Posted by & filed under cricket.

In late 2001, the International Cricket Council (ICC) decided that a system to provide bonus points in certain multi-nation One Day International (ODI) tournaments would be a good thing. The idea was that encouraging teams to chase down targets in fewer than 50 overs or to bowl out teams cheaply, would promote attacking cricket and reduce the number of games where the audience would lose interest. Countless ODIs where audience enthusiasm wanes completely when a team chasing 320 is reduced to 50/4 or a 100/6 were the stimuli for the rule change.

While the rule for bonus points in ODIs has added a secondary level of interest to many games (ala fantasy sports), it has affected the sport in other ways. Here below are my thoughts on the indirect unintentional ways in which the system is being used and the ways in which it has affected the game. I strongly believe that system of bonus points should be changed or not used as a tiebreak in the tournaments in which they are awarded. It is paramount to restore some lost fairness to the sport, participating teams and fan bases.

The bonus points system courtesy the 44 page PDF document at the ICC website is summarized as follows –

1 bonus point for any team that achieves victory with a run rate 1.25 times that of the opposition. A team’s run rate will be calculated by reference to the number of runs scored divided by the number of overs.balls faced. Where a side is all out, the number of overs to be used is the maximum number of
overs that side was otherwise eligible to face.

As the rule is written today, it does provide an incentive for teams to win games sooner than they otherwise would making it a more compelling spectacle for spectators and viewers. However the rule was never intended to help determine the better of or the best of multiple teams in a tournament. But by being an extra point (in a system where teams with the most points qualify for the finals), the rule that is applicable to spicing up individual games inadvertently ends up breaking ties between multiple teams with an identical win-loss record. Three teams with two wins each in a four nation round-robin tournament should count themselves as equally deserving of a spot in the final game of the tournament. After all, they all won the same number of games and lost the same number of games. This is the scenario we are likely going to end up with on the 20th of March after the Bangladesh vs. Sri Lanka game in the ongoing Asia Cup. However Pakistan are going to be treated differently from the two other teams they will be tied with on wins. This is by virtue of the bonus point they secured against the team already eliminated from the competition. At the end of 10 days and six games, that one win is going to be weighed a bit more than others.

I disagree with this. All wins should be equal. The objective of a team in a match is to defeat the opposition by scoring more runs in the same number of deliveries. Why is a one run win over spirited opposition or a six wicket win chasing 329 inferior to a 100 run win? Why should one bad day in a tournament or one unlucky day be weighed more than the sum total of other days in the same tournament?

The Net run rate (NRR) which is the most commonly used tie break in scenarios where teams have the same number of points (and not just the same number of wins) is actually a significantly superior metric to the bonus point when breaking ties between multiple teams with the same number of wins. It is fairer by being a metric that accounts for the team’s performance thru all the games in the league/preliminary stage of the corresponding tournament. It is a better indicator of the consistency of teams thru games. It minimizes the impact of one bad day at the office or the impact of weather on one or more games. It penalizes teams that lose heavily and eke out wins while rewarding the opposite.

Shouldn’t the intent of tournament organizers be that the best two teams play in the final of the tournament? Isn’t NRR a better indicator of that than total points (including bonus points)? Do we have to wait for a tournament where team A has more wins and fewer losses than team B but fails to advance because team B has more points thanks to a huge win or two?

The sooner someone understands this impact, the better for the game and multi-nation tournaments. Maybe a cash reward/fine such as the ICC has in place for teams that don’t bowl their overs in time would be a better system to retain interest in otherwise one-sided games! Maybe the bonus point system can exist but bonus points can be used as the second tie breaker to NRR? There is logical room for change here. Don’t you think?

Comments and feedback below much appreciated. If you are some one who has any influence over the game’s administrators, please forward my post to them.

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I could have chosen to defend Hinduism or Keynesian economics. I could have chosen to fight crime or raise awareness of the many things this world needs awareness about. Instead, I chose the life and times of Mr Rahul Dravid. He is the only cause I have ever really fought for. Insult me and I go blah! Question his skills and I become the president from ‘Independence Day‘. Question it some more or pretend like you can’t hear me, and I become the Incredible Hulk.

Since the summer of ’96, I have proudly represented Rahul Dravid at colleges, corporations and coffee shops. I was a Dravid fan before it was hip and I have been in more Dravid-Sachin debates with friends than is clinically safe.

I was there for the cause in the pre-Cricinfo age. I had to remind everyone that ‘slow’ is not the same as ‘boring’. I would much rather watch him get to his maiden test hundred than prepare for the all-important Board exam and chose to watch his maiden ODI hundred than attend one of the many college entrance exams. I was there during the 1999 World Cup reminding everyone that limited overs cricket did not necessarily mean limited skills cricket. I was there in 2000 during the darkest of days telling friends and family that he was squeaky clean and that meant something too.

I was there in 2001, savoring Kolkata in awe and disbelief. I was telling people “I told you so” even if I’d given up right about when they did. I watched him strike Jason Gillespie for a six (little did I know it would be the last time I see him in person) at Chennai and mocked the Sachintards with a “Now, what do you want next?” smirk. I waded thru the early 2000s with the ridiculous tone and look of a proud parent. I pumped my fists at the TV screen right after he did so at Adelaide.

I lectured chaddi buddies on the real meaning of being a team player the night after the Multan declaration. I counted the several memorable road wins and marvelled at his incredible consistency and sustained contributions. I defended his captaincy as one that was just right for the times.

I cried when he flailed away hopelessly that tragic Friday at an impotent Lankan bowling wondering why bad things happen to nice people and good captains. When he struggled thru a horrid patch in ’08 and ’09 I dug deep into the cliché truck to rave and rant about his Oh so permanent class. When he scored three centuries in four tests last English summer, I felt happier than when India won the World Cup. When he embarked on what I surely knew would be his last ever tour, I told my friends “This is the last cricket series I will ever watch!”.

