal ability, however, a phenomenon we can explore using MoSSBODS Team Ratings to estimate every Finalist's offensive and defensive abilities as at the end of their respective home and away seasons.

We see a considerable spread of Ratings for all eight of the qualifying ladder positions but also, as we'd expect, a general march from the north-east to the south-west as we move from 1st to 8th on the ladder. (A team's combined rating - the sum of its offensive and defensive rating - is higher the more north-easterly it appears on the chart, and lower the more south-westerly it appears.)

Focusing on the Class of 2017 we see that the Crows, Richmond, Port Adelaide, Essendon, and West Coast are all, broadly, mid-pack given their ladder finishes, while Geelong and GWS are relatively weak compared to other teams finishing 2nd and 4th respectively in seasons past. We also see that Sydney are the highest-rated team to finish 6th in this period - they're 1st on defence and 3rd on offence amongst all teams finishing 6th since 2000.

Lastly, we can get an overall sense of the average ability of 2017's Finalists compared to those of previous seasons by reviewing the same data from a season-by-season perspective.

We see that this year's octet are closer in ability than has been the case in many other seasons such as 2000, 2010 and 2011 where the Finalists spanned a much greater range of offensive and defensive ratings. Also, we see that 2017 lacks a Finalist with a significantly sub-zero defensive rating (as did 2016) and lacks a truly dominant offensive team.

With such an evenly-matched set of Finalists, relatively speaking, it's likely that home ground advantage will play a greater-than-average role over the coming weeks.

That said, this is the 2017 season - so, who knows?