The AFL’s manufacturing of its fixture based on marketing objectives is continuing to butcher the principles of fair competitiveness adhered to by sport organisations anywhere else.
For those sides lucky enough to play Essendon twice in 2016 (Richmond, Geelong, St Kilda, Gold Coast and Carlton), the advantage is significant.
Geelong also benefit from two matches against the struggling Brisbane Lions, as do Gold Coast, while St Kilda will play Carlton twice.
It’s a significant boost for Geelong – but don’t get sucked in to all the pre-season hype.
The best proven strategy is to ignore the experts and go with what the data and algorithms say.
Using the right data to fuel your algorithms is crucial. They should involve a team’s quality of field kicks, their ability to transition the ball from zone to zone and the amount of scoring chances they generate from inside forward 50 entries.
A team’s continuity rankings are also crucial. Sides with significant groups of players with the right age profile are primed for success.
The data doesn’t look that good for Geelong, and while the betting market sees them as the big improver, my philosophy is to ignore star recruits. That has paid off handsomely over the years.
The only thing different here is that the Cats have put all of their eggs in the 2016 basket and forfeited their drafting for a year.
It’s the most extreme example we’ve ever seen – and Patrick Dangerfield, Lachie Henderson and Zac Smith represent good value coming into the prime of their careers.
But they won’t get better until later in the year, when they perfect their style.
My prediction algorithm forecasts that Hawthorn will suffer the second-biggest drop in rankings in 2016.
The problem for most clubs is how far ahead the Hawks have been over the last couple of seasons in kicking and continuity ratings.
The Hawks had 19 100-gamers play in their 2015 Grand Final success over West Coast – the first time any club has done that in any game. Ryan Schoenmakers, in his 95th game, was almost the 20th.
Since then, David Hale and Brian Lake have left, Jarryd Roughead is out for the first few months with injury, and Liam Shiels will also miss football.
They should still win the premiership – but the downside is steep from that rare altitude.
Richmond are my pick to jump into the top four. They play Essendon twice – and the Hawks, who they have a knack of causing problems for.
Their use of the ball by foot has become much more assured, but it still needs improvement when they enter their forward 50. Fix that and they will rise.
Collingwood is the hardest team to predict – I just cannot get a read on whether they are a talented list poorly coached, or an overrated list playing to their ability.
They were fourth in my continuity rankings for 2015, but poor disposal by foot cost them time after time. I can’t see them in the top four.
Like Carlton, at Collingwood there is political pressure that can have everyone second-guessing results.
The Blues will be joined by the Bombers, Gold Coast and Brisbane on Struggle Street in 2016.
I see GWS, St Kilda and Melbourne as having the potential to push into the top eight.
Two sides again will occupy first class – Hawthorn and West Coast. But don’t discount the Tigers.
Ted Hopkins is the creator of the new Tedbet data prediction and analysis service. He is also a Carlton premiership player and founded stats company Champion Data.