None of this makes much sense. Surely I will watch more cricket and surely there will be many memorable cricketers and cricket matches in my lifetime. Surely, Rahul Dravid did not do as much for India and cricket as Sachin Tendulkar did. Surely, my life would be better and I’d be happier if my energies had been directed at things that directly impacted or concerned me. When my grandkids ask me in 2050 what it was I fought for, surely this answer is not going to evoke pride or passion!

I am not yet talented enough to figure out why this is the story of my life. There was something about an unassuming cricketer and how well he did his job every single day and how hard he worked every single day that appealed to me more than anything or any one else. There was sweat in his persistence at his job that showed he cared. I wish I cared, at something, at anything. There was skill in his judgement that I wished I had; at something, at any thing. There was a style to his batting that inspired me. I wish I could inspire someone. There was an eloquence to his speaking and a calm to his demeanor. Stone my house and I probably run to the madhouse. He was always above-board and under appreciated. He was and is who I want to be.

Thank you for the joys to last me a life time and for being the only cause I ever cared about. Thank you Rahul Dravid!

Posted by & filed under NFL.

The next week of the American sports news cycle is likely to be dominated by Peyton Manning. Several people have outlined their predictions on what happens to him once the Colts release him. The most common prediction on the internet seems to be him heading to Miami. Here’s a post on where I think he will and should end up when it’s all said and done!

I think Peyton Manning should and will go to the New York Jets.

Here’s why –

a) The Jets have managed to win 11, 13 and 8 games respectively in their last three seasons with below average NFL quarterbacking. Mark Sanchez’s salary cap number for 2012 is over 14 million dollars. As long as Peyton Manning can throw the football over 15 yards, he will be an upgrade over Sanchez. The Jets and Manning will look at the overall talent and coaching level on the team to believe that two years of a healthy Peyton will get the team in to the playoffs.

b) The Jets need to make a splash now. The other team from the city they represent won two Superbowls in five years while beating the Jets both years. While the Jets have been very consistent and have not had a losing season since 2007, their championship drought and the outspoken public persona of their coach have resulted in them being portrayed as the lovable losers of New York. The current management and coaching staff risk losing their jobs with another trophy-free season or two. Would they really like to have Sanchez hold the keys to their future or would they rather trust one of the greatest the NFL has seen?

c) The Jets just hired Tony Sparano to coach and run the offense. Tony Sparano is a veteran offensive line coach in-charge of a experienced and talented offensive line (two first round picks, a second round pick) that is trying to progress back to the mean after an injury and failure filled year. It is hard to think of another team that can promise the quality of protection to Manning that the Jets can with their set-up.

d) Peyton Manning does not enjoy playing his brother on a regular basis in real live NFL games. By playing for the Jets, he can ensure that he does not face his brother in a live regular season game till 2015! And does being in the same media market as Eli really bother him? All his life Manning’s enjoyed the big stage and I do not imagine this would faze him. If anything, he would like to end his career with a bang on a big stage with a huge media market than in the relative obscurity of Arizona or Kansas City.

e) Mike Tannenbaum (GM of the Jets) has been extremely discreet about past quarterback acquisitions. No one in the media predicted Jets’ marriages with Kellen Clemens, Brett Favre or Mark Sanchez. Swooping in on Peyton would be just the kind of thing I expect Tannenbaum to be able to do in conjunction with Rex Ryan.

f) Mark Sanchez is still very young and sitting on the sidelines for a year or two watching Peyton in close quarters is not going to hurt him. He has also shown himself to be a vocal and worthy leader who is also very conscious of his brand. Sanchez will win a million brownie points from a fawning football media for willing to be Peyton’s understudy. It will be a classic win-win with opportunities even for Sanchez to step in as the league’s best backup every now and then.

g) Reggie Wayne, Joseph Addai and (possibly) Jeff Saturday are all likely to be looking for work this season and next. Bringing them in to the Jets with some creative cap maneuvering (which Tannenbaum is renowned for) will allow Peyton to play and lead with some very familiar friends.

h) Rex Ryan is a proven defensive mastermind and having Peyton on his offense would allow Rex to focus even more on the area of the game he loves more. This in itself would be reason enough for the Jets to pursue Manning.

i) Tom Moore (Peyton’s long time QB coach) was with the Jets last season and is waiting to hear from them. I strongly suspect Tannenbaum is waiting until Manning is signed lest he give away any clues or signs that the Jets are in the Peyton sweepstakes. Adding Tom Moore, Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne to Santonio Holmes, Shonn Greene and Dustin Keller will go along way in alleviating concerns about the Jets offense in 2012.

So, there you go! That’s my prediction. Let’s wait and watch Peyton Manning get swooped up by the Jets as soon as he is released by the Colts. For those who thought the East Coast and New York City were already over covered in the media, you may want to shut down the internet for a while! Move over Lin-sanity, Hello Manning-hattan!

Manning in a Jets uniform courtesy

Posted by & filed under cricket, Media.

Most Indians who emigrate to the US have to constantly deal with questions from their self and from friends and family on why they choose to do so. It is a complex question that requires thought and nuance and the answers vary from individual to individual. For every day that one’s grateful for traffic-free commutes and non-stop electricity there’s the day when we’ve missed out on yet another family event. For every Superbowl party, there’s a quiz or wedding we’ve missed out on. The list is endless.

I was reminded of this constant debate while processing my Twitter feed in the last twenty-four hours. One of the things I am constantly grateful for in the US is I feel I have access to a much more advanced and nuanced media. Also, the people in power are just a touch more transparent and are held a bit more accountable. While this rarely makes a huge difference in my day-to-day life, it feels good to be reaffirmed on all that is right about the role of media and the responsibility held by people in power.

