09/21/2001 11:00PM

Broncos (-8) able to overcome setbacks

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Before the season started, I settled on the Denver Broncos as my pick to win the Super Bowl. The main reasons I liked the Broncos were their depth and the system that coach Mike Shanahan uses on offense. Like the 49ers of the 1980's and 90's, the whole of the Broncos is greater than the sum of their parts.

Since I made that choice, backup quarterback Steve Beuerlein, starting receiver Ed McCaffery, and starting halfback Terrell Davis have been injured. Most teams would be saying "wait till next year," but this Broncos team is loaded. Quarterback Brian Griese is healthy and backed up by Gus Frerotte and Beuerlein is expected to be back by midseason. Rod Smith is the Broncos' top receiver, and Eddie Kennison, or whomever Shanahan plugs into McCaffrey's positon, will know their role. At running back, Mike Anderson and Orlandis Gary are both 1,000-yard rushers.

If anything, the injuries to McCaffrey and Davis have lowered the public's expectations and helped those who are looking to bet on the Broncos, which brings us to this week's picks:

Broncos (-8) at Cardinals

I expected this point spread to be in double digits and was pleasantly surprised when it opened at -8 1/2. When Davis's injury was announced Thursday, the line dropped to 8. I'm not afraid to look this gift horse in the mouth. The Cardinals haven't played since August and there's no way they will be prepared for the Broncos' offensive attack. And even if the Cardinal offense is better than I'm expecting, I don't see them staying within two touchdowns Sunday night. I'll wager 22 units (to win 20) on the Broncos -8.

Panthers (+3 1/2) at Falcons

I thought the Vikings would rout the Panthers in Week 1. I learned a lot watching that Panther upset. The Panthers again play on the road in a dome and are getting more than a field goal (against a lesser team) in a game I feel should be pick 'em. The Panthers held the Viking offense in check - Randy Moss only had one catch - and should be able to handle the Falcons. Panthers rookie QB Chris Weinke has the added incentive of proving he was the best quarterback available in the draft instead of the Falcons' Michael Vick. I'll wager 11 units (to win 10) on the Falcons +3 1/2.

Vikings (-3) at Bears

The Vikings got a wakeup call in their loss to the Panthers. It appeared as if they thought all they had to do was show up to win. Coach Dennis Green won't let his team make that same mistake in this divisional battle against the Bears. The Bears can't match the Vikings' offensive firepower I'll wager 11 units on the Vikings -3.

Giants at Chiefs (-1 1/2)

The buzz around the gambling community is that the Giants, Jets, and Redskins should be bet this weekend because they will be playing for civic pride after the terrorist attacks on their host cities. Bettors who subscribe to this theory point to the fact the Mets and Yankees combined for five straight wins when the baseball season resumed. Another thing going against the Chiefs is the fact that theyive blown leads of 17-0 (vs. the Rams in preseason) and 17-6 versus the Raiders (in the season opener) when I had bet on them. But analyzing this game, I keep coming back to the fact I think the Chiefs have the more balanced offense and always play run-oriented teams well at home. I'll wager 11 units on the Chiefs (-1 1/2).

Rams at 49ers (+6 1/2)

Both teams won their openers with overtime field goals. The Rams had to be happy with their defensive performance against the Eagles, but the 49ers will be a tougher test. Garrison Hearst is back for the Niners, and QB Jeff Garcia started to click with Terrell Owens, J.J. Stokes, and Tai Streets in the fourth quarter against the Falcons. The Rams should also be able to put points on the board against the 49ers' young defense (can anyone say over 51 points?), but the "Greatest Show on Earth" is much less exciting on natural grass. That should lead to a tight game that is decided by a late field goal. I'll wager 11 units on the 49ers +6 1/2.

Leans: Other NFL games I like include the Colts -10 vs. the Bills, Ravens -7 vs. the Bengals, and Lions -1 vs. the Browns.

Week 1 results: I had four 11-unit (to win 10) wagers and went 1-2-1, winning with the Saints -2 (a 24-6 winner over the Bills), losing with the Seahawks -4 1/2 (a non-covering 9-6 victory over the Browns) and Steelers +3 (a 21-3 loser to the Jaguars), and pushing with the Chiefs +3 (a 27-24 loss to the Raiders). My best bet, 22 units to win 20, on the Broncos -7 bailed me out (Broncos won 31-20) to make it a profitable opening week.

Starting bankroll: 1,000 units. Week 1 results: 2-2-1 overall, +8 units. Current bankroll: 1,008 units.