10/07/2003 12:00AM

Colts rally the stuff nightmares made of

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LAS VEGAS - Bad beats - games in which you lose a bet after seemingly having it won - happen every weekend of the football season.

We saw one last Saturday when a UNLV running back was going in for a spread-covering TD vs. Nevada and fumbled through the end zone for a touchback. Another happened Sunday when the Redskins recovered an onside kick and scored a late TD to get a backdoor cover vs. the Eagles.

But there are bad beats, and then there are bad beats.

I was on the losing end of a classic one Monday night as the Colts beat the Buccaneers 38-35 in overtime to became the first team in NFL history to rally from a 21-point deficit with less than four minutes to play. I had the Bucs -4 1/2 with my published bankroll plays, in the Hilton SuperContest, and in my wallet. The Buccaneers jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead, and I was well on my way to a 3-1-1 record for the week and a nice profit of 1.9 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1).

I won't even bother going into details, as just about anyone reading this (even those who turned off their televisions when the Bucs went up 35-14 on a Ronde Barber interception return with 5:09 to play have probably seen the replays by now.

By Tuesday morning, I had already seen and heard claims that "the fix was in" on Internet forums and on radio sports-talk shows. But I'm not going there. In a fixed game, the refs (or the league or the network or whoever else the conspiracy theorists would have you believe are in on it) wouldn't let the other team get up 21 points that late.

Besides, on the second onside kick before the two-minute warning, the Bucs recovered even though the Colts had the ball surrounded and the refs could have easily signaled that they had the ball. And in a fix, that running-into-the-kicker penalty would never have been called against the Colts in overtime. It was just a case of the Colts capitalizing on the breaks they got and the Bucs falling apart.

But bad beats are all part of the game. That's why it's called gambling. I would love to hear from readers about their worst beats, whether it was on a Hail Mary pass, a fluke defensive touchdown or a missed extra point. E-mail me at dtuley@drf.com. I'll compile the best/worst stories for a future column.

It might be therapeutic for you. And maybe it's a case of misery loving company, but I could use some therapy, too.

NFL betting stats

After seeing favorites winning like crazy the first three weekends of the NFL season, underdog bettors came out ahead for the second straight week with a 9-4 mark (the Titans-Patriots game was the second game this year to close at pick-em, so that isn't included). For the year, favorites still hold a slight-but-shrinking 37-32 (53.6 percent) advantage with three pushes.

We're also seeing an evening-out in the over/under wars as overs went 9-5 over the weekend to cut into the unders' lead at 38-34-1.

Road teams went 9-5 last week and now have a 43-28 (60.6 percent) edge with three pushes. That is mostly because of road favorites still hitting at a 14-4 (77.8 percent) rate.

As for individual teams, the Chiefs and Panthers might also be undefeated in the league standings, but the Colts and the Vikings are the only 5-0 teams against the spread. The Patriots and have covered their last four games since their season-opening 31-0 blowout loss to the Bills. The Dolphins and Cowboys are 3-1 after dropping their season openers, too.

The aging Raiders are 2-3 in the standings, which is certainly painful to their fans, but they are an even worse 0-5 against the spread. The Falcons are 1-4 against the spread, dropping their last four after the season-opening win over the Cowboys.

The Texans were over the total in all four of their games before last week's bye and are the only team to go over in all of its games. The Bengals are 5-0 with the under. The Lions went over in their season-opening win over the Cardinals, but have gone under in their last four.

Tackling the trends

In last week's trend analysis, I recommended Virginia over North Carolina and said to ignore the 49ers' losing spread record. That resulted in a win and a push.

This week, I'll start with a look at ESPN's Thursday-night game featuring Colorado St. at BYU. Colorado St. is 6-1 in road conference games over the last three years, 8-2 as a short road dog (3 points or less) in the past 10 years and 37-19 (66.1 percent) as any kind of underdog in the past 10 years. Even though it should be noted that the home team has covered the last four games in this series (which favors BYU), this still looks like history is on CSU's side.

Here's an interesting trend: In the past 10 years, after Miami-Fla. plays a Thursday night game, they are 1-6 against the spread when playing the next Saturday (eight days' rest). The 'Canes, however, are also 6-1 against the spread in road non-conference games the past three years. These trends certainly cancel each other out, and with Miami-Fla. +5 1/2 vs. Florida St. this Saturday, it's a toss-up and all trends go out the window.

Arkansas hosts Auburn this week and has covered the last four games in the series, but it's hard to lay 5 1/2 points vs. Auburn, which has turned its season around. I'll pass.

Wisconsin has covered four of the last four meetings with Ohio St., and this Saturday gets them at home. With Ohio St. repeatedly flirting with being upset, this could finally be the week they fall as 2 1/2-point road favorites.

Bankroll results

As mentioned above, my NFL bankroll plays went 2-2-1 last week for a net loss of 0.2 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). Granted, even though the Bucs' loss was brutal, and I felt I should have won with the 49ers -7 vs. the Lions and had to settle for a push, I kinda lucked out in getting a backdoor cover with the Saints +7 in their 19-13 loss to the Panthers. The other games were an easy win by the Packers and a clear non-cover by the Bills vs. the Bengals. For the season, the NFL plays are 12-9-4 for a net profit of 2.1 units.

In the colleges, I also went 2-2 (easy wins on Virginia and Texas Tech and losses on Tennessee and Cincinnati) for a net loss of 0.2 units. College bankroll plays are 12-14 for a net loss of 3.4 units.

Colorado St. (+2) at BYU

I'll try to start the weekend off on a winning note with a play on the underdog Rams on Thursday night's TV game. Colorado St. snapped a two-game losing streak last week vs. Fresno St. as quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt passed for 197 yards and ran for 154 more. That's the kind of performance Mountain West Conference fans have come to expect. The rest of his teammates aren't as good as they have been in recent years, but neither is BYU's team. I also favor CSU coach Sonny Lubick to get his team ready on a short week.

PLAY: Colorado St. for 1 unit.