12/19/2005 1:00AM

Colts' defeat allows books a sigh of relief


LAS VEGAS - The popular question in the NFL the second half of this season was whether or not the Colts would complete the regular season undefeated.

It was also the talk of the sports books here in Vegas, where a very popular proposition wager was "Will the Colts go 16-0?"

Sunday's score: Chargers 26, Colts 17.

So, the answer to the question was a resounding "no."

That was a relief to a number of sports book managers, since an overwhelming number of wagers came in on the "yes." Bettors in these types of bets tend to want to cheer for something to happen, especially since going against the Colts required bettors to lay odds.

After the Colts defeated the Patriots on Nov. 10 to improve to 8-0, the odds opened as high as +650 (win $6.50 for every $1 wagered, or odds of 6 1/2 to 1) on the "yes" at the Las Vegas Hilton, with the "no" at -900 (risk $9 for every $1 you want to profit). At the end of that week, the Hilton had 23 bets on the "yes" and zero on the "no."

A number of books, including the Leroy's outlets and the Palms, updated the prop after the Colts won their next five games. When the prop was taken down at the start of Sunday's game, the Palms had the "no" at -130 and the "yes" at +115.

Palms race and sports book director Rich Baccellieri said his book had decent two-way action throughout the prop, but it was a ratio of 4 to 1 on the "yes."

In the end, though, it was the naysayers who cashed.

* Despite the loss, the Colts are still the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl. Some books also have a Super Bowl line that has the AFC as an 11 1/2- or 12-point favorite over the NFC.

Early NFL line moves

With uncertainty over playoff scenarios and whether coaches will be resting players, the Stratosphere joined the Stardust and Imperial Palace in deciding to wait until Monday morning to post their opening numbers for this weekend's NFL action.

That left the Las Vegas Hilton as the only regular stop for professional bettors to make their early wagers on Sunday night.

The biggest line move came on the Colts-Seahawks game, which opened at Seahawks -7 but dropped to -5 after money came in on the Colts. (Last week, before the Colts' loss and on the assumption they would still be playing their starters in their quest for a perfect season, the Hilton had the Colts as a 3 1/2-point favorite over the Seahawks in their early line.)

The only other games to move a full point were the Rams from -10 1/2 to -9 1/2 vs. the 49ers (offshore books opened the line at 10), the Bears from -2 to -3 vs. the Packers, and the Ravens from -1 to pick-em vs. the Vikings.

When the lines went up Monday around town, they mirrored the Hilton numbers Sunday night, though most books had the following games off the board: Eagles-Cardinals, Colts-Seahawks, Bears-Packers, Vikings-Ravens, and Patriots-Jets. The games involving the Colts and Patriots were off the board because of the uncertainty surrounding the amount of playing time those teams would give their starters - both teams are pretty much locked into their playoff berths. The games involving the Packers and Ravens were off the board because they were set to face each other Monday night. The Eagles-Cardinals game was off the board because of injuries to Arizona quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Josh McCown.

College bowl games kick off

The bowl season starts this week. I took a pass on Tuesday's New Orleans Bowl between Southern Mississippi and Arkansas, but there are two games I like in the middle of the week. I'll look at the weekend bowls in Friday's editions.

GMAC Bowl (Wednesday)
UTEP (+3) vs. Toledo

Both teams averaged well over 34 points a game this season, so this could turn into a shootout, and in that case I give the edge to UTEP quarterback Jordan Palmer, younger brother of Heisman winner Carson Palmer. He struggled late in the year, but this is a chance to shine on national TV. The 3 1/2-week gap since their last game has helped some of the the Miners' key players get healthy.

PLAY: UTEP for 1 unit.

Poinsettia Bowl (Thursday)
Navy (-2 1/2) vs. Colorado St.

This game opened at pick-em, but there's still betting value at anything less than a field goal. Navy led the nation in rushing offense at 306 yards per game, while Colorado St. was 104th against the rush at 201 yards per game and gave up 4.6 yards per rushing play. That should be enough to give the victory to Navy, especially as Colorado St. hasn't done much on offense to keep up. In addition, with the bases around San Diego, the crowd should be in favor of the Midshipmen as the Naval Academy has sold out its allotment of 20,000 tickets. I can't see Colorado St. getting much support.

PLAY: Navy for 1 unit.

Regular-season college bankroll: 28-31 for a net loss of 5.1 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).