Take a brief look at this interview that CNN-IBN did with Krishnamachari Srikanth. Rajdeep Sardesai is the son of a rich former cricketer who got to his position within the media and has stayed there with little or no real accomplishments. Famous for being part of the paid media scandals and for fanning the flames of argumentative debate every night on TV, Rajdeep’s tone belies the innocuous questioning here. There is no context or analysis of the situation. There is just a sustained effort to play gotcha!

Srikanth on the other hand is the highly compensated honorary chairman of selectors at the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India). The BCCI is arguably the most powerful organization in world sport. To get to this spot and role of absolutely unaccountable power, Srikanth did not have to win the approval of anyone but a group of honorary mercenaries just like him. Srikanth gets to make more money than 99% of the world’s population, garners fame and benefits associated with his role, gets to put his kids and grand kids thru school, college and careers. He rarely has to face the media or fans who make the sport as popular as it is. And when he does give an interview like the one below, he tries to play the role of martyr who equates what he is doing to serving the nation (what an insult that is to people who really do!). He gives no visibility in to the process used to make arbitrary decisions and completely balks at the prospect of making tough choices for the here and now.

Does it ever occur to either man here that there’s a million people who’d do their jobs for free??


Then take a listen to Bill Simmons interview President Obama –


This is by no means a hard-hitting problem solving interview. But there’s a mutual respect, a respect for the audience and a banter that is so missing in most Indian media interviews. It also speaks of what’s possible here in the US! A sports blogger and son of a high school teacher gets to speak with a man who went from community organizer to the seat of the Presidency. Any chance this scenario will play out in India any time soon?

Neither interview purports to solve world problems but only one of these feels right. Bill Simmons is by no means David Frost. I just hope that some day more people in power in India are interviewed by more people with smarts. Indian politics, sports and movies needs their own Bill Simmons and an alternate media. It’s been way too long.

Posted by & filed under cricket.

Just over fifteen years to this date, Sachin Tendulkar made his most memorable One Day International (ODI) hundred yet. The venue and city were so nondescript that neither Sachin nor the Indian team would ever visit the town again. The scenario though would be one that’d play out on television screens across India many times over time and again.

Going into that Sunday, India needed to not just win over a very average world worst Zimbabwe squad. They needed to win such that their Net Run Rate (NRR) was higher than Zimbabwe’s at the end of the game. Coming into the game, India had been winless on the tour, Javagal Srinath had tried and failed spectacularly at being a pinch hitter and Sachin Tendulkar was en route to having the worst year that an Indian captain would ever have. (For those who think India have it bad today, India would win eight out of their 48 international commitments in the year 1997!!!!)

Losing the game at Benoni or not making it to the final would have shocked and surprised no one. A fairly insipid bowling performance in the morning meant India needed 241 to win at about a run a ball to earn the right to get slaughtered by the hosts in the final. A Sunday evening TV audience of millions tuned in to see how long Sachin would last. On a pitch where the ball barely came on to the bat and batting in a lineup that had no real leadership, Sachin turned on ‘Masterclass mode’. Eight fours and a six were sideshows in a two-hour demonstration of aggressive running, concentration and masterful shepherding of a lineup that had precious little international experience. Every stroke carried the aura of the one superhuman on the field and every stroke revealed the determination that was needed to ensure India would not be shamed out of the tournament by the world’s lowest ranked and rated team. Ajay Jadeja and Robin Singh would eventually steer the team to victory but no one would mistake their partnership for the reason behind the win.

When Indialogy is analyzed by our successors and aliens in 2554 A.D., that 1997 Sunday in Benoni would be a snapshot for all that was Indian cricket in the 1990s. A sport burgeoning in popularity, a nation of a hundred million TV viewers craving a hero, a team laying it all on the shoulders of one genius and the genius delivering ever so often in circumstances and settings that deserved far less.

As February 28 2012 dawns, I look back at that Benoni Sunday for inspiration and deja vu. The Tuesday at Hobart could be the last remotely relevant One Day international Sachin Tendulkar plays in. And I hope the hopelessness of the entire tour, the gloomy days ahead for Indian cricket and the overall incompetence of the squad push India’s greatest citizen to a place only he can go to. And by doing that here’s hoping he finally unloads himself off the unbearable weight of the hundredth hundred while steering the team to the finals of a triangular tournament. A tournament we’d all probably forget in a couple of years and a finals that in all likelihood will not go India’s way. Just like the 90’s, Just like when it all began!

Posted by & filed under cricket.

The highly profitable, completely autonomous and all-powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced yesterday that all Ranji Trophy games would be played at neutral venues. I can confirm with sources both anonymous and real that this was no Valentine’s Day prank or fake tweet gone viral! This is for real. I try to not react instinctively and emotionally to big sweeping decisions. So I processed this for the better part of a day to try to figure out if there was some three-dimensional chess to this that I could not see through yet. If there is some deeply thoughtful and functional element to this idea, please do let me know in the comments or via email or twitter ‘cos right now I cannot see it at all.

To me, this idea has all the radical change and apple cart upsetting needed to quiet those who think the board isn’t doing enough but in a manner designed to distract attention and accountability from those most in power and control. It is the equivalent of the CEO of a technology firm asking all employees to learn accounting and to work standing up all day! Yeah, it probably makes the workers more flexible and marketable but does nothing towards improving the main product of the firm.

