11/05/2004 12:00AM

Bills live underdog in rematch vs. Jets


LAS VEGAS - This is the time in the NFL season when we start seeing divisional rivals playing their second games against each other.

In fact, two have already taken place. On Monday night, the Jets completed a sweep of the Dolphins, and two weeks ago the Jaguars earned a split by beating the Colts after losing to them earlier in the year.

A key in handicapping these rematches is to determine if the winner of the first meeting is just a better team and likely to win again (as the Jets did), or if the team seeking revenge will be able to turn the tables (as the Jaguars did). A lot has to do with looking back to see how the teams were playing at the time of the first meeting compared with their current form.

There are three such games this Sunday with the home team seeking revenge in each. I'm passing on two of the games. The Seahawks, who beat the 49ers 34-0 in the third week of the season in Seattle, are -7 this Sunday at San Francisco. Revenge on the 49ers' part doesn't make up for the difference in talent, so I can't take the points in this spot and also am not willing to lay that many points on the road. On Sunday night, the Ravens, who lost the season opener 20-3 at Cleveland, are -6 in the rematch. Again, I can't pull the trigger on this one as I lean toward the Browns plus the points but feel the intangibles (revenge, Jamal Lewis back in lineup, rowdy Sunday night crowd) favor the Ravens. But again, I'm not willing to lay the points.

Instead, I'm going to start this week's selections with a live underdog in the other rematch.

Jets at Bills (+3)

These two teams first met on Oct. 10 with the Jets controlling most of the game and leading 13-0 heading into the fourth quarter - until the Bills scored two touchdowns, forcing the Jets to kick a field goal to eke out a 16-14 non-covering home win. Now, the Bills get the Jets at home, and their offense - with Willis McGahee taking over at running back and Drew Bledsoe getting more time to find his receivers, especially Eric Moulds - is playing better and should be able to score earlier this time around. The Bills' defense has played well all year and is ranked No. 2 in the league, allowing 266.1 yards per game, and stands at No. 6 in average points allowed at 17.1. For trend bettors, this season's seven previous Monday night winners are 1-6 the following Sunday, not only against the spread but also straight up.

PLAY: Bills for 1 unit.

Eagles at Steelers (+1)

The past two weeks I've won bets by going against the Eagles because of their soft run defense. I'm going to keep riding this because it's one of the few things I've gotten right the last few weeks besides Wilko in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The Eagles are 17th in the NFL at 113.3 rushing yards allowed per game, but that number is misleading because many times teams abandon the run when trailing the undefeated Eagles. The even more telling stat is that they're 31st in the league in yards allowed per rush, 4.8. That's great news for the Steelers, ranked No. 4 in rushing at 147.7 yards per game with the two-back attack of Duce Staley (formerly of the Eagles who will be motivated to play against his old teammates) and Jerome Bettis. Pittsburgh's defense will have matchup problems with Terrell Owens (who doesn't?), so expect double coverage, especially with the Eagles limited on the ground attack with Brian Westbrook ailing. Besides, the best defense is a good run offense and the Steelers should be able to play ball-control and keep the Eagles' offense off the field.

PLAY: Steelers for 1 unit.

Cowboys at Bengals (+1)

After their dominating upset of the Broncos two weeks ago on Monday night, the Bengals lost at Tennessee last week. But as I wrote when taking the Packers after their loss to the Titans, there's no shame in that, and now the Pack is gearing up for a playoff run. The Bengals won't be making a playoff run, but they should be able to handle the Cowboys, especially with a return home, where their fans might still be celebrating the win over the Broncos. I mentioned above that the Eagles are 31st with 4.8 yards allowed per carry, well, the Cowboys are 32nd, giving up 4.9 yards per carry. Rudi Johnson should have a big day and set up the pass for Carson Palmer. The Bengals don't play much defense themselves, but the Cowboys' offense doesn't have enough firepower to take advantage.

PLAY: Bengals for 1 unit.

Cardinals (+3) at Dolphins

Here's a line that I thought would have the Cardinals favored, so that in itself gives me line value. If you throw out last week's loss at Buffalo, the Cardinals have come to play every week. The defense has kept them in games and should be able to contain the Dolphins (31st in total offense). The Cardinals' offense is on the improve, with the return of receiver Anquan Boldin on the other side of rookie stud Larry Fitzgerald. And I also give the coaching edge to Dennis Green over Dave Wannstedt.

PLAY: Cardinals for 1 unit.

Bears (+9) at Giants

I think coach Lovie Smith has the Bears heading in the right direction as the defense is playing solid and keeping them in games. That should happen here, as Tiki Barber will have a harder time running wild than he has in recent weeks, and Kurt Warner (who Smith should know very well from his years as defensive coordinator with the Rams) is sure to face pressure. The Bears' offense leaves a lot to be desired, but it will be pounding away with Anthony Thomas and chewing up yardage and time on the clock in what should be a low-scoring game (the total is only 35 points). The Giants are one of the overachieving teams so far this season, and that success has led oddsmakers to inflate this line. This is my least favorite of these five plays, but I just couldn't pass up getting more than a touchdown.

PLAY: Bears for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-3 for a net loss of 1.3 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 17-22-1 for a net loss of 7.2 units.