10/22/2009 12:00AM

Big rebound for underdogs should continue


It's great when a plan comes together.

Last week, I wrote about how the public had been beating up the sports books as favorites in the NFL had been cashing in. I opined that oddsmakers were being forced to inflate the lines on favorites because the public would continue to bet on the league's top teams no matter how high the lines were set. I concluded that this should lead to more underdogs covering.

So what happened?

The Cleveland Browns, a team hardly anyone wanted to back, were 14-point underdogs to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers won, but it was a 27-14 final, falling a point short of the inflated line.

The St. Louis Rams, another team that was hard to make a case for and one that certainly didn't invite public money, went off as high as 10-point underdogs to the Jacksonville Jaguars, a mediocre team but one that bettors still backed after cashing so many tickets on chalk. The Rams covered in a 23-20 overtime loss.

The Oakland Raiders, whom many called the worst team in the league, were 14-point underdogs to the Philadelphia Eagles. Books were reporting 90 percent of their tickets being on the Eagles, yet the Raiders didn't even need the points. They pulled the outright upset, 13-9.

In all, underdogs went 9-5 against the spread in Week 6 and won six of those games straight up: Chiefs over Redskins, Texans over Bengals, Raiders over Eagles, Cardinals over Seahawks, Bills over Jets, and Broncos over Chargers.

The dogs were close in several other games, too. The Ravens had a potential winning field goal go wide vs. the Vikings, and the Buccaneers and Bears were both tied late with their opponents - the Panthers and Falcons - and would have covered if they had given up last-minute field goals instead of touchdowns.

Yes, Virginia, there is still parity in the NFL.

Will this continue? I believe it will, at least for the short term. Chalk bettors are stubborn and will believe last week was an aberration and continue to back what they feel are the better teams, so there will still be some added value in the lines.

Back to the bankroll

I went 2-1 last week with wins on the Ravens and Chiefs while losing on the Lions (I wish I had been prescient enough to choose the Raiders as my double-digit play of the week instead of the cowardly Lions). Let's come back with three more underdogs this weekend:

Vikings (+4 1/2) vs. Steelers

Okay, it's confession time. I won my wager last week on the Ravens vs. the Vikings, but it didn't look good for the longest time, and the Ravens only covered when it turned into a sandlot-type game. I certainly feel like I got lucky there. But it's a great feeling when you can win a bet going against a team, come away impressed, and be in a position to bet on that team the next time out (as opposed to having a team kick your butt and then flip-flopping on them).

That's the case with the Vikings, who dominated the Ravens early and showed they were more solid than I was giving them credit for. Now they face a Pittsburgh team that is 4-2 in the standings but 1-5 against the spread. That shows you they're underachieving, or that the oddmakers and public are giving them too much credit. This line opened Steelers -4 1/2 at a lot of books in Vegas, got snapped up by wise guys who bet it down to 4, and now has drifted upward again - the line was 5 1/2 at the Hilton early Thursday afternoon.

That's what I love to see. I feel the Vikings are the better team right now and should be able to score with the run-pass mix of Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre. But more than that, I think the Vikings' defense, with Jared Allen and Co., should be able to get to Ben Roethlisberger and force turnovers. I'd take this game at pick-em, so the points are an added bonus. Note that the money line on the Vikes is up to +200, or odds of 2-1.

PLAY: Vikings for 2 units.

Falcons (+4) vs. Cowboys

How is this line more than a field goal? The Cowboys, who barely slipped past the Chiefs in overtime before their bye week, are 3-2 in the standings and 2-3 against the spread. Meanwhile, the Falcons have shown that last season wasn't a fluke. They're 4-1 straight-up and ATS. Again, all I can say is "thank you" for the extra points, which make a spread cover all the more likely.

PLAY: Falcons for 1 unit.

Cardinals (+7) vs. Giants

The Giants are coming off a 48-27 loss at New Orleans, a game that was supposed to determine the top team in the NFC - and it did. The Saints exposed a lot of weaknesses in the Giants' defense, ones the Cardinals are well-suited to take advantage of.

Despite almost letting Houston come back in the second half two weeks ago, the Cardinals have put together back-to-back solid performances against the Texans and Seahawks and look like the team that ran through the NFC last January and nearly upset the Steelers in the Super Bowl. This game is a toss-up. Getting a touchdown headstart with this team is too much to pass up.

PLAY: Cardinals for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-1 for a net profit of 0.9 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1 unit). Season record: 9-11, including 1-1 on 2-unit plays, for a net loss of 3.1 units.