There are several ways in which I find the idea frustrating and flawed. Here’s the list –

a) Shiny object for fans and media – If you are not familiar with the shiny object syndrome, here’s a primer – . This decision allows the BCCI to answer any question related to the performance of the national team with a canned answer on how the domestic competition is being revolutionized radically and how the fans and media should be patient before calling for any other changes. They will technically be correct in that they have proposed a radical idea that could change the team and performance radically. However, it doesn’t solve any of the plethora of other problems such as regional parochialism, bowling depth, quality of fielding and lack of attention to the domestic competition. It is a small cosmetic change that discomforts the system enough to be considered radical while immunizing the stakeholders from any further criticism. I do not trust the media outlets that cover cricket today to not be distracted enough by this to constantly point out the various other points of failure across Indian cricket. I have even less faith in the BCCI that they would not use this as a shiny object. I am almost certain that the Chairman of selectors is not beyond using the idea of neutral venues for Ranji Trophy in an answer to a question about the Decision Review System (DRS).

b) Delayed gratification and hence delayed accountability
– One of the great advantages for the BCCI in implementing and announcing this idea now is that it pushes the date of measurement of success of this endeavor to a date far away. They would be correct in asking all of us to be civil and patient with this ludicrousness for two seasons so we get a good sample size before we comment. And the good honorary folks at the top can go back to making millions, ignoring many real issues with domestic cricket and postpone public and media scrutiny to a day in 2014 when the attention would probably shift to the central elections or to the 2015 world cup. If the BCCI had to change a coach or change selectors or change the structure of domestic cricket now, the impact and scrutiny would be swift. If the BCCI chose to change the structure of the National Cricket Academy it could cause real short-term pain to people in power. Instead now, everyone gets to keep their jobs for a lot longer and domestic cricketers get to be part of an experiment they have no say in.

c) Muddled missions – I still do not understand what the mission here is. Apparently the goal here is to get teams to play on neutral venues at all times and it is being done to improve the quality of cricket in the country. I don’t get how these two goals are correlated. At the international level, home teams always prepare pitches to suit the home team in home conditions. This goes with the home team’s motivation to do everything in its power to win. This is neither illegal nor unethical. Why change this at the domestic level ?

Also, every team played an equal number of games home and away in the league phase. So where was the advantage for a particular team over the course of the season? Knockout games were hosted by teams that finished with better records in the league phase. There is nothing about this that screams SYSTEMIC FAILURE or UNFAIR, to me.

If the goal is to make sure every pitch is sporting and representative of the Melbourne Cricket Ground at all times, is it really going to be this simple? In this age of spot fixing and cellphone ubiquity are we really sure that curator of ground X cannot form a coalition with curators from grounds Y and Z to force outcomes of their choice?

Sanjay Bangar’s quote with respect to this Cricinfo piece is also full of WTFness. He is happy that teams with poor facilities at their venue can now get to use better ones more often. The fact that the converse holds true as well and that this is the exact opposite of a meritocracy seems to have escaped both him and the correspondent.

d) Ineffective – The only point a proponent of the mission here can make is – If playing in alien conditions all the time is meant to make the player better, this is the best idea ever!

There’s two issues with this hypothesis. One, If that’s the case, why not go the same route for the IPL as well? Would the president of the BCCI have his Chennai Super Kings play all of their games in Allahabad and Gwalior? I didn’t think so:). Secondly it ignores the pride associated with representing a team in its home town. Would Sachin Tendulkar have played for this long for his country if he never got to play in front of his home fans? Are athletes going to be motivated by the sheer mercenary element of sport alone and be okay with the proverbial two men and a dog watching at all times? I surely don’t think so.

Of all the ways to make domestic cricket better and to prepare cricketers better for international cricket, this strikes me as being very ineffective.

e) Dilutes tradition and insults fans even more
– I am not someone who respects tradition for tradition sakes. But this idea has a complete disregard for the way a tournament has been played for nearly 80 years. It strikes me as yet another callous and ludicrous move by a body that is so focused on holding on to its autonomy, power and money that not much thought is given to protect anything associated with the game. Was any thought given to the families of those cricketers who play in the domestic competition? Are they going to have to not watch their loved ones play ? To go through with a sweeping change like this is the equivalent of a military coup to avoid criticism. Organizations do not last very long when they make choices like this. It is yet another slap in the face of the only sport in which India has any post-independence history and of the fans who make the sport what it is.

I will have some alternative suggestions for the BCCI in my next post. In the meantime, I predict that this idea will prove to be ineffective and will crash and burn to being voided in about two years.

Please let me know what your friends and you think about this via Twitter or in the comments.

Posted by & filed under Indian abroad, Media.

Earlier, popular Indian blogger Sidin Sunny Murakami Vadukut broke his self imposed blogging-as-a-metaphor-for-eating strike. In doing so he unleashed a post so well thought out, funny and influential that for a while I mistook the much retweeted link to be a Ramesh Srivats tweet.

The post is an excellent read for any one remotely interested in India, democracy or politics. It clearly outlines a list of problems, a list that is very hard to quibble with. Sidin’s proposed solutions range from the primal (“guillotine” of corrupt public servants) to the functional (benchmark number of hours in office for parliamentarians and question hours ala Britain). They range from the utopian (reform of the mini nations that are the police and judicial bureaucracies) to the common-sensical (treat the North Eastern part of the country in a more fair and inclusive manner). Above everything else, it is the kind of post that had me re-reading and re-reading and thinking out my own wish list for the country and political system.

Here’s my list –

Planning and implementing a fundamentally different transportation network

Cities, towns and villages in India face the difficult math of supporting the cohabitation of a continually increasing population on land and resources meant for far fewer people. Land is scarce, money is scarce and the difficulties and logistics of getting from Place A to Place B are likely to choke and take away from the beneficial effects of several macro policy changes. The ‘chalta hai‘ attitude that has enabled the last two generations of lower and middle class Indians to put up with bad trains,buses and roads will eventually bubble over into seething anger or hopelessness.

