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From: Sundararaman, Shyam
Sent: Sunday, January 08, 2012 11:34 PM
To: Gray, Mark A
Cc: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: E-mail exchanges this week?


The teams we root for are both in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. This is the first time since we’ve known each other that both of our teams are playing well and in the playoffs. The next four weeks have the potential to be fulfilling, exciting and very memorable for one of us (Hint: Meeeeeeeeeeee). They also have the potential to be incredibly scarring for one of us (Hint: Not me).

I thought it would be fun if instead of our routine periodic trash talking via our employer’s instant messenger, we exchanged some emails in our free time about the teams we root for and the games we’re looking forward to. The emails can be anything – questions, trash talk, statistics, and videos from Alex Smith’s porn past or even poems of praise to Aaron Rodgers. I think this will make the next four weeks much more fun for us.

If you don’t mind, I’d also like to post our daily exchange on my blog. I think it will be interesting for the sane and smart few who will want to get away from the Tebow vortex that ESPN and radio will put them thru (for the next seven days at least).
What say you, author of the soon to be published best seller “Aldon Smith – Great defensive player or greatest defensive player ever?”?

Go, Pack Go!

From: Gray, Mark
Sent: Monday, January 09, 2012 1:01 AM
To: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: RE: E-mail exchanges this week?
Importance: Low

Sure, could be fun. Not sure if my participation will last more than a week, but it will be a lot more fun if our teams go head-to-head in two.
As I mentioned before, the 49ers aren’t a sexy team. Chicks dig the long ball, which means passing touchdowns in football, and my guys have very few of those. But, hey, they’re 13-3 and the NFC second seed. Given that the general (non-Niners-nation) sentiment is that the 49ers are going to be one-and-done in the playoffs, where’s the disconnect? Most of my perceptions about the national perceptions derive from; in particular, I love their team rankings. An excerpt:

[Denver is the outlier at #27, though that ranking is thoroughly deserved; I’m not a disciple of Tim Tebow.]
Ignoring Denver, the 49ers are the second-to-worst-ranked team in the playoffs, ahead of only the Bengals and sandwiched between the Chargers and Titans. Sure, the 49ers are not the best team in the world, but saying they’re outside the top-10 in the league seems like a serious under-evaluation, right? The 49ers played 6 of the teams ranked above them and their 4-2 record against them cannot be a fluke. (And we all expected one of those losses, to Baltimore, on a short week.) I can only conclude these stats are skewed toward offense, and that makes me question the validity of these statistics. Do you know of any alternate sources?

But you know what’s really missing? Special teams. Usually, ST is an afterthought, but I’d hypothesize that a top-3 or bottom-3 ST ranking probably makes a difference. Didn’t the 49ers have the best average starting field position in 2011? Yeah, they sucked on 3rd downs, but when you only have to go a short distance to score points (and we know Akers kicked a ton of field goals), measurables such as offensive yardage and efficiency aren’t as important. There’s gotta be a stat for this, but my general feelings are influenced by

Since it’s late, I’ll cut myself off here (for now). I’m actually quite fortunate; being outside of California and having two young children means I don’t get to see many games these days, so I’m less biased than your average fan or hater ( Shyam ).
Till the next.
P.S. Bring back Jimmy Raye for the red zone offense!
P.P.S. Bye-bye #1, #8, #10 and #16. RIP. We hardly knew ye.
P.P.P.S. You’ll be real disappointed when the Niners win the Superbowl next month.

From: Sundararaman, Shyam
Sent: Monday, January 09, 2012 11:10 AM
To: Gray, Mark
Cc: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: E-mail exchanges this week?


Good morning and happy playoff week! “Being outside of California and having two young children means I don’t get to see many games these days, so I’m less biased than your average fan or hater” is the Tebowest thing you could have written. I can almost see you Tebowing and thanking the lord and savior as you typed that out. I am shocked you didn’t say “God, Bless” right after that.

The team rankings and metrics I trust the most are the ones by the good guys at Football Outsiders (FO). I have followed their work for seven years now and have faith in DVOA. I understand and appreciate the play-by-play methodology behind the metric and their rankings with respect to the Packers have mostly made sense to me. In 2008, the Packers had a 6-10 record but lost an insane # of games by a field goal or less while winning blowouts. The FO ranking of the Packers then differed significantly from most subjective rankings that had the Packers a lot lower. I believe and the numbers back me here – close games in football even out over the course of 3-4 seasons and it’s no wonder that the Packers have won most of their close games in the last year and a half.

Aaron Schatz (The founder of FO) once mentioned (I think in 2008) that his research told him that 3/7’ths of the outcome of the average NFL game could be attributed to a team’s offense, 3/7’ths to the defense and 1/7th to special teams. The 2011 Niners finished sixth in their overall DVOA ratings, first in special teams and second in defense. I know the point of metrics is not always to feel right to intuitive but these to me, just do. Just watching the sport over the last two-three years, my gut feeling though is we are in an age where offense defines closer to 4/7ths of the outcome. It will be interesting to research this more in the offseason. But a large part of the insane confidence I have in my beloved Packers is because of the above. They are really good and borderline great at the aspect of the game that I think accounts for more than 50% of the outcome. They are such a good, consistent, potent offense with very few interceptions and turnovers that it gives them a much higher margin for error in other aspects of their game.

