AFL 2021 Schedule Difficulty: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Who you play, when you play them and where, are all of intense importance in the AFL.
Unlike European soccer or US pro sports, constructing the AFL’s fixture is a significantly harder proposition owing to the league’s insistence on a 23-round schedule that caters for an 18-team league.
The mathematics are complicated further when you factor in the sheer length and breadth of Australia, making it almost impossible to keep everyone happy.
At Stats Insider, we’ve tried to make fixture analysis a little easier, slicing and dicing a multitude of factors ranging from strength of opponent, rest and game location to deliver a more accurate assessment of just how difficult your club’s draw is.
So without further ado, let’s take a spin through the AFL’s 198-game, five month slug-fest to determine what’s in store this season from a scheduling standpoint.
Sydney fans haven't had a lot to smile about these past couple of years, missing consecutive Septembers for the first time since 1994-95. So it comes as sweet relief that we've deemed the Swans as having the league's easiest fixture heading in to season 2021. While trips to the Gabba to face the Lions, and a Round 3 trip to the MCG against Richmond don't make for a gentle start, they end their season with an 8-game stretch against teams who didn't win a final last year, with five of those eight games in NSW.
This time last year, we assessed Geelong as possessing the league’s fourth-hardest fixture, which was another bitter pill for their fans to swallow in the wake of Tim Kelly's departure. This year? Well how about the league’s second-easiest schedule? Just one of Geelong’s first seven games is pitted against a team who won a final last year, and even then, that Round Two assignment is a clash against the Lions at Kardinia Park, paving the way for a possible 7-0 start prior to their Round 8 Grand Final re-match.
Of last year’s Finalists, Port Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs have been assessed as having highly favourable schedules. For Port, their clashes against last year’s Grand Finalists will both take place at Adelaide Oval in Rounds 4 and 13 respectively. As for the doggies, they’ve got multiple games against both Gold Coast and North Melbourne, while they won’t be required to leave Victoria until their Round Six clash against the Giants in Canberra.
Collingwood, Brisbane and Richmond’s fixtures have all been assessed as residing in the AFL’s worst third.
The Magpie's start to the season is brutal with trips to play Brisbane and West Coast interstate within their first five games, with an MCG opener against the Bulldogs set to kick things off. Brisbane have multiple games against both Richmond and Geelong, while their season ends with clashes against Collingwood and West Coast- both finalists from last season. As for Richmond, while a gentle start to the year will see the champs play Carlton, Hawthorn and Sydney, they do have multiple games against Geelong and Brisbane, while they have assignments in both Perth and Western Sydney over the last month.
If you're a long-suffering North Melbourne fan, your fixture wouldn't have bought you much joy. The wooden spoon favourites have the league's second-hardest draw, which includes nine interstate matches- the most of any Victorian club.
Ummm, that would be St Kilda. Put simply, their 2021 schedule is utterly brutal. Seven interstate trips, multiple games against Richmond and Geelong, while six of their last nine games are all against 2020 finalists. Yes, the Saints have made massive gains in recent years, but will need to make an early mark, especially through their first four games where none of their opponents won a final last season.
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