12/03/2009 12:00AM

Books adjust to favorites' roll

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The cat-and-mouse game between NFL oddsmakers and bettors continues.

It's been an up-and-down season with favorites (and the betting public) dominating early in the season, but the sports books have been able to better balance their books by inflating a lot of the lines when the "haves" play the "have-nots," and the underdogs have come through enough to keep the sports books from closing their doors.

Last week was a perfect example. Favorites won 14 of the 16 games between Thanksgiving Day and this past Monday. Earlier in the year, that would have spelled disaster for the sports books. However, it wasn't a bloodbath as favorites only went 9-7 against the spread. That's right, five of the winning favorites didn't do it by the spread (and all came on Sunday): Bengals (-12 1/2) 16-7 over Browns, Eagles (-10) 27-24 over Redskins, Titans (-3 1/2) 20-17 over Cardinals, Falcons (-12 1/2) 20-17 over Buccaneers, and Ravens (-7 1/2) 20-17 over Steelers. That's usually a winning combo for sports books as they win against the chalk players yet still don't have to pay off money-line bets on the underdogs.

For the year, underdogs are 89-84-3 against the spread after being at 41 percent after the first four weeks of the season. Double-digit underdogs, which are almost always the bottom-feeders of the league, have been holding their own as well, going 12-10-1 against the spread the past five weeks after starting the season a dismal 5-11. Similarly, home dogs have gone 12-10 ATS since starting the season 14-21. This week will be a huge test to see if that trend continues as there are at least seven home dogs on Sunday alone (plus the Bills were listed as a home dog on Thursday night, though the game was in Toronto). Seattle might be yet another home dog as that game was pick-em at press time.

Who's hot, who's not

Last week, we looked at the leaders in the ATS Standings. The 49ers covered again to improve to a league-best 7-2-2 record against the spread (net profit of 4.8 units). The Saints also came through with their impressive win over the Patriots on Monday night to improve to 8-3 ATS (net profit of 4.7 units), while the Vikings blew out the Bears to improve to 7-3-1 ATS (profit of 3.7 units). Four teams are at 7-4: Colts, Cardinals, Broncos, and Falcons, with the Falcons being the only team in that group not to cover last week as they only beat the Buccaneers 20-17 as 12 1/2-point favorites. The Chargers are the league's hottest spread-covering team with four in a row.

The Lions' loss dropped them to a league-worst 2-8-1 ATS with a whole bunch at 4-7: Steelers, Jaguars, Giants, Seahawks, Panthers, Bears, and Bucs. The Giants have dropped a league-high six straight games against the spread.

The Broncos continued their strong "under" trend on Thanksgiving night to improve to 9-2 with the under. No other team is above 7-4. The Eagles are the best "over" team at 8-3 after their 27-24 win over the Redskins. The Saints, Falcons, Dolphins, and Steelers are 7-4 with the over.

Back to the betting board

After an 8-1 run the previous three weeks, I went 0-3 last week with my NFL plays as the Texans (which I layed -120 to get the +3 1/2, so that's why I show a net loss of 3.4 units below), Panthers, and Jaguars all failed to cover. Anyway, the bankroll went 8-4 in November, so I can't complain too much.

Titans +6 1/2 vs. Colts

Call me a glutton for punishment, but I'm going against the Colts again. The Titans are on a roll as well, and they should be able to run through the Colts' porous run defense just like the Texans did last week, but with league-leader Chris Johnson, I don't think the Titans will abandon the run like the Texans did in the second half. Vince Young also should be able to run wild as well. Meanwhile, the Colts' offense hasn't been as strong as recent years, and the Titans' improved defense should contain them as well. I would make this a 2-unit play at +7, but that line is mostly gone.

PLAY: Titans for 1 unit.

Lions +13 at Bengals

I know the Lions have the league's worst spread record as noted above. However, this is strictly a bet against the Bengals, who are good enough to sweep the Ravens and Steelers this year, but have lost to the Raiders and barely beat the Browns, 16-7, last week. They definitely play to the level of their competition and that should allow the Lions to keep this one close. It helps that Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford gets three extra days of rest after playing the Thanksgiving game.

PLAY: Lions for 1 unit.

Ravens +3 vs. Packers

Even though this is an interconference game, it's very important for both teams as they battle to stay alive for wild-card berths. The Ravens have some injuries on defense, but I still think the Baltimore offense, with Ray Rice running and Joe Flacco passing, will have more success against the Green Bay defense than the Packers' offense will have against the Ravens' D. I also like this play better if it gets +3 1/2 by gametime.

PLAY: Ravens for 1 unit.

Last week: 0-3 for a net loss of 3.4 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). Season record: 20-18, including 2-1 on 2-unit plays, for a net profit of 1.1 units.