05/29/2002 11:00PM

Bet your NFL team over/under win props

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Wise guys, Las Vegas professional bettors who pound away whenever they see a soft line, have beaten NFL over/under win propositions at many sports books over the years. There always seems to be teams that the oddsmakers overrate or underrate, and betting opportunities abound.

Some books have stopped posting this prop, but the Imperial Palace is back with it again this year. A limit of $500 and a 30-cent straddle (bet 115 to win 100, instead of the usual 110 to win 100) make it a viable prop for the house. The odds were posted last weekend and, even though the NFL start is more than three months away, bettors have been heading to the IP to check out the odds.

Parity is alive and well in the NFL, and all but three teams are projected to win between 6 and 10 games.

Early money has come in on the 49ers over 10, Falcons under 7 1/2, Lions under 6, Panthers under 5 1/2, and the expansion Texans over 4 1/2.

Four of the first five moves were on the under. Professionals tend to look that way. In the over/under, the number of wins for all teams adds up to 260 although there are only 256 games on the schedule. Seventeen teams have win totals above .500, while only 14 are below .500; one, the Vikings, is at exactly .500. That shows that the oddsmakers anticipate recreational bettors, especially tourists who want to root, root, root for the home team, to take the over.

So the value tends to be on the under. But beware. The oddsmakers also charge a premium: 22 of the unders require bettors to lay better than even-money.

For the most part, these wagers are for fun since no one is going to get rich with a $500 limit. Some people simply like to have action all season on or against certain teams. More sophisticated bettors are searching for middles and other arbitrage opportunities.

An example: You can bet $100 on the Rams over 11 1/2 wins (at +110). If they're 12-3 or better heading into their final regular season game against the 49ers on Dec. 30, you've already won your bet. If they're 11-4, you can bet $110 on the 49ers plus the points - let's say they will be 9 1/2-point dogs. If the 49ers win outright, you lose your original wager but win the game bet and break even. If the Rams romp, you win the season-long bet and lose the game bet (a net loss of $10). But if the Rams win by between 1-9 points, you win both bets and profit $210.

One thing for handicappers to weigh is the NFL realignment. There is no such thing as a fifth-place schedule anymore, since there are only four teams in each of the eight divisions. So it should be harder for teams to improve dramatically just because of facing other bad teams.

The Bills were 3-13 last year. They added Drew Bledsoe in the offseason and first-round draft pick Mike Williams to protect him, but they haven't filled enough other holes to justify the oddmakers pegging them as high as 7 wins.

Not surprisingly, the Rams have the highest posted total at 11 1/2 wins. I'd lean toward the over, since you are getting plus-money and have the chance to hedge the last two weeks of the season. It is a dicey wager, however, because the Rams have a very tough road schedule of the Broncos, Bucs, 49ers, Cardinals, Redskins, Eagles, Chiefs, and Seahawks with most of the games on natural grass. They need to be at least 7-1 at home to get 12 total wins.

The Steelers, who came within a game of the Super Bowl, are next on the list at 10 wins, along with the Packers and the Eagles. In all three cases, oddsmakers are making over bettors pay a premium, especially Pittsburgh at a steep -180 and Green Bay at -155 because Packer backers traditionally back their team no matter the price.

No such respect is given to last year's other two Cinderella teams. The Super Bowl champion Patriots are pegged at 8 1/2 wins, as are the Bears, who were 13-3 last season.

Selections

Last year, I was 2-1 in my NFL over/under wagers. I had the Bills under 8 (they won 3), the Chargers under 7 (they won 5), and the Colts over 10 (oops, they won only 6).

Texans (over 4 1/2, -115): Some of the value is gone after early wagering, but it's still a winning bet. The expansionist Texans are putting together a decent team and should be competitive with a soft early schedule. Their first two games, against the Cowboys and Chargers, are winnable. After likely losses to the Colts and Eagles, they face the Bills, Browns, Jaguars, and Bengals before the mid-point of their season. A handful of early wins could boost their confidence and make them playoff contenders.

Chargers (under 7, +110): It could be a repeat of last year when the Bolts started strong and faded badly. They might get wins over the Bengals, Texans, and Cardinals, but then I don't see them being favored in any game until at least Dec. 15 at Buffalo . . . and that's probably a pick-'em. They're moving in the right direction, but are still a sub-.500 team this year.

Saints (over 7, +120): The Saints were a major disappointment last year, so we get some value here, plus because of realignment they have moved away from the Rams and 49ers. Their toughest games are at home, including the Packers, Steelers and Bucs. If they finish be .500 at home, they will easily exceed their number.

Panthers (under 5 1/2, +115): The only plus for the Panthers is that they no longer have to play the Rams and 49ers twice, but they still have no offense and a defense that needs some seasoning. I see them favored only in two games this year, and these cats are unlikely to be live dogs anytime soon.

Giants (over 7 1/2, even): The Giants have their problems on both sides of the ball, but they have several winnable games and should get to at least .500, which wins my bet.

NFL over/under regular-season wins

TeamWinsOverUnder
Rams11.5+110-140
Steelers10-180+140
Packers10-180+140
49ers10-115-115
Eagles10EV-130
Broncos9.5-130EV
Dolphins9.5-115-115
Raiders9.5EV-130
Buccaneers9.5EV-130
Colts9-180+140
Seahawks8.5-150+120
Bears8.5-130EV
Patriots8.5-115-115
Titans8.5-115-115
Jets8.5EV-130
Redskins8.5EV-130
Browns8.5+130-160
Vikings8-115-115
Falcons7.5-140+110
Giants7.5EV-130
Ravens7.5EV-130
Chiefs7.5+120-150
Chargers7-150+120
Jaguars7-115-115
Bills7-115-115
Bengals7+110-140
Saints7+120-150
Cowboys 6.5-150+120
Cardinals 6.5-115-115
Lions6EV-130
Panthers5.5-145+115
Texans4.5-115-115

Notes: Teams must play 16 regular-season games for action, regardless of when played; postseasons games do not count; if a game ends in a tie, it is counted as a loss; wagers will be paid following team's 16th regular-season game. Odds courtesy of Imperial Palace.