Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday sports page 

[] Do the Colts under-perform in the playoffs? With All-World Peyton Manning at quarterback, a lot of fans and commentators think they ought to have more than just one Super Bowl win during the 21st century. They said it before last week's Super Bowl, and after it they were saying it again.

So I looked at the numbers. In 18 playoff games during the Peyton Manning era, the 1999 - 2009 seasons, the Colts have a record of 9-9, .500. But how strong were they compared to their opponents?

Using Pythagorean ratings* to determine team strength, the average Colt playoff team has had a regular season winning percentage strength of .662 (or 10.6 - 5.4 in a 16 game season). The average Colt opponent playoff team has had a winning strength of .689 (11 - 5).

So the average Colt playoff team has been slightly weaker than its opponent. Knowing that, a 9-9 record isn't less than would be expected after all. It actually might be a tad on the upside.

(* a method more accurate at predicting future game outcomes than using past W-L record, based on points for/against ratio, with data from and explained at Pro Football

[] Who really won the Super Bowl? The Vegas sports books.

[] Are the New Jersey Nets the worst team in the history of NBA basketball? With a W-L record of 4-48 at this writing, they are on pace to smash the previous record in futility of 9-73 set by the Philadelphia 76ers of 1973.

But Dave Berri takes a close look at them and says: Nah, they're only the third-worst team in the last 26 years. For they rest, they've just been unlucky.

[] Did the Olympics bankrupt Greece? Well, Greece is broke again. ("Greece has been in default roughly one out of every two years since it first gained independence in the nineteenth century", says Ken Rogoff, who's the expert on such things.)

Victor Matheson at The Sports Economist tells us that when Greece hosted the 2004 Olympics it "broke the bank", spending 5% of GDP on the Games. Then the Olympics lost money (as they all do) and "Greece suffered an Olympic-sized hangover with GDP growth falling to its lowest level in a decade". All of which amounted to a "large but overlooked" contributor to its crisis today.

Well, maybe. It's too much to say the Olympics by itself did the deed, though it is certainly true Greece "couldn't afford" them. But an unwise one-time expenditure of 5% of GDP didn't break them. Today's deficit of 13% of GDP running annually is what's breaking them.

When Greece won the Olympics bid its deficit was a modest 3% of GDP. By 2004 it was up to 7.5% of GDP. But the Olympics didn't do all of that, it was just one of many politically driven bad deals that did that, and which have since driven its deficit to 13%. I'd say the Olympics were more a symptom of Greece's problem -- politicians' worsening addiction to wasteful spending -- than the problem itself.

Maybe we in the US should pay heed. The US deficit is running at near 11% of GDP, or maybe a lot more. Like Greece, you can afford it for a while, and then you can't.