09/12/2005 11:00PM

For bettors, every game is alive till the end

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The Falcons' 14-10 win over the Eagles ended an exciting weekend of surprises and fantastic finishes.

Football bettors know that even if a game is pretty much decided, it can still be up for grabs in regard to the point spread or total, or even the second-half sides and totals.

Monday night's game was no exception. The Eagles, a 1 1/2-point favorite, were trailing 14-7 heading into the fourth quarter and had a chance to tie the game, instead settling for a field goal to cut the lead to 14-10. They had two more possessions with a chance to not only win but cover the spread, but came up short.

It marked the seventh straight time that the loser of the Super Bowl dropped its season opener the following year.

I had a bet on the Falcons and wish I had used them as a published pick, but I certainly would have bet more if I had heard that Eagles middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter was ejected after a pre-game shoving match with Falcons defensive back Kevin Mathis. Trotter is the heart of the Eagles' run defense, which had a harder time slowing down the Falcons' ground game.

Of course, some of the bettors I know heard about the ejections and bet the over - which ranged from 42 to 44 - so, just like with horse racing, sometimes too much information can lead to a losing bet.

NFL betting trends

The Falcons' upset also made home underdogs 3-2 in the opening week. The Dolphins beat the Broncos, 34-10, as a 6-point home dog, and the 49ers beat the Rams, 28-25, as a 7-point home dog. The Browns and Ravens were the two home underdogs that failed to cover.

Home underdogs are one of my favorite NFL betting angles, even though they only went 36-41-2 last year. Historically, though, it's a solid play.

This week, the home dogs are the Titans +4 vs. the Ravens, the Texans +6 vs. the Steelers, the Bears +2 vs. the Lions, the Panthers +3 vs. the Patriots, and the Raiders +1 1/2 vs. the Chiefs. I know what a lot of you are thinking: After watching them last week, the Titans, Texans, and Bears are terrible. But just think of what most people were saying about the Dolphins and 49ers last week.

* Home teams went 10-6 against the spread, and favorites were 9-7 despite the aforementioned upsets.

* There were no double-digit underdogs (another long-term profitable play) last weekend, and with parity the way it is we're not likely to see too many this year, but the first one comes this week with the 49ers +13 at the Eagles. As of noon Tuesday, the Colts were -9 vs. the Jaguars, so it'll be interested to see if that gets bet to double digits. The Jaguars would be a play at +10.

* This past weekend, the under was the way to go, with nine of the 16 NFL games going below the total. It could have been more lopsided than that. The Giants-Cardinals and Cowboys-Chargers were the only games to go over the total by more than a touchdown. With the under, however, there were many more easy wins. The Texans-Bills, Bears-Redskins, Jets-Chiefs, Packers-Lions, Colts-Ravens, and Eagles-Falcons didn't get within a touchdown of the total. With some offenses looking really weak and the proverbial early-season theory that "the defense is ahead of the offense," the under is probably still the way to look this week, especially in these games: Ravens-Titans (36 1/2), Jaguars-Colts (46 1/2), Lions-Bears (34), Bills-Bucs (35), Dolphins-Jets (37), Redskins-Cowboys (36), and Saints-Giants (44).

Bankroll has rough weekend

After going 2-0 to start the college football season two weeks ago, it was a totally different story with the opening of the NFL season. My bankroll plays went 1-4 for a net loss of 3.4 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). I generally pride myself on finding live underdogs, yet I went 0-4 with dogs - Raiders +7 1/2 vs. the Patriots, Seahawks +3 vs. Jaguars, Packers +3 vs. Lions, and Ravens +3 vs. Colts - and won with my lone favorite, the Chiefs -3 vs. Jets.

The news was only slightly better in the colleges because I played fewer games. Bankroll plays went 1-2, with a win on Boise St. +3 1/2 vs. Oregon St. and losses on Mississippi St. +15 1/2 vs. Auburn and Washington +9 vs. California.

For the season, at least my college plays are slightly ahead, at 3-2 for a net profit of 0.8 units.

Utah (-3) at TCU

I'll try to get back on the winning track this weekend with a play on the Thursday night ESPN game. TCU has been the enigma of the college football season so far after upsetting Oklahoma, 17-10, in the opening game, but then falling to SMU, 21-10. The win over Oklahoma looked even less impressive after the Sooners struggled to get past lowly Tulsa, 31-15. Meanwhile, Utah is 2-0 despite all their personnel losses in the offseason, including head coach Urban Meyer, who left for Florida, and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, the new head coach at UNLV. But former defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham stayed behind and took over the Utes, giving them continuity. Brian Johnson has filled in just fine for No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith, leading the wins over Arizona and Utah St. and completing more than 70 percent of his passes, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. But it's not all about the passing game. Quinton Ganther has had back-to-back 100-yard games and even had runs of 86 and 47 yards called back last week. Utah should have no problem scoring in this matchup, and if SMU shut down TCU's offense, I expect Utah to do the same. I would lay up to a touchdown in the game, so the -3 looks cheap.

PLAY: Utah for 1 unit.