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Footy Forensics: Is the top 8 locked in?

Elo ratings show which teams still have a realistic chance at playing finals - and which should start thinking about next year.

The AFL ladder and our Elo ratings agree: Adelaide are the best team in the competition. But Sydney, after an improbable 0-6 start to the year, are breathing down their necks in second place. The Cats, Power and Giants aren't far behind - the top five teams are all in a tight pack. There's a big gap to the next bunch, with the Demons, Saints, Tigers, Eagles and Bulldogs all rated just above average.

SOURCE: ELO RATINGS BASED ON DATA FROM AFLTABLES.COM Matt Cowgill

We can use these Elo ratings to simulate the remainder of the season and calculate each team's chance of finishing in each part of the table. The simulations show the Crows and Giants each have a top eight spot stitched up, obviously enough, and they've also got more than an 80 percent chance of snagging a top four berth.

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Swans to win classic derby

In the match of the round Jude Bolton thinks the Swans will further improve their finals chances with a tough win over the draw-happy Giants.

Geelong, too, have nearly an 80 percent shot at the top four, but the final spot in the four is still somewhat open. The Power are in pole position, but it's far from decided. The Demons, Tigers, Swans and Saints all have a meaningful chance of snagging a top four spot. At the other end of the ladder, the Lions, on the other hand, didn't finish anywhere higher than 13th on the ladder in any of the 20,000 simulations of the season we conducted.

SOURCE: 20,000 SIMULATIONS BASED ON ELO RATINGS USING DATA FROM AFLTABLES.COM. Matt Cowgill

The simulations tell an interesting story for a lot of teams. A few are a bit boring - the Crows were always going to make the finals, the Lions always going to finish their season in August. But look at Richmond! They lost four games on the trot to Round 9, against three good sides and the Dockers, after which they were a bare 50-50 chance of making the finals. But they've since surged back to contention - even after the thumping by the Saints, they have a 75 percent chance of playing September footy. Speaking of the Saints, they briefly had a better-than-50 percent finals chance back at Round 8, before taking a plunge with some indifferent form, but they're back up to a 61 percent chance of making the final eight.

SOURCE: 20 000 SIMULATIONS AFTER EACH ROUND BASED ON ELO RATINGS USING DATA FROM AFLTABLES.COM Matt Cowgill

The Swans and the Dogs have each had stunning turnarounds, in opposite directions. No team has ever made the final eight after losing their first six games in the season; after Sydney went 0-6, our model gave them just a 15 percent chance of scraping in. But their form since then has left the Swans with a 72 percent chance of playing September footy, a stunning turnaround for a team that was all but written off. The Dogs have gone in the other direction - after Round 12, our model still thought they were 72 percent likely to play finals, but now they have just a 23 percent chance.

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Saints to march over Bombers

St Kilda were very impressive last week against Richmond and Jude Bolton thinks they'll out-run the Bombers this week.

The biggest turnaround, in the past four rounds at least, belongs to St Kilda. When we last updated our ratings and projections, the Saints had just a 19.4 percent chance of making the finals. That's now up to 61 percent - the likelihood of the Saints making the eight has risen by 41.2 percentage points, the biggest gain in the league. The Swans are next, followed by the Demons and Port, each of which has consolidated their spot as a likely finalist. Hawthorn, too, has turned things around a little, with a 9.1 percentage point rise in their chance of making the finals, but their rise comes from a very low starting point, and they still have just a 10.9 percent shot at playing finals footy.

SOURCE: 20 000 SIMULATIONS BASED ON ELO RATINGS USING DATA FROM AFLTABLES.COM Matt Cowgill

Some teams - like the Crows at one end, and the Blues, Kangaroos and Lions at the other - already know whether they'll be playing in September or not. But for many clubs, their season lies in the balance, with the coming rounds set to decide whether they'll be playing finals footy.

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Cats to top improving Hawks

Hawthorn are back following another brave performance against GWS, but Jude Bolton thinks Geelong will win this one.

The next month is perhaps the most important for West Coast- if they win their next four games, they have a finals spot all but locked down, while if they drop all four they have no chance of playing in September. The Eagles need to win three of their next four games to have a better-than-50 percent chance of making the finals - they're not out of it if they win two from four, but it'll be tough from there. The Bombers, too, need to win three out of their next four to still have a meaningful shot at September - if they don't manage that, it's all but season over for Essendon. For the Swans, Tigers and Saints, two wins out of their next four will likely be enough to keep them firmly inside the eight. The Bulldogs need to win all four of their upcoming games to give them a decent chance at making the finals - the long-shot Hawks are in the same boat.

SOURCE: 20 000 SIMULATIONS BASED ON ELO RATINGS USING DATA FROM AFLTABLES.COM. PROBABILITIES ARE AVERAGED ESTIMATES Matt Cowgill

This season is just about the most even in all of AFL/VFL history. As you'd expect, with such a tight season, the ladder is still in flux. Just about every match is crucial.

Matt CowgillMatt Cowgill is an economist by day and footy stats obsessive by night who thinks there's no such thing as too many graphs. He uses data analysis to tell stories for ESPN's Footy Forensics, as well as his own blog The Arc.

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