12/13/2002 12:00AM

College lull leaves NFL info overload


LAS VEGAS - Have you ever pored over the past performances in Daily Racing Form, analyzing and re-analyzing every aspect of a race, only to feel as if you have too much information?

That's what it has been like this week with no college football games on the schedule. Football handicappers have had every opportunity to go back through all the statistics, study all the spread records and tendencies, look back at common opponents (and their common opponents), factor in the weather and injuries, and otherwise look at all 16 NFL games from every imaginable angle.

So, the selections below are either really solid, or the result of having too much information.

Buccaneers at Lions (+8 1/2)

The Bucs are flying high after whipping the Falcons 34-10, and everyone is expecting them to roll over the lowly Lions this week. However, the Lions have been competitive most weeks. They should have several more wins this season, but I don't need them to win here, just stay within 8 points. In fact, the Lions have lost only one home game by more than 8 points, and have beaten the Saints (who beat the Bucs twice this year) and Bears and covered vs. the Packers at Ford Field. The Bucs are rolling toward the playoffs, but they better look out for a speed bump in the Motor City.

PLAY: Lions for 2 units.

Ravens (-3) at Texans

The Ravens' playoff hopes were dealt a blow last week in their 37-25 loss to the Saints, Despite a 6-7 record, however, they are still in an enviable position. If they win, and the Steelers lose to either the Panthers this week or the Buccaneers (at Tampa Bay) next week, then the season finale between the Ravens and Steelers would be for the AFC North crown. The Ravens should bounce back here. The Texans, who have been very good for the bankroll whether I bet on them or against them, aren't likely to have three defensive touchdowns for the second straight week, and it's not much to ask the Ravens to cover a field goal in this spot.

PLAY: Ravens for 2 units.

Jaguars (-3) at Bengals

The Jaguars aren't as fortunate as the Ravens. Among teams that are mathematically still alive for the playoffs, they are the longest shot on the board at 500-1 to win the Super Bowl. They would have to win their final three games and have the Colts and Titans both lose their last three games to even make the playoffs - the true odds on that are pretty close to 500-1. But coach Tom Coughlin isn't letting the Jags play out the string. Sure, they have lost three in a row, but only by a combined 5 points. Now they are facing a Bengals team that has had even a harder time winning close games, and that should put the Jaguars back in the win column.

PLAY: Jaguars for 1 unit.

Vikings (+7 1/2) at Saints

The Saints are coming off back-to-back victories over the Buccaneers and Ravens, so this could be another letdown spot. The Vikings should have completed a season sweep of the Packers last Sunday night, and they have been playing better in recent weeks on both sides of the ball. But even with their improved defense, this should be a shootout (though I'm not going to touch the over/under at 50). The Vikes will never be out of it, and even if they don't pull the outright upset, they should hang within the number.

PLAY: Vikings for 1 unit.

Chiefs at Broncos (-3 1/2)

I bet against the Chiefs last week and lost (vs. the Rams) and bet on the Broncos and lost (vs. the Jets). But I'm going in the same direction this week for the same reasons. The Broncos should move the ball against the Chiefs' last-rated (but certainly improving) defense, while they should be able to limit Priest Holmes and the Chiefs' rushing offense. These teams met in K.C. in Week 8 with the Broncos winning 37-34 in overtime, and I don't see the Chiefs turning the tables in Denver.

PLAY: Broncos for 1 unit.

Patriots (+2) at Titans (under 43 1/2)

Both teams are tied for first place in their respective divisions and need a win. I have to side with the defending Super Bowl champ Patriots, who survived an early-season slump and have won three straight. The Titans certainly know how to pull out the close games, but you have to be concerned about their performances against lesser competition. Both coaches - the Patriots' Bill Belichick and Titans' Jeff Fisher - should come up with some defensive wrinkles for this critical matchup, so I also like the under.

PLAY: Patriots for 1 unit, and under 43 1/2 for 1 unit.

Over/under play

When the Rams visited the Cardinals on Nov. 3, I used over 43 in the bankroll. It looked like a winner with the Rams leading 17-7 at halftime and I anticipated a shootout in the second half, but neither team scored in the third quarter and I fell just short in a 24-17 Rams victory. This Sunday, they meet in the dome in St. Louis and the total is the same. In addition, the Rams are getting the services of quarterback Marc Bulger, who is 5-0 as a starter, and the Cardinals are feeling good after their come-from-behind overtime win over the Lions. Neither team has much to play for, so this should be a freewheeling offensive show.

PLAY: Cardinals-Rams over 43 for 2 units.

Season record: 51-58-4 for a net loss of 12.2 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).