A progressive government that seeks to make lives better will come up with the blueprint for a private-public partnership that will allow for significantly improved means of transportation for people in all parts of the country. In my view, improving day-to-day mobility will help in overall social mobility. A government that sees this as a challenge and works towards solving it like it were a food or housing crisis will have my vote. A government that allows people greater freedom in mobility will be a government I trust is working for the people.

Restricting the number of no-confidence motions in the Lok Sabha

My next wish/dream is for a fundamental procedural change in the way the central government works. India’s unique diversity in terms of languages, religions and cultures creates tensions and polarization that is rarely experienced in most world societies and nations. It is really hard for a political party to have a presence in the majority of the country. This is not a temporary phenomenon or a fixable symptom. It is what it is. A visionary government will review the recent past, analyze the demographics and conclude that there is an inevitability to coalitions of several disparate political forces being in control at the federal level. Coalition politics will constantly lead to tyranny by the minority where the weakest links in a coalition will hold disproportionate force in policy making. Veteran observers of Indian politics will be very familiar with this.

My wish is for the next government to put a cap on the effect that this coalition way of politics has, by capping the number of No-Confidence motions possible in a calendar year/term. This policy can be in the form of a discrete number or a grace period. Both the ruling coalition and the opposition can agree on an arbitrary future date when such a cap would go into effect thus lending it flexibility and avoiding charges of instant bias. This would ensure that people get what they vote for. The weakness of a coalition will not be the reason why a majority government cannot implement the policies it desires. Fear of No-confidence motions and fear of the minority will not thwart the implementation of desired majority policies. This also make the apportioning of the blame a much easier task. When political party A advances agenda X, the average media member and citizen will be able to clearly state the reason behind the failure or success of A. This to me is far healthier to advancing the democratic process and the voice of the people for the people than what passes now for the same. A party that boldly pursues this procedural change is a party I will trust.

Support extensive research of social mobility and use relevant information to drive public policy

For far too long, Indian politicians have assumed that the path to upward mobility and access to a decent life is through government regimented quotas. There’s few aspects of Indian life where the reservation quota system has not played a role. Iconic images like this one below have conveyed the public outcry over the same. But too many vote banks and too many metaphorical applecarts need to be upset for the quota system to be reformed completely. Also the quota system while being openly discriminatory and hence unfair, is one of reasonable efficacy. There are more Dalit bankers and lawyers today than there were in 1987. That is progress.

However, my related wish is for the next government to invest wisely and immensely in data and research on all possible factors that affect social mobility. A constant collection and processing of data related to what works from amongst a myriad of factors such as local industrial environment, availability of arable land, quality of public education etc. would enable policy makers to make policies that are data based. The quota system could exist in parallel with a policy that encourages public schools to teach .NET or government hospitals to use SMS. There are several events and metrics that go into making the people in the most complex and diverse nation be happy or angry. Maybe the Gujarat success story is not reproducible nation wide. Maybe the Kerala literacy rate is cultural and hard to capture. But a government that invests in human capital to collect data, research it and use it to drive policy making will serve India better than one of any ideology.

Use cellphone penetration to drive information and policy

Serendipitously India has emerged as the world’s most significant cellphone market. Moore’s law has some how overcome illiteracy, class structure, widespread bureaucracy and language disparities to place a communication device in virtually every Indian home.

The next Indian government will use this device to advance the causes of happiness and progress. The cellphone’s two most unique features in India are the text message and the missed call. A government that can leverage this existing boon to fight corruption, pay bills, track individuals and provide services will be one that will advance the cause of the most Indians.

Rein in the BCCI

This last wish of mine is part trivial, part serious. Cricket is beyond a religion in India today. I am fairly certain that the effect and impact it has socially and psychologically on few hundred million Indians is unfair and untenable. But the truth is that we’re at a point where it defines the country and the people almost more than any thing else. With this context in mind, a new government that accounts for this and enforces a fairly transparent carrot-and-stick approach with the Board for Control of Cricket in India would win several brownie points from me. I am selfishly tired of wasting way too much of my life following my country in a sport where the large percentage of decisions are taken by an unaccountable bureaucratic authority. A government that cares for cricket is a government I will vote for!

Please forward these thoughts to your friends and family. Please respond with any feedback or comments you have.

Posted by & filed under NFL.

Parts I and II of the intense conversation between me (die-hard Packer fan) and Mark (@bashdazzle on Twitter and die-hard 49ers fan) prior to the NFC divisional playoff games in January 2012 are here and here respectively.

Part III where I finally put my shock and disappointment in to words and is right below Mark’s polite and succinct commiserations here –

From: Gray, Mark A
Sent: Sunday, January 15, 2012 11:24 PM
To: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: RE: E-mail exchanges this week?

When your national team is England, long surpassed by other national teams in the sports they originated, you’ll realize that English people long gave up any jingoism around the national teams. That’s probably why I grew up not liking cricket, at least.

If I was asked which QB would have the best performance this weekend, I would have said Rodgers without hesitation. I think we both just assumed the Packers would be hosting the NFC championship game, though I suggested (jokingly, sort of) that the Giants would pull an upset. I’m not sure if Alex Smith put up the best statistics of the bunch, but he probably had the biggest game/performance of maybe this whole post-season.

