While the majority of the AFL world takes aim at rule changes that don't appear to be working, nosediving scores, questionable skills and conservative coaching, there is reason to celebrate 'the state of the game' after four rounds: This season is so far one of the most unpredictable and even in memory.
In fact, at is stands, the AFL's long-wished-for Any Given Sunday utopia -- in which any team can beat any other on any given day -- might have finally arrived.
There's no arguing that scoring is in fact down -- goals and overall scores are both lower than at the corresponding point in any of the previous three seasons -- and even the league's premier tactician, Hawthorn's master coach Alastair Clarkson, admits to being confused about the lack of Sherrins flying through the big sticks.
"They're strange games at the minute," he said after his side's 69-74 loss to St Kilda under the Marvel Stadium roof. "The game is in a really, really interesting phase and everyone's trying to work it out. I ain't got any answers just at the minute and I don't think many others have either."
But while there are many who are scratching their heads about the low scores, the flipside is the incredible evenness and unpredictability of the competition. Who would have guessed after one month that Brisbane, St Kilda and Gold Coast would all be 3-1 and sitting pretty inside the top eight, and pre-season finals 'locks' Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne would be struggling to stay afloat after just one victory?
🎙️ What next for Ross Lyon following his Freo sacking?— footytips (@footytips) August 20, 2019
🎙️ Who should be the All-Australian Full Forward?
🎙️ And we get an insight into what goes on behind the scenes at @championdata
Ep. 23 of the @ESPNAusNZ #AFL pod.
🎧 LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE ➡️ https://t.co/PwAFFV4IMD
Even the winless Blues have been super competitive in all of their games, with their percentage of 79 better than that of the team that finished 13th last year, the Western Bulldogs.
In fact, Champion Data states that Round 4 was the fifth closest round since 2000, with an average margin of just 14 points. Since 2000, there have only been 21 rounds with an average margin of less than 20 points - and two have been this season.
And there's been a historically low number of blowout results this season - only four games have been decided by 50-plus points, the equal fewest in the opening four rounds since 1997. Last year had eight 50-plus point blowouts in the opening month, while in the 10 seasons preceding that, it was seven, 12, 10, 13, 11, 12, 11, nine, eight and eight.
The unpredictability of these early-season games has also unsurprisingly made tipping and punting an absolute nightmare.
TAB.com.au's statistics show exactly half of all games in 2019 have been won by underdogs, a gigantic increase from previous years (28.5 percent in 2018, 34.3 percent in 2017, 28.5 percent in 2016). In fact, it's by far the highest proportion of upset wins since 2000, the betting company told ESPN.
So if high scoring football tickles your fancy, Round 4 wasn't for you. But if you enjoy close finishes, it was a one of the best weekends of footy in recent memory.
High scoring might be on the way out, but if close finishes are increasing, surely that's a good thing?