12/13/2006 12:00AM

Bears best vs. spread and the over

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LAS VEGAS - If you wanted to compile a list of the biggest surprises and the biggest underachievers so far this NFL season, you could do worse than to just start with the accompanying chart, which lists the league's 32 teams in order of their records against the spread.

After their 42-27 win over the Rams on Monday night, the Bears remain on top for bettors with a record of 10-3 against the spread. Right behind them at 9-4 are the Saints, who blew out the Cowboys on Sunday night and are starting to be seen as a real threat in the NFC. The Bills and Titans are also at 9-4, with the Bills covering a league-high six straight games and the Titans fresh off four consecutive outright upsets. Then you have the Jaguars at 8-4-1, followed by the Chargers, Ravens, and Jets all at 8-5 and all among the pleasant surprises this season.

At the bottom of the standings are the Panthers, who were among the Super Bowl contenders before the season began, with a horrid record of 3-9-1 against the spread. The Broncos, who a month ago looked like they were going to battle the Colts for home-field advantage in the AFC, have dropped a league-worst five games vs. the number and are 4-9 on the season along with the Lions. The Seahawks and Buccaneers have also underachieved at 4-8-1.

Even more than just looking at the traditional standings, this chart really shows how teams are faring against expectations. The point spread is known as the great equalizer, so teams that do well at covering are overcoming the collective minds of oddsmakers and bettors by consistently beating the numbers. And it's not easy for teams to continue either success or failure against the spread as oddsmakers and bettors adjust during the course of the season. For instance, before the season if you had looked at Week 15's game between the Bears and Bucs, who both looked to be about equal talent-wise, you probably would have expected the line to be about Bears -3 or -4 with home-field advantage thrown in. But now, the Bears look like they will be favored by -13 or -14.

It's also funny how the Bears, normally a team with a tough defense and weak offense and a good bet with the under, have turned into an over machine this year, thanks to Devin Hester having a record-setting six returns for touchdowns and a defense that's capable of outscoring its own offense. The Bears are 9-3-1 with the over, a half-game ahead of the Titans at 8-3-2 and the Chargers, Steelers, and Jets at 9-4. This week the Jets play the Vikings, who have gone over in five straight games. The total opened at 38 and has been bet up to 41.

The Patriots are only 6-6-1 against the spread, but they have been a stone-cold under team at 10-3. This week, their total vs. the Texans is 37. The Falcons have gone under in six straight games and are right behind the Patriots at 9-3-1 with the under. Other solid under teams are the Raiders at 9-4 and the Ravens, who have four straight unders, at 8-5. The Bengals have also gone under four straight games and that coincides with their four-game winning streak both straight-up and against the spread. A Monday night parlay might be in order with the Bengals +3 1/2 vs. the Colts and under 53 points.

League-wide betting trends

Underdogs went 9-7 against the spread this past weekend (it seemed like more, but the Steelers on Thursday and Bears on Monday night covered as favorites) and are 110-89-7 (55 percent) on the season. Home teams went 7-9 against the spread but still lead 105-96-7.

* The subset of home underdogs continued to fare well, though again probably not as well as you might think. The Jaguars, Redskins, Dolphins, and Cardinals all covered as home dogs - with all but the Redskins pulling outright upsets - but the Buccaneers, Panthers, and Rams all failed in the role. Still, home dogs were 4-3 against the spread and are 43-26-2 (62 percent) on the season. This week's home dogs are the Falcons +3 1/2 vs. the Cowboys on Saturday night, the Panthers +2 1/2 vs. the Steelers, the Titans +3 1/2 vs. the Jaguars, and the Cardinals +2 1/2 vs. the Broncos.

* The Raiders failed as the only double-digit underdog last week to drop that category to 15-12-2 on the year. There are no shortage of big dogs this week with the 49ers +10 vs. the Seahawks, Browns +11 vs. the Ravens, Texans +11 vs. the Patriots, Redskins +10 vs. the Saints, and the Bucs +13 vs. the Bears.

* There were no interconference games last week to test that trend, which is 33-23-1 (59 percent) in favor of the AFC, but this week we have Jets +3 vs. the Vikings, Steelers -2 1/2 vs. the Panthers, Broncos -2 1/2 vs. the Cardinals, and the Raiders -1 vs. the Rams.

* Overs went 10-5-1 this past weekend and now lead by the slimmest of margins, 100-99-9.

NFL bankroll continues to rally

My NFL bankroll plays had a second straight 4-1 week with the sole loss being on the Raiders. However, the Ravens, Titans, Bills, and Jaguars not only covered but all pulled outright upsets. As I wrote in Sunday's column, the best way to play those would have been on the money line to win straight up, which would have returned a net profit of more then 4 units, but I will take the 2.9-unit profit on laying the 11 to win 10 as my bankroll continues its comeback from a horrid start. For the season, NFL bankroll plays improved to 39-36-2 for a net loss of 0.4 units.