01/03/2003 12:00AM

Buck that home-field edge trend


LAS VEGAS - There has been a strong home field advantage in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs since 1995, as host teams have gone 23-7 (76.7 percent) against the spread with two pushes.

As impressive as that trend is, we all know that trends eventually reverse, especially when oddsmakers have to adjust too much. This weekend, all four home teams are laying too many points, in my opinion, so on Sunday I find myself going against that trend as I see value on the underdogs.

In my top play on Sunday's card, I'm also going against a trend in which eight of the last 11 times a team has won two games against a divisional rival, it completes the three-game sweep if the teams meet in the playoffs. The Steelers (who pulled the hat trick last year versus the Ravens) beat the Browns twice this year, but both times by only three points.

Browns (+7 1/2) at Steelers

Cleveland coach Butch Davis should receive some sort of combined college/pro coach of the year award for not only leading the Browns to the playoffs but also for assembling the Miami-Fla. team (made up of players he recruited and coached) that was going for its second straight national championship on Friday night. As shown in their two narrow losses, the Browns match up well with the Steelers. Some people are saying the Browns are taking a step backward at quarterback with starter Tim Couch out for the year. Kelly Holcomb looked as rusty as the team's helmets last week when he came in against the Falcons, but he still managed to bring them from behind with some help from the defense. It should also be noted that Holcomb was the league's top-rated passer earlier this year when he had to fill in for Couch. In fact, there were many who thought he shouldn't have lost the starting job when Couch got healthy. So I'm confident he will do fine with a week of practice under his belt. In addition, since the last loss to the Steelers on Nov. 3, rookie running back William Green has averaged more than 100 yards per game, which that is a luxury Holcomb didn't have in his first stint as the starter. The Browns have shown they can come through in tight games (as long as they keep their helmets on). The Steelers may win a third straight time by a field goal, but that would still give us the cover.

PLAY: Browns +7 1/2 for 2 units.

Giants (+3 1/2) at 49ers

This is a game between two teams heading in opposite directions. The Giants are playing as well as anyone, having dominated the Colts and Eagles in successive weeks. In the last four weeks, the 49ers have lost to the Packers and Rams, and have barely put away the Cowboys and Cardinals. Granted, after the loss to the Packers, the 49ers were pretty much locked out of a first-round bye and wouldn't have improved their seeding if they had won out, but they still haven't looked sharp. Even when they do win, the 49ers haven't covered the spread, which they failed to do in their last eight games. Both teams rely on a ground attack and a short-ball-control passing game. That should help shorten the game and lead to a tight, low-scoring battle, so I will also look to the under of 40 1/2 points.

One other prediction: There's a good chance that as some point this postseason, Giants rookie tight end Jeremy Shockey will get an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to either take his team out of field goal range, or set up the opposing team with good field position late in a game. I wonder where I can get a prop bet on that.

PLAY: Giants +3 1/2 for 1 unit, and under 40 1/2 points for 1 unit.

Season record: 61-72-4 for net loss of 17.9 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).