12/13/2005 12:00AM

Colts alone covering at high clip


LAS VEGAS - The point spread is said to be the great equalizer, and that's certainly the case with individual teams' against-the-spread records with three weeks to go in the NFL season.

The Colts, at 9-3-1, are the only team in the league that is either covering or failing to cover at a rate of better than 70 percent. The push came Sunday when the Colts closed as 8-point favorites vs. the Jaguars at the Stardust (which is the standard used for the accompanying chart as well as the league-wide betting trends below), and won 26-18. That gives the Colts a 75 percent winning rate when not counting that push, which resulted in refunds for those who bet the game when the line was 8. But don't tell that to bettors who had the Colts -8 1/2 or -9 vs. the Jaguars on Sunday. They would certainly say the Colts didn't cover and should be 9-4 (69 percent).

Everyone else, from the top teams in the league to the worst, falls between that 69 percent and 31 percent.

Other top teams against the spread are the Broncos, Bears, Giants and Chargers at 8-4-1, or 67 percent after the push is discounted. What else do those four teams have in common? They all failed to cover last week. Talk about regression to the mean.

The only other team covering at least two-thirds of its games is the Chiefs at 8-4-1 as they earned their push in a 31-28 loss at Dallas. And the only other teams hitting at least 60 percent are the Seahawks and Vikings at 8-5.

On the low end, the Eagles, Jets, and Rams are 4-9 (31 percent). The Eagles and Jets both covered last week - the Jets beating the Raiders outright as 3-point underdogs - to get back above 30 percent.

The only other teams below 40 percent are the Dolphins, Packers, Raiders, Ravens, and Titans at 5-8 (38 percent). That leaves 16 teams, or half of the 32 teams in the league, between 40 and 60 percent.

Over/unders not as evenly split

If the oddsmakers' goal is to get every betting option close to 50 percent, they're not doing as good of a job with NFL totals. But it's not for a lack of trying, as the totals on games involving the Browns, Bears, and Ravens have routinely been in the low 30's but they keep going under the totals.

The Bears are 9-2-2 (82 percent) with the under after pushing with a total of 30 in their 21-9 loss to the Steelers. The Browns are 10-3 (77 percent) with the under, as are the Vikings, who have had to contend with much higher numbers because of the long-held belief that they had an explosive offense and a sieve-like defense. The Ravens are 9-3-1 with the under to put four teams at 75 percent or better.

This week, the Bears have a total of 31 vs. the Falcons in the Sunday night game, though that total could drop if Michael Vick's injury from Monday night proves to be more serious than initially reported. The Browns have a total of 40 vs. the Raiders, the Vikings have a total of 41 vs. the Steelers, and the Ravens have a total of 33 vs. the Packers on Monday night.

- There aren't as many stone-cold over teams. The Seahawks have the league's best record with the over at 9-4 (69 percent). The only other teams at better than 60 percent are the Jaguars at 8-4-1, and the Broncos, Rams, 49ers, and Cardinals at 8-5. This week, the Seahawks, who have outscored their opponents by a combined 83-3 the past two games, thus providing just about all the scoring to go over both weeks, have a total of 45 vs. the Titans. Despite the fact both these teams are in that list of solid over teams, the Jaguars have a total of 37 1/2 vs. the 49ers and might need to do all the scoring to get over the number.

Who's hot, who's not

The Vikings have the longest spread winning streak with five straight covers. No other team has covered more than two in a row, though the Colts and Chiefs were both on three-game cover streaks before their pushes Sunday, so their backers haven't lost a bet in the past month (the unfortunate late bettors with Colts -8 1/2 or -9 notwithstanding).

- The Packers beat the Lions 16-13 in overtime Sunday night, but they failed to cover and have dropped a league-worst four straight. The 49ers and Raiders have both dropped three in a row.

- The Vikings and Panthers have both gone under in five straight games - though again it should be mentioned that the Bears had four straight unders before their push on Sunday, so they have been overless (is that a word?) in their last five. The Redskins, Packers, and Lions also have gone under in four straight. The Panthers' season has been a lesson in contrasts. Before their five straight unders, they had started the season 5-1-2 with the over.

- No team has gone over in more than two straight games.

NFL league-wide betting trends

Underdogs went 8-5-3 this past week but favorites are still 117-84-7 (58 percent) on the season.

- Big underdogs were a big part of that success last week as dogs of 7 1/2 points or more were 4-2-1 against the spread with double-digit dogs at 3-2. This week's big dogs are the Bills +9 vs. the Broncos, Chargers +7 1/2 vs. the Colts, 49ers +15 vs. the Jaguars, Titans +7 vs. the Seahawks, Jets +8 1/2 vs. the Dolphins, Saints +8 vs. the Panthers, and Lions +7 1/2 vs. the Bengals.

- Home underdogs had a rare winning week at 2-1-2 against the spread. If you think the home dogs will try to make up ground on their subpar 24-37-3 (39 percent) record, this week's home dogs are the Bills, Titans, Saints, and Lions, Vikings, and Texans.