11/12/2004 12:00AM

Chargers overachieve with room to spare


LAS VEGAS - With nine weeks in the NFL books, it's a good time to look back at the over/under season win totals and see how teams are faring.

Amazingly, two teams have already clinched for their backers. The Chargers, who had the lowest over/under in the league at 4.5 wins, enter their bye week with six wins. The Dolphins have won only one game and can't match their opening number of 9. They would need to run the table to finish 8-8 and match the adjusted total of 8 that sports books posted after Ricky Williams retired.

The Panthers, at 1-7, would also need to run the table to exceed their total of 8.5, a number that a lot of people thought was low for the defending NFC champs.

Other teams that are on pace to fall short of their over/under win totals (the first number is the team's wins so far this season, the second is the team's over/under): Chiefs 3/10, Titans 3/10, Rams 4/9.5, Cowboys 3/9, Buccaneers 3/9, Redskins 3/9, 49ers 1/5.

Like the Chargers, the Steelers and Giants have greatly exceeded expectations. The Steelers, whose over/under was 7.5, have won 7 games, and the Giants, whose over/under was 6.5, have already won 5 games. Other teams on pace to exceed their totals: Patriots 7/10.5, Eagles 7/10.5, Jets 6/9, Broncos 6/9, Falcons 6/9, Ravens 5/9, Seahawks 5/9, Vikings 5/8.5, Jaguars 5/7.5, Lions 4/6.5, Texans 4/6.5, Cardinals 3/5.5.

Ravens (-1 1/2) at Jets

With Chad Pennington out with a rotator cuff injury, Quincy Carter makes his first start for the Jets, and I can't think of a worse situation for him than facing the Ravens. The Jets are fourth in the league in rushing, at 144 yards per game, but that was when teams had to respect the passing ability of Pennington. The Ravens will stack the line to take away Curtis Martin's running and put pressure on Carter, who isn't known for making the wisest decisions in reading defenses. That plays into the hands of the Baltimore defensive backs, who have already returned three interceptions for touchdowns this year. It's hard to handicap turnovers, but this seems like a good bet. The Ravens offense, while still unspectacular, should be able to grind out the yards with Jamal Lewis and wear down the Jets' defense.

PLAY: Ravens for 1 unit.

Texans (+9 1/2) at Colts

Do you remember the "School House Rock" about interjections? A crowd at a football game is booing a bad play and one squeaky voice pipes up, "Hurray! I'm for the other team." Well, that's going to be me Sunday at the Imperial Palace showroom when this game is going on. Nearly everyone is going to be cheering for the Colts, a popular team with a high-scoring offense, but I'll be pulling for the underdog. There's no doubt the Colts will pile up their share of points, but I'm also certain the Texans will be able to match them score for score. Sure, the Colts are the No. 1 passing team in the league, but Houston's David Carr is only averaging 40 yards fewer per game than Peyton Manning, and Andre Johnson has 45 catches, just like Indy's Marvin Harrison. And those stats came against better defenses than those faced by the Colts, who rank No. 32 in the league against the pass. If the Colts drop back too much into pass coverage, Domanick Davis should be able to pop some nice runs now that he's healthy. I'll also be on the money line (widely available at 3-1 or better), but taking the points seems like a gimme.

PLAY: Texans for 1 unit.

Chiefs (-3 1/2) at Saints

This was a tough call. If I don't like the Colts defense, you know I can't like the Chiefs defense, either. But this is a case where I like the Saints defense even less. New Orleans is 30th in the league against the rush, 31st against the pass, 32nd overall, and badly in need of tackling drills. The line on this game has dropped, with Kansas City running back Priest Holmes expected to sit out with an injured right knee, but I'm a firm believer in offensive "systems" that succeed no matter what. Derrick Blaylock, who ran for four touchdowns when filling in for Holmes vs. the Falcons, is certainly capable of hitting the huge lines made by the Chiefs offensive line, and so is Larry Johnson if he's pressed into duty.

PLAY: Chiefs for 1 unit.

Bengals (+3 1/2) at Redskins

The Redskins got back in the win column vs. the Lions last week, 17-10, but their only touchdowns came on a blocked punt and - because the pass offense has been so inept, even against the Lions - a halfback pass from Clinton Portis to Laveranues Coles. The Bengals have been playing much better since their Monday night upset win over the Broncos three weeks ago and should continue their roll here. The defense is playing much better and should be able to contain better than its 32nd ranking against the run would indicate, and quarterback Carson Palmer is showing signs that he is picking up the offense. He shouldn't have to do too much - maybe 20 points' worth - to get the job done Sunday, since the Redskins haven't scored that many in any game this year.

PLAY: Bengals for 1 unit.

Panthers at 49ers (-1)

Here's another ugly game that most people won't be following (just like last week when I took the Cardinals +3 vs. the Dolphins), but I see value in the short home favorite. The Panthers are decimated by injuries, and their replacements haven't shown any continuity. The 49ers keep plugging away even with a lack of talent. Last week, they led the Seahawks, 14-7, in the first quarter and later rallied within one score before an interception return resulted in a 42-27 loss. The 49ers should be able to put up similar offensive numbers this week - Kevan Barlow could have his breakout game against the 29th-ranked rush defense, and Tim Rattay is getting more in tune with receivers Brandon Lloyd and Curtis Conway, as well as tight end Eric Johnson - and I don't see the Panthers being able to keep up, especially with Stephen Davis still hurting.

PLAY: 49ers for 1 unit.

Last week: 5-0 for a profit of 5 units. NFL season record: 22-22-1 for a net loss of 2.2 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).