01/09/2007 12:00AM

Analyst nails football contest triple


A lot of football handicappers dream of winning the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest, which this year had 416 entries at $1,500 apiece and a first-place prize of $249,600. There were two more high-end contests this year, with the Glory of the Gridiron (70 entries at $2,000 apiece for a top prize of $70,000) at Harrah's Entertainment properties and The Challenge at the Station Casinos (208 entries at $1,000 apiece for a top prize of $104,000).

But if you think three people had their dream come true, you'd be wrong. Robert Burns, 66, a retired financial analyst from Greensboro, N.C., swept the triple crown of football handicapping.

In addition to the combined $423,600 in first-place prize money, Burns also collected a $10,000 bonus at the Hilton for exceeding 67 percent winners. He was 57-27-1 (67.9 percent) in the Hilton contest, 68-34 (66.7 percent) at Harrah's, and 55-28-2 (66.3 percent) at Station, just missing out on a one-year lease of a Mercedes, which Station would have awarded him had he exceeded 67 percent there. Also, he earned $5,000 for being in a three-way tie after the first six weeks of the season at Harrah's and another $15,000 for being in sole possession of the lead after 12 weeks at Harrah's. In all, he's collecting $453,600.

Not bad for a $4,500 investment, as he had only one entry in each contest. But as much as the Las Vegas football betting community is oohing and aahing over his sweep, Burns doesn't see it as that big of a deal.

"Those individual contests are mirrors of each other," he said. "If you have a great season in one, you should have a great season in them all if you're playing the same games, which I did."

Burns also used the same alias in all three contest - "Jarhead" - which he adopted from his days in the Marines from 1958-61. Besides being proud of his time in the service, he said there was no special reason for using the nickname. That was the first thing that came to mind when he needed to create an Internet name, and he just started using it in contests.

Burns said he's already looking ahead to next year.

"Winning it on one great year isn't impressive," he said. "Now, winning it in back-to-back years would really be an accomplishment."

A lot of people get lucky in winning one event and never come close again. But that can't be said for Burns.

Burns nearly pulled a sweep of the local football contests in 2003. He won the football contest at Stations for $65,000 and was third at the Hilton, a mere one game from first place, to collect another $41,520. In fact, during our phone conversation Monday, he quoted from a 2003 article in which I called him the "hottest handicapper in the contest and arguably in the whole city."

He admits to having subpar seasons in the Hilton contest the past two years - 44-39-2 in 2004 and

37-44-4 last year - when most underdog players struggled, but he's back on top now.

Burns said he has been a longtime sports fan and developed a system in 1999 to help him predict football games. Without giving away all his secrets, he said it's a math-based system that he adjusts during the off-season and then doesn't tinker with it much during the season.

"It's not team-specific, so I didn't focus on any," he said. "I will say it has a preference for home underdogs."

He said when he used to travel, he would stop in Vegas to bet some games, but he doesn't trust offshore sports books and doesn't bet his plays, even through his Las Vegas-based proxy, who is a former business partner. Of course, even if he was betting and averaging the staggering sum of $11,000 on each of his plays the past four years, he wouldn't have shown the more than a half-million dollars in profits that he has from his contest winnings.

Alas, if you're looking for picks for this weekend's games, Burns doesn't have any.

"The system is set up for picking winners in the regular season and trying to win these contests," he said. "I haven't even input anything since Week 16. Besides, the playoffs are much harder to handicap, because there's only good teams, and the oddsmakers have tougher lines."

NFL betting trends

There are no home dogs or double-digit underdogs - things that I usually focus on - next weekend in the divisional playoffs. But there are some things to be culled from the accompanying chart in the four matchups.

Colts at Ravens: One thing that can be seen from the chart is that all four home teams have better spread records than their opponents. With the Ravens favored by 4, that makes laying the points a little less scary. There is also the slightest under tendency, which makes the under 41 points a little appealing.

Eagles at Saints: Despite a lot being made about the solid play of Jeff Garcia at quarterback, the Eagles have gone under in three straight games. The Saints are perceived as a high-scoring team, but they are just 8-8 with totals, so it might be worth a look at under 49 points.

Patriots at Chargers: For the longest time this season, the Patriots were the best under team in the league, standing at 10-3 at one point, but they have covered their last four games and have gone over in all four. Maybe look to parlay the Patriots +4 1/2 with the over 46.

Seahawks at Bears: The Seahawks have disappointed a lot of bettors all season long, while Bears backers have dropped three straight. Oddsmakers have made the under tough by setting the total at 37. I'll probably revert to looking at the Seahawks +8 1/2 because of underdogs of more than a touchdown hitting at 58 percent during the regular season. My full picks and analysis will be in Saturday's editions.