Aussie Rules Football Odds and Betting Preview: Collingwood Magpies vs. Western Bulldogs (Friday, March 20)
Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images. Pictured: Mason Cox
Australian Football League Odds: Collingwood Magpies vs. Western Bulldogs
Spread: Collingwood -1.5
Time: Friday, 4:50 a.m. ET
After a predictable Carlton defeat at the hands of Richmond last night, the AFL season opens in earnest Friday morning US time with what looks like one of the more intriguing matches of the first round, the Collingwood Magpies against the Western Bulldogs.
Note: The Australian Football League will play all Round 1 matches behind closed doors and will shorten the quarters by four minutes, from 20 to 16 minutes.
Both teams have had recent success, with the Bulldogs having taken home the Premiership after a Cinderella run in 2016; while the Magpies made the Grand Final in 2018 and the Preliminary Final (semi-final) in 2019. This is slated to be the most hotly contested game of the week, with the Magpies listed as only 1.5-point favorites as of this writing.
Despite being the third highest scoring team in the AFL last year, the Bulldogs have found goals hard to come by against Collingwood. They averaged just 68.5 points in two matchups against the Magpies last year, well below their average of 90.2 against any other opponent. Dating back to the beginning of the 2018 season, the Bulldogs average a measly 64 points against the Magpies across 3 matches — all Collingwood wins.
Both teams like free-flowing football and both of their games were played under ideal weather conditions in 2019, so why were the Bulldogs stifled to such a degree? The answer may lie in an essential but unique quirk of Australian Rules football. Unlike soccer or basketball, when the ball goes out of bounds it is not automatically awarded to a specific team. Instead the ball is thrown back into play by an umpire (called a ball-up), with only one designated player on each team allowed to initially contest it.
This can provide a team with a massive advantage if they have a player who can consistently win ball-ups all over the field, and Collingwood’s Brodie Grundy just happens to be the best in the league at hit outs, aka winning ball-ups. Grundy has specifically dominated the Western Bulldogs, winning the hit outs count 50 to 16 and 58 to 6 in the two matchups with the Bulldogs last season.
Once you get the ball, one of the most efficient ways to score is to take a mark (Australian for “make a catch”) within range of the goal. After taking a mark within range, the player is given 30 seconds to catch their breath and prepare for a set shot at goal from the spot of the mark without the threat of being tackled.
Taking a mark is a skill that naturally advantages the tallest players on the field, and Collingwood has the tallest forward in the AFL in Mason Cox, an American by way of Dallas, Texas. You read that right, American. The Magpies were second in marks in 2019 and I’d expect that trend to continue in 2020, especially against a Bulldogs outfit without any towering defenders.
The total of 152.5 would seem to predict a higher-scoring effort than these teams have combined for recently, but is one that they are certainly capable of delivering. If last night’s game is any indication, the lack of fans and the shortened quarters is having a negligible effect on the pace of the game or difficulty of scoring. But one game is not a trend, and it might be better to reassess the totals after a full round.
As difficult as it may be to go against the Bulldogs and their superfan (and superhero) Chris Hemsworth in a game played in Marvel Stadium, ride with American Mason Cox and the Collingwood Magpies.
The Pick: Collingwood -109