12/13/2001 1:00AM

Cards rate over Giants; look for Raiders to romp


LAS VEGAS - One of the first things any professional football bettor will tell you is to limit your plays to your strongest selections. If you play too many games, the theory goes, the bookmaker's vig will eat you alive. But by limiting your action to your top plays, you can maintain a higher winning percentage.

That's the philosophy I adopted when I moved to Las Vegas three years ago, and it's the strategy I used when starting my football betting bankrolls this season in the Daily Racing Form. I wanted to put only my top picks out there in the public forum.

But a strange thing has happened. Week after week, my best bets in the colleges and the pros haven't fared too well (hovering around 50 percent and losing to the vig), but my secondary picks, a lot of which I've bypassed in favor of my "top" plays in the Form, have done very well.

The trend is demonstrated in some recent contest results. I finished second in the College 101 contest at the other Park Place Entertainment casinos with a record of 69-41 (62.7 percent). The contest required 10 college plays a week. I am currently in sole possession of second place in Barley's Gridiron Growler contest with a record of 111-84 (56.9 percent). This contest requires making 15 NFL plays on sides and totals each week.

When I was in the Stardust Invitational on Nov. 2, I went with my seven best plays of the weekend and had a record of 2-5. The frustrating thing is that is the week I went 9-1 in the College 101 contest to move into contention, but I used only one of those games at the Stardust (winning with Illinois) while tossing out my other eight winners.

In addition, my NFL bankroll plays in the Racing Form are right around 50 percent. But on DRF's website, in which I pick every NFL game against the spread (www.drf.com/nfl_selectors.html), my record is a more respectable 96-86-6, a full 10 games above .500. If you take away my best bets, the record improves to 65-54-4 (54.6 percent).

It's not supposed to work that way, but it has. So, for the rest of the season I'm going to change my strategy. If I like a dozen games, so be it. I'll play them all in the DRF bankroll. As Coast Resorts sports book director Best Osborne said when we squared off in the Stardust Invitational, "Every bet is a best bet when it's coming out of your pocket."

Cardinals (+5 1/2) at Giants

Both teams would need help to reach the playoffs even if they sweep their last four games. Both teams are 5-7, yet the Cardinals have to feel a lot better about their record than the defending NFC champion Giants. The Cards won three straight before losing to the Redskins last week while the Giants have lost three straight since beating the Cardinals, 17-10, in Tempe, Ariz., on Nov. 11. That game started WR David Boston's string of four straight games with a TD catch as he had nine receptions for 137 yards. Boston was ailing earlier this week but now is expected to play. QB Jake Plummer and Boston should continue their hot streak, or Plummer should be able to check off and go to his second and third receivers. Either way, the Cardinals should stay close if unable to pull the outright upset (which is very possible).

Play: Cardinals for 11 units.

Raiders (-4) at Chargers

After falling behind, 17-7, to the Chiefs on Sunday, the Raiders showed their true colors in a 28-26 victory. Even so, a failed two-point conversion by the Chiefs nearly tied the game with less than two minutes remaining. But the Raiders got the job done and now face a Chargers team that has shown its early-season success was mostly the result of an easy schedule. The Chargers are contemplating using Drew Brees at QB in place of Doug Flutie. I think Brees has a great future, but this would be a tough spot for him to make his first start. The Raiders' offense should be able to do what it pleases just like it did in a 34-24 win over the Chargers on Nov. 18. This should be a cakewalk for the Raiders and a plankwalk for the Chargers.

Play: Raiders for 11 units.

Starting bankroll: 1,000 units.

Bankroll entering last week: 947 units.

Last week: 2-2 on sides, including best-bet win on Saints, and 1-3 on totals for net loss of 15 units.

Current bankroll: 932 units.