The Saints-Niners game was a rollercoaster for me: loving the early tone from Whitner, the defense and special teams, disbelieving the early lead, knowing that there was no way it was safe, and getting frustrated with the offense throughout the middle of the game. (How could they not run time of the clock and take the ball out of Brees’ hands? They were begging for him to beat them.) That one TD pass to Meachem (sp?) was beautiful and terrible at the same time. When the Saints took the lead in the 4th, it was pretty much expected to happen. The designed run and touchdown by Smith on 3rd-and-7 blew me away, then the Graham TD kicked my ass. And THEN Vernon Davis. Oh man, I love that guy. (I had a hard time picking between his and Willis’ jersey, ultimately choosing the latter, but now I want both. ) His performance was amazing – a culmination of the past few weeks of improvement as he finally took possession of the 49ers offense. It’s like Braylon’s release was notice to VD that he’s gonna be The Man in clutch situations. So glad the Niners went for the TD instead of a tying field goal (maybe Harbaugh learned from the Broncos-Steelers game how that’s not a good choice, especially with the Saints’ ability to score touchdowns), but I’m not as impressed by the winning TD as much as the big VD reception leading up to it. Dude was an absolute monster. Again, if you asked which TE would have the better performance in that game, who wouldn’t say Graham? But then VD gives the best TE post-season performance ever. Amazing.

Funny how easily ppl forget the offensive incompetence for most of that game because of the redemptive performance and win in the final minutes. I’m still not too thrilled about it, though. The Niners definitely did not dominate or have a complete game; with five turnovers created, they really should have. It should not have been that close. But I’ll take the trauma of that game and the win, no doubt.

Hard to be too happy, though, because I really wanted 49ers-Packers for the NFC title, though mostly for selfish reasons (for the 49ers to go there and beat the Packers would be a statement). And it would have been great having our teams go head-to-head in that situation. Giants seriously stole that thunder, but I have no idea what happened since the Niners game on Saturday was my allowed break from husband/father duties and Sunday was not – so I only saw the beginning and end of that game. I need to understand more about what happened there, but it sounds as if the Packers pretty much beat themselves. Rodgers, in particular, didn’t have a typical 2011-2012 game either. Definitely sad it ended up that way; I hope you don’t get too much smack from Niners fans this week since that’s just rubbing salt in your wounds.

That’s my emotional reaction to this weekend; I’ll probably have more logical analysis coming as the week progresses… if you’ll take it.

From: Sundararaman, Shyam
Sent: Sunday, January 31, 2012 11:24 PM
To: Gray, Mark A
Subject: RE: E-mail exchanges this week?


It has taken me fifteen freaking days to find the strength and words to overcome the pain and disappointment I felt on 1/15/2011. Sport really shouldn’t mean this much or hurt this much. Teams I’ve rooted for have lost a lot of games. Indian cricket in the 1990s choked, collapsed and often convinced me I was masochistic. The Packers had an annual Favre turd delivery to puncture hopes and dreams for much of the 2000s. As a bandwagon Red Sox fan, I even watched the Aaron Boone home run in New York city with Yankee fans! Like most truly devoted sports fans, I watch games with the expectation that things will not break the right way for the individual/team I am rooting for. I reverse jinx with the best of them and the pain has almost always been greater than the joy.

With all that said, I did not visualize the Packers losing to the 9-7 regular season Giants. And definitely not in the way it transpired. I think the news cycle moves so fast these days that the magnitude of the upset has not truly sunk in to most media and fans. Prior to this game the Packers had been the epitome of consistency for not one, not two but nearly three seasons. They were 35 – 7 in the last 42 games started by Rodgers. Every one of these losses was by less than a touchdown and three of the seven were in Overtime. They were healthier than they had been all year. They were coming off two weeks’ rest and a win over a playoff team while resting many starters. The Giants needed a combination of crazy unlikely events, plays and results in the last four weeks to even get to the playoffs. At no point all week prior did any of my masochistic sensors flare up. After your Niners played their best game in a decade (it was also the best NFL game I think I watched ever) to clinch a berth in the Championship game, I was giddy and excited about a weeklong exchange of barbs with everyone I knew, including you.

And then, it happened.

Losing 37-20 hurt. Watching Rodgers struggle all day to find the open man even when protected really well against a fierce pass rush hurt. Watching the ball catchers do all but catch the ball (6 drops) hurt. Watching the coach use his timeouts like they were AT & T rollover minutes hurt. Characteristically bad tackling and uncharacteristically sloppy fumbles and turnovers (as many fumbles lost in one game as in rest of the season) hurt. Giving up seven points on a ‘Hail Mary’ hurt.

I have been thinking about why this loss hurt so bad. After all, fans of most teams would be okay with going 15-2 a season after winning the Super Bowl. Hell, offer me this deal at any time in the last decade and I take it without blinking. But yet this one hurt and caused a few restless if not sleepless nights. I think I finally figured out why and I am gonna list it out below. Tell me what you think?

You and I are Moneyballers. That’s how we even became friends. I remember that being the first topic of our first conversation at work. And the most fundamental principle of any one who subscribes to this school is that past performance based on large sample sizes portends future performance. For nearly a decade now, I have adopted principles based on the same to explain and analyze sports and life. It just made more sense that way. Of course I am aware of standard deviation and margin for error and the odds of specific events transpiring. I’m also aware of this . And yet, rarely have the principles of extracting analysis from large data sets failed me.

And for the first time I can remember, a team that both my heart and head thought would definitely win, lost. I doubt this will be the last and I think it will definitely make think of sports and specific games very differently. But for now I am still extremely bogged down by the NFC championship game and Superbowl that could have been.

Thank You,

Posted by & filed under NFL.

From: Sundararaman, Shyam
Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 12:40 AM
To: Gray, Mark
Cc: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: E-mail exchanges this week?


Apologies for the delay. I did bad today in not prioritizing what is truly important.

I am glad you are on board about the good guys at Football outsiders. I think they haven’t changed their look since like 2005. At some point they’ll upgrade to a better user experience which I think will make them an easier and more popular read.