This is the point in a discussion when the Niners fan pulls out the ’85 Bears and ’00 Ravens. I find it funny how famous a point of reference the 2000 Ravens are. Every discussion about the 2011 Niners seems to devolve in to a discussion where Alex Smith is a better version of Trent Dilfer and the Niners defense is this immovable object which will fool Brees and Rodgers in to submission. I find it funny that these discussions don’t account for the large number of teams that followed the same recipe with far less success since then. The ‘05 and ‘06 Bears never won a Superbowl. The ‘08 Titans and the ‘09 Ravens didn’t either. I think this is what behavioral scientists call omission bias, or is it selection bias?
So, what are your thoughts on DVOA? And what gives you the tiniest bit of confidence that this Niners unit is going to buck a decade long trend of exceptional quarterbacking winning Superbowls?

Go Pack, Go,

From: Gray, Mark
Sent: Monday, January 09, 2012 9:36 PM
To: Gray, Mark
Cc: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: E-mail exchanges this week?

That tebow was just for you, the “hypothetical” hater.

I must admit I’ve visited FO once or twice before, but found it a difficult site to navigate. Not that Advanced NFL Stats is much better, but at least it feels less cluttered than FO. Definitely a dearth of good NFL stat sites on the web, unlike baseball. When are you going to start up with ESPN and knock some sense into their stats department? QBR is utterly pointless; moreso because ESPN is hanging its hat on the stat.

But the FO rankings definitely pass the smell test; the 49ers at #6 does seem more representative than #13; otherwise, there’s not a whole lot of differences between the two sites. All we need is one more decent NFL statistics site, and we might be able to start developing a plurality. That’s a good idea, actually: A site that aggregates the primary statistic(s) of other sites would be pretty useful. Like the baseball simulation sites typically use all major predictive statistics when running probabilities for the next season’s outcome. Maybe we can even come up with some basic rankings based on QB rating (off/def), points scored, points allowed and field position (simple stats that would require very little computation) to build consensus.

One thing I forgot to mention was the other side of the coin for the Niners’ special teams: Just like their offense doesn’t have to go far to score points, their defense can give up some yards, even the occasional big play, and still not give up points. Field position can improve (or hinder) your defense’s margin for error. Because your hero Alex Smith and his offense doesn’t take risks, they also don’t cough up the ball very often, which contributes to their many field position “wins” game to game. (No, I’m not forgetting Tebow; his holiness is on another level, which leaves Alex as your hero.)

Regarding your 3-3-1 (or 4-2-1) split of offense-defense-special weight, I’ll just ask one thing: at what point does a team’s defensive ability become a liability? For instance, if you have a top-10 offense and top-20 defense, I bet you’ve got a dynasty in the making; unfortunately, the Saints (and Packers (to a lesser extent), and Patriots (to a greater extent)) have the nearly-worst defense in the league. Do you really believe that a top-10 offense can “hide” a bottom-10 defense? Especially when your offense starts to encounter teams that are more balanced or even more heavily skewed toward defense. Let’s take, I don’t know, the 49ers? as an example: top-20 offense, top-5 defense and special teams. On a pure ranking basis, without knowing the team names or getting all orgasmic about the QB (you love a hot Brees), how can you not like 20-3-2 to beat 2-28-13? Especially at home, which I think is typically considered a three-point advantage. That’s why I put so much importance into achieving the #2 seed; I knew the Niners would have next-to-no chance at New Orleans, but they look mighty good at home. Oh, by the way, the Saints have proven to be not nearly as good on the road (41 points/game versus 25 points/game) and they won’t be able to keep the Niners defense honest with any kind of run game (49ers front seven: where tailbacks stop and cry). Hard not to like the Niners chances on Saturday.

As I’ve stated numerous times, I’d love to see 49ers @ Packers for the NFC title (and, really, the NFL title*) because the Packers are very similar to the Saints, only a little better on defense (and special teams). Not sure if the 49ers could pull out a victory at Lambeau, but 20-3-2 at 1-24-8 should be an epic battle. I’d find a way to watch that one.

* Patriots are in the same mold as Saints and Packers, only worse on offense (by a hair) and defense. Whichever team beats the Saints should be able to beat the Pats.

In an ideal world, the 49ers would roll through the Saints, Packers and Patriots to earn the Lombardi and the haters would have to eat it.

Although I am interested to see if the Ravens will be at Gillette for the AFC title game. That should prove interesting too since the Ravens are in the same boat as the 49ers: totally underestimated due to their lack of offensive mastery. And Harbowl II for all the marbles would be pretty damn cool.

But I’m probably just rambling at this point. What do you have to say about your P-Men versus the G-Men? They’ve been pretty hot the past couple weeks; are you concerned?

Oh, and give it up for the man upstairs: Tim Tebow.

Please, god, just one fumble and one interception today.

One Response to “Counterpoints: E-mail exchanges with a Niners fan (Part I)”

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