09/29/2003 11:00PM

Be careful with stats

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LAS VEGAS - We see and hear trends used in football handicapping all the time in newspapers, on TV, and on websites.

Most of the time, we just accept these trends as gospel. I run across them all the time in my line of work, and it's always interesting when I hear different sources giving different records for the same trend.

I'm not saying anyone is fudging his numbers (though that can't be totally discounted), but it's usually more a matter of where and when one gets his lines. I like to always use the closing numbers at the Stardust when I mention trend records. I get the opening numbers at the Stardust every Sunday night, so it just makes sense to use them as the sports book of record for closing numbers, too.

Let's say you hear a team is winless against the spread as a home favorite over the past few years but then you recall cashing on them in that role. Both might be right. Let's say you had a team -9 1/2 and it won by 10, but the line had moved to 11. For you, that was a winner, but whomever researched that trend was using a different line and counted it as a loss.

This is just another reason to take trends with a grain of salt. Use them as just a part of your whole handicapping process.

NFL betting statistics

Considering the above, here is Exhibit A.

Because of the uncertain status of Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper, the 49ers-Vikings game was off the board at most Las Vegas sports books all last week until being posted with the Vikings favored between 1 and 2 points. Some books stayed there, but others got late San Francisco money. The Stardust closed with the 49ers -1, so that's the line I'm using. Other people might be grading that game with the Vikings favored or with the game at pick-em, so keep that in mind whenever you see trends quoted on these teams this season (and further in the future if this season's results are included).

NFL underdogs (using the Vikings and not the 49ers) are still a subpar 23-33 (41 percent) with three pushes vs. the spread after going 8-5-1 over last weekend against the Stardust's closing lines. If the 49ers are considered the underdog, however, that would be a much more even 7-6-1.

Home underdogs, which were 1-10 against the spread heading into last weekend, went 2-3 (the Texans and, for our purposes, the Vikings) and now stand at 3-13. You might see some places claiming home dogs are 2-13 if they throw out the Vikes as a home dog.

Road teams went 10-3-1 (unaffected by all this since San Francisco was still on the road despite the line) and are a healthy 34-23 (60 percent) with three pushes.

Other numbers don't match either

Last weekend was pretty much break-even for my bankroll plays. I went 3-2 in the colleges (winning with Nebraska last Thursday and Cincinnati and Utah on Saturday; losing on Missouri and TCU) for a net profit of 0.8 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). For the year, the college bankroll is 10-12 for a net loss of 3.2 units.

In the NFL, my published plays went 2-2-1 (winning with the Eagles and Cowboys; losing with the Ravens and Falcons; and pushing with the Patriots +3 in a 20-17 loss to the Redskins) for a net loss of 0.2 units with the vig. For the season, I'm 10-7-3 for a net profit of 2.3 units.

Now, many people know I'm competing in the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest under the name "Dave Tuley DRF.com." When they check my record this week (either at the Hilton sports book or at www.nss.net/Hilton.asp), they will see I'm 10-8-2.

But the explanation is simple. In the Hilton contest, the lines are released on Tuesday and those are the numbers you have to use. In the contest, the Patriots were only +2 1/2. I still chose to take the bad number because I felt the Patriots would win straight up. I was hoping that a lot of people would take the Skins because of the value (they did, by a 101-43 margin) and I saw it as a calculated gamble to gain a game in the standings on a lot of people. The gamble backfired, but I feel that's the kind of chance you have to take in contests like this.

When I submit my picks for Sunday's Daily Racing Form, I use the lines that are available when I file on Friday around noon. It doesn't make sense to make picks with lines that are no longer available from earlier in the week. In this case, anyone who used the Patriots on Sunday most likely got a push, though some books (including even the Hilton) went to 3 1/2 on Sunday, so some people who used my picks might have gone 3-2.

But, again, that just goes to show that it matters just as much (if not more) when and where you bet.

Tackling the trends

Now that I've gone on and on about how numbers can lie and that you can't believe everything you read, here are two of this week's most lopsided trends. So take them for what they're worth.

Virginia is -7 on Saturday at North Carolina, which is 0-9 against the spread in its last nine home games. In addition, Virginia has covered the last five games in this series and laying a touchdown against the winless Tar Heels doesn't seem too much to ask to keep the streak alive.

Dating back to last season, the 49ers are 1-13 against the spread in their last 14 games. This week, they're a 7-point favorite over the Lions and a lot of people might be tempted to continue to fade the 49ers. But most of those losses were under former coach Steve Mariucci, who is now coaching the Lions. With that in mind, this is a trend to ignore.