I do understand the value of special teams even with the new kickoff rules. The Packers have had abysmal special teams till this season. Randall Cobb, Tim Masthay and Mason Crosby are deadly good thus changing a huge long overdue liability in to a significant strength. I will concede that even with all this, the 49ers special teams units are a class apart. I truly believe that the metrics bear out their value and quality. I am just not sure that it is going to be enough to defeat two future hall of fame quarterbacks in 8 days?

Harbaugh spoke fondly of the hire of Brad Seely when it happened. Seely coached up some great New England and Cleveland units. I remember some really good trick plays by the 2010 Browns special teams especially in their stunning upset win at New Orleans! Have the partisan fan boys media members who cover the 49ers brought up that game yet? I will not be surprised if Harbaugh tries really hard to steal a possession or two this weekend via a fake punt or an onside kick or an Alex Smith completion (I kid!). If a surprise trick play works, the 49ers will be well positioned to pull off the upset. I just hope that such a play doesn’t eclipse the catch in the hearts and minds of all 49ers fans. For all those who became 49ers fans this season (describes everyone I know at work), here’s some information about ‘the catch’.

As far as your question on when defense becomes a liability, here’s my short answer – Sometimes, in a one game sample size but very rarely, over the course of the season!

Long answer – The rules in today’s NFL favor passing. The odds are just really good that a great passer and coaches will take advantage of these rules over 20 minutes in a 60 minute game. This is simply what Peyton Manning, Brady and Rodgers do. And the fact is that this is usually enough to overcome defensive mistakes that the team makes. If baseball rules were altered so that walks advanced runners by two bases instead of one, wouldn’t you say that the better offense would win way more often? Football rules today are kind of like that and smart teams (mine, not yours) have taken advantage of this. Makes sense? Where am I wrong?

Over a period of time such as five or ten years, I will always take a team that ranks near the top in passing offense and near the bottom in other categories over one that is the mirror image. Football Outsiders has also shown that passing offense correlates much more with year-over-year repeatability, consistency and continuous success than defense does. At some fundamental level this probably has something to do with how offense is usually proactive while defense is reactive. Okay?

This week’s Packer game – I am not terribly worried about the Giants. I do believe in any given Sunday and do account for the possibility that in five years’ there may be a movie about Ted Thompson where he admits that his shtick doesn’t work in the playoffs. However I have watched this Packer team thru the season and they’re really hard to beat over 60 minutes. The offense is prone to start slow and the defense will have several WTF moments when it resembles a sieve. However, they usually figure stuff out, get very good line play and exceptional quarterback play that makes them hard to contain over 60 minutes. I don’t like that they’re favored by 9 points by Vegas but I do like their chances to win very much.

By the time Saturday rolls around and your beloveds topple the Saints, I might get into crazy reverse-jinx mode and fear the Giants like they were the ’85 Bears on defense and the 2011 Packers on offense (see, what I did there?). But if I am being honest, I am not worried. Aaron Rodgers >>> Eli Manning and sometimes that’s all it takes.

So tell me, what do you think of my theories above on offense, how do you sleep at night knowing your team could have gotten Rodgers and enjoyed this and instead got this and also why MS WORD auto corrects Harbaugh to Herbage?

Go Pack, Go

From: Gray, Mark
Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 12:45 AM
To: Gray, Mark
Cc: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: E-mail exchanges this week?


FO has an article reviewing the wildcard games wherein they totally missed the point:

“Brees’ numbers may not look historically great, but he gets a big boost in DYAR for playing so well against Detroit, which was one of the league’s better pass defenses this year.”

The Saints were able to keep the Lions honest by exploiting their 20th-ranked run defense. No matter how good the Lions’ passing defense is, they couldn’t ignore the run game. Although maybe, if I was the Lions, I would have dimed up the defense and invited the Saints to run (and taken the ball out of Brees’ hands). How is this relevant for Saturday? The 49ers, and their #1 run defense, would love to have the Saints waste downs running the ball.

How much of the Lions-Saints game did you watch? Something went horribly wrong for the Lions in the second half of that game, but I didn’t see enough to witness any obvious transition.

From: Sundararaman, Shyam
Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 4:04 PM
To: Gray, Mark
Cc: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: E-mail exchanges this week?

I watched a lot of the game but at a really noisy Yardhouse . Have you been to one? It’s a fun chain with great food and beer.

Anyways I am not sure FO was wrong in their praise of Brees. Over 16 regular season games, teams averaged 240 passing yards and 38 attempts a game against the Lions. In the playoff game, the Saints threw the ball 43 times and nearly doubled that yardage! Over 16 regular season games, teams averaged 26 rushes a game against the Lions at 5 yards/run. The Saints ran it ten more times and if their game ending kneel downs are excluded, they average about the same. So their rushing offense performed up to the median NFL team while their passing offense was almost twice as good as one. Whether it was the running that helped with the passing yardage or if it was yards after catch is up for debate and analysis based on play by play breakdown but praising the Saints passing game for being uniquely great on that day seems fair to me.


P.S – All stats courtesy

From: Gray, Mark A
Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 4:22 PM
To: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: RE: E-mail exchanges this week?

Limited set of locations for Yardhouse, so no, I haven’t been.

Yes, New Orleans has had a very nice run over the last nine weeks and they did have a very good offensive game against the Lions. I’m not saying FO is wrong so much as they are being too narrow with this particular statistic. It’s a popular complaint with stat usage; you can cherry-pick statistics and make any sort of misinformed argument. It might be worse than using no statistics. You did more legwork than FO probably did for their article; how long did that take? Just sayin’.

Of course, I’ve probably committed many such crimes in my ramblings, but fortunately I’m the premier source of nothing – relied upon by no one.

BTW, do you remember the bet? We should probably post it up on the blog for all the world to see. 

