No team has ever made the finals after losing their first four games of the season, at least not in the period since 1994 when the AFL has had a top eight finals system. The 2017 Sydney Swans didn’t just lose their first four games – they dropped their first six. Given the historical record, the Swans should have no shot at the finals this year, but they’ve clawed their way back into contention. They’ve won seven of their last eight games to leave them at 7-7 overall for the season so far. In the top eight era, a majority – 54.9% – of teams that went 7-7 from their first 14 games went on to make the finals. The Swans now look like they’re bound for the finals, and they’ve taken an extremely strange path to get there.
The Elo rating system remembers how good the Swans were last year, so the Elo-based simulations have never quite written off the Swans. Even after Round 6, the Elo system gave them a roughly one-in-six shot at making the finals. That has climbed and climbed, and after Round 15 the Elo-based projections give the Swans a 68.5% chance of making the finals.
The Swans seem to have remembered how to be a good football team, but they haven’t made it easy for themselves. Their margin for error is slim, and they’re by no means assured of making the finals. But their chances are better than two-in-three, and that alone is pretty amazing for a team that dropped their first six games.