12/17/2002 1:00AM

Books rooting for Raiders to lose


Earlier this week, the AFC playoff race was a hot topic in the sports books.

With just two weeks left in the NFL's regular season, 13 of the AFC's 16 teams are still alive, while none has clinched a spot in the postseason.

But bookmakers aren't fazed by any of this. They like that they can keep more teams on the board in their Super Bowl futures.

The Raiders, with odds ranging from 3-1 to 6-1 after opening the season at 10-1, are one of the teams that have taken a lot of future-book action all over town, so bookmakers wouldn't mind at all if they lost to the Broncos and Chiefs the next two weeks and missed the playoffs.

Other AFC teams that would cause a lot of future-book tickets to get torn up early include the Dolphins (4-1), Patriots (4-1), and Chargers (8-1). Bookmakers wouldn't mind if the Steelers or Colts stuck around because their odds started lower and don't pose as much liability.

The NFC is much easier to sort out, so bettors who loaded up on playoff contenders should at least survive until the wild-card round.

The Packers and Eagles are the 9-2 favorites to win the Super Bowl, according to odds by Las Vegas Sports Consultants. However, those are the suggested odds they send to their sports book clients. The books then adjust based on how much they take on each team. The Packers and Buccaneers have been bet down to 2-1 at the Stardust, with the Eagles at 3-1.

The longest shot on the board, according to LVSC, is Baltimore at 100-1. With a record of 7-7, it would appear the Ravens are a huge longshot to even make the playoffs. All they need to happen, however, is to beat the Browns as a 3-point favorite on Sunday and for the Steelers to lose as a 4 1/2-point underdog to the Buccaneers on Sunday night. Then the Ravens would play for the AFC North title a week from Sunday in Pittsburgh.

That's not inconceivable, and would be par for the course during this crazy season.

NFL betting trends

The Titans' 24-7 win over the Patriots on Monday night gave favorites their second straight winning week, as they went 9-7 against the spread. Even with the recent trend reversal, underdogs still hold a season-long edge of 123-93 (57 percent) with six pushes.

Home dogs also had their second straight losing week, going 2-3, winning with the Lions and Bears, but losing with the Bengals, Browns, and Texans (three teams that have skewed the record of home dogs all season). For the year, home dogs are still a very profitable 45-32 (58 percent) with two pushes. This week's home dogs are Vikings +3 vs. Dolphins, Cardinals +4 1/2 vs. 49ers, Cowboys +6 1/2 vs. Eagles, Bengals +7 vs. Saints, and Jaguars +3 vs. Titans.

The two teams with the top spread records heading into week 15 - the Chiefs and Buccaneers - both failed to cover. The Dolphins are now tied with the Chiefs with the best spread mark at 9-4-1. The Eagles, who are tied with the Bucs at 9-5, have covered their last five games in a row, including four without Donovan McNabb.

The Bengals and Rams both dropped to 4-10 with the worst spread records. The 49ers and Rams have both dropped six straight vs. the number.

The Saints are 12-2 with the over after flying past the total with the Vikings last week. The Bengals' push with the Jaguars made them 10-3-1 with the over and 7-0-1 in their last eight games.

The Dolphins and Patriots are both 10-4 with the under, with the Patriots having gone under in five straight games.

So much for bad weather leading to unders: The over is now 31-15 (67 percent) with two pushes in December. After having only one push during the first 13 weeks of the season, a total has landed on the number each of the last two weeks.

Tracking some obscure trends

The Falcons, at -11 vs. the Lions, are the only double-digit favorite this week. Last week, the Rams failed to cover as an 11-point favorite vs. the Cardinals on Sunday night, making double-digit favorites 7-9-1 for the season. That's not too bad, but consider this: teams that fell just short of double-digit favoritism, closing as 9 1/2-point chalk - including the non-covering Bucs vs. the Lions and outright-losing Falcons vs. the Seahawks this past week - are 2-6 against the spread this season.

The AFC and NFC split two interconference games Sunday, so the AFC still holds a 30-24-1 edge for the season. If you still think the AFC is stronger overall, this week's interleague games are the Dolphins -3 vs. the Vikings, the Bills +6 1/2 at the Packers, the Bengals (who are in a league of their own, but not in a good way) +7 vs. the Saints, the Colts -5 1/2 vs. the Giants, the Texans +6 vs. the Redskins, and the Steelers +4 1/2 vs. the Buccaneers. The Imperial Palace has a Super Bowl line with the NFC as a 1-point favorite. The total is 44.

Teams that covered the first meeting between divisional rivals are now 19-9-1 (68 percent) in the second meeting after going 2-1 against the spread last week. The Eagles and Giants completed sweeps, while the Rams failed to cover vs. the Cardinals. This week, there are eight teams that fit the role: 49ers -4 1/2 vs. Cardinals, Eagles -6 1/2 vs. Cowboys, Titans -3 vs. Jaguars, Chiefs -2 1/2 vs. Chargers, Rams (pick-em) vs. Seahawks, Raiders -4 vs. Broncos, Ravens -2 1/2 vs. Browns, and Patriots -4 vs. Jets.

Bankroll bounces back big

I guess the unintentional lesson to be learned from Sunday's NFL picks was that you can't have too much information. After going to great lengths to say that, with a lack of college games, I had more than enough time to analyze and re-analyze each game, I went 6-0 in picks on Sunday's NFL card and split Monday's bankroll plays on the Patriots and the under. Sunday's winners were two-unit plays on the Lions, Ravens, and the Rams-Cardinals over, while I added one-unit wins on the Jaguars, Vikings and Broncos. For the weekend, the bankroll was 7-1 for a net profit of 8.9 units. That brings the season record to 58-59-4 and a net loss of 3.3 units.