From: Sundararaman, Shyam
Sent: Saturday, January 14, 2012 2:44 AM
To: Gray, Mark
Cc: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: E-mail exchanges this week?

What was our bet again? I think it was something to do with our IM status or Twitter display pic, right? Remind me, please. I have genuinely forgotten.

Thank You,

From: Gray, Mark
Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 1:45 PM
To: Gray, Mark
Cc: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: E-mail exchanges this week?

What’s truly important? NFL playoffs, naturally.

I think you’re starting to become a believer; certainly your tone changed from “Saints! Saints! Saints!” to a more measured “Saints and Packers?!”, which implies you think the Niners can beat one but not both, so we’re making progress. I’m not too concerned about the Path To The Superbowl; for me, it’s One Game At A Time (yes, both are clichés, but I think you get the point). After the 49ers “upset” the Saints, I’ll start to worry about the next game. And when that happens, you’ll have a whole ‘nother week to milk this thread. That will be great theatre for us.

Funny you mentioned a trick play Seely previously used against the Saints because he did exactly that with the Rams – reusing the same trick play against the same team. So there’s a precedence, and I’d definitely expect the 49ers to open up a bag of tricks if they’re behind in Saturday’s game.

I don’t agree with your assessment that “defense is reactive” because the truly good defenses force even the best offenses to adapt (react) to their capabilities. I alluded to this in my bonus message: If the Saints want to run the ball, they need to counteract the 49ers defensive strength. If the Saints believe, as you suggest, that their offense can do whatever they want, they’re going to receive a very rude awakening. I realize that your whole point of “proactive”-“reactive” is meant for during the game, but I’d disagree there too. Every offense has multiple plays ready prior to each snap and they pick one (“let it roll!”) or the other (“kill!”), depending on the look a defense presents to the QB. After the snap, yes, defenses are mostly reactive, but the good ones can scheme up something special (pressure, blitz, excellent coverage) that forces the offense to improvise (react). It would be an interesting statistic to measure how many offensive plays break down (percent of total) and the success rate of broken-down plays versus schemed plays. (Think Randall Cunningham as the master of the broken play, then think of Tim Tebow having all the time in the world against the Steelers last weekend.)

The aggregate sample size of an NFL season isn’t large enough to discount game-to-game variance, but you’re right that any defensive liabilities would be minimized during the regular season. Only during the post-season, we’re back to the one-game sample and a defensive liability could be exploited (again, think how the Broncos maimed the Steelers’ defense – and they’re #7 overall!). Worse defenses provide more potential liabilities; losing a game in the playoffs means you’re out, but worse it’s the source of the last impression from that season. I’d hate to be a Steelers fan right now….

I have one quibble with your comparison of the pass-favored NFL to the potential of a two-base walk in MLB: I just don’t believe that it’s that imbalanced. If anything, having a good defense in this pass-crazy era with all the touch fouls means your defense is that much better than defenses of 15-20 years ago. Cornerbacks, for example, got away with so much more in the past than they do now; just think of the skill it takes to cover a receiver (someone likely bigger and faster than you) when there are so many rules in his favor.

Since my lunch hour is coming to a close, I’m going to save the Rodgers/Smith debate (and my sadness therein) for next week. Instead, I’ll part with the following question: Which Eli Manning will show up on Sunday?

Good Eli?

Or Bad Eli?

From: Sundararaman, Shyam
Sent: Saturday, January 14, 2012 2:44 AM
To: Gray, Mark
Cc: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: E-mail exchanges this week?

So I got busy with work and watching my national cricket team take a gigantic dump. Since you don’t ever root for nations in team sports, you probably can’t empathize with the worst kind of hopelessness, a nationalistic one! Cricket is too commonly used as a metaphor for India and right now the nation feels about as down on itself as I remember.

Anyways back to the football. Twelve hours to go for the Saints vs. Niners and I don’t think I could be more excited for a game not involving the Packers. As the week’s progressed, I have come to grips with the scenario and possibility of the Niners winning a close game. It must be all the media talk that has made the Giants vs. Niners NFC championship game a foregone conclusion. Or it must be the fact that I live and work in Niner Bandwagon Country. Coworkers, grocery store tellers and friends are all insanely confident that the Niners are going to the Superbowl. Wearing my Packer gear around town (like I have done since 2005), I do feel a lot like a liberal working at Fox News. Every person spews the same mantra at me. Defense and special teams are tax cuts for the rich and Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are abortionists!

There’s a Mediterranean breakfast place next door to where I live. The guy speaks with the most stereotypical Mediterranean accent. He took my order for a egg and cheese wrap on Wednesday, took my money and then said ,”I am your rival.” It took my sleepy self a few seconds to process the fact that this was Niner trash talk! I got to chatting him up only to find out that he was a Berkeley native who went to Cal. He obviously has high regard for Aaron Rodgers but swears by Harbaugh and says the rest of the playoff offenses stand no chance against the Niner defense. While the wrap was yummy and the conversation fun, I saw pretty quickly that my odds of swaying his opinion were about as good as an Alex Smith 3’rd and 8 completion. With coworkers and friends it’s been rinse and repeat of the same. The only way Niner fans (excluding you of course) could be more irrational is if Tebow was a 49er.

Just for the week (as a Packer fan in California) between this Sunday and next I would so like a Niner win today. It would be the most fun week of my ‘waiting for a sporting event’ life! But reality bites and I am not sure passion, defense, effort and special teams can overcome significantly superior quarterback play.

I’ll have my unbiased thoughts on which Eli Manning will show up and how many snaps Matt Flynn should play, tomorrow. In the meantime, Best of luck and may your Niners win! I look forward to you calling me at about 4:45 (PST) rather than the other way round.

Thank You,

Posted by & filed under NFL.

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.