10/15/2001 11:00PM

The Cowboys win that wasn't a win

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Monday night is traditionally the "get out" game for football bettors, especially when they have been losing like the majority of bettors did this past weekend.

The Cowboys opened as a 1 1/2-point favorite when the Stardust posted the opening numbers on Oct. 7.

Within half an hour, the line moved to 2 1/2. The following morning, when all the other sports books in Las Vegas posted their opening numbers, 2 1/2 is what they hung up.

Throughout the week, the public followed the "smart money" and pushed it to 3. Some books (Station Casinos, Stardust, and the Club Cal-Neva books in Reno) even moved the line to 3 1/2 on Sunday and Monday to try to attract Washing-ton money and limit their liability, but most books stayed on 3 to avoid being exposed to a middle.

When the Cowboys trailed 7-6 in the closing minutes and were moving into scoring position, every Dallas bettor needed a touchdown to win his bet. When Emmitt Smith broke free with 26 seconds remaining, those bettors were praying he would make it to the end zone like so many times before. Bookmakers were praying he would be stopped. The bookies' prayers were answered as Smith came up short and the Cowboys kicked a field goal to win by a non-covering 9-7.

The only Dallas backers who won were those that laid the 1 1/2 in the Stardust lottery. For a lot of other bettors, Monday night's game made a losing weekend even worse.

NFL stats and trends

In Sunday's Daily Racing Form I wrote that bettors who took the favorites and the unders would probably see a reversal of fortune, because bookmakers would adjust their lines.

Unfortunately, I didn't capitalize on this knowledge (see my NFL bankroll below).

It happened sooner rather than later as favorites were 2-11-1 in the NFL last weekend and there were nine overs and five unders that won. For the season, favorites are winning at a 37-31 (54 percent) clip against the spread with four pushes. The under's record is 38-32 (54 percent) with two pushes.

The Browns' 24-14 loss to the Bengals means that there are no NFL teams undefeated against the spread. The Bills and Titans are the only team that have yet to beat the spread, though the Titans got a push in their 31-28 win over the Buccaneers.

Through the first four weeks of the season, there were only three games in which the favorite won without covering the spread. This week, it happened five times - in games won by the Bears (though some books closed this at 7, which was a push), Vikings, Saints, Rams, and Cowboys.

With the Colts going under in a Sunday night loss to the Raiders, no team has gone over in all of its games. After the rash of overs on Sunday, the Bears are the only team to go under in all their games this year. The total for Sunday's Bears-Bengals game ranged from 35 1/2 to 36 1/2 at Vegas sports book as of Tuesday morning.

Season-long contest updates

Bob Donahue held onto first place in the Sunset Station All-Star Handicappers Invitational in a week in which several leaders stumbled. Donahue racked up only four points in the format that asks handicappers to make six selections a week and get two points for each win, three for a best-bet win, and one for a push. Donahue, who has 44 points on the season, had his lead trimmed to three points over Rob Veno, at 41. Both lost their best bets for the first time in the contest.

Contestants also struggled in the Las Vegas Hilton's SuperContest as consensus plays went 6-7-1. Contestants benefited from laying only 6 1/ 2 with the Bears (a 20-13 winner) but lost other major plays on the Rams, Dolphins, Saints, and Cowboys. The Bud Man managed to go 3-1-1 to raise his season record to 19-4-3 and take over sole possession of first place.

Select West is second at 19-6, followed by Blue Coats at 18-7.

Author Patrick Forsythe went 3-3-1 to defeat local handicapper Bubba Youngblood (1-6) in the Stardust Invitational. This week's matchup has Hall of Fame offensive guard Tom Mack taking on local sports betting writer Stephen Nover in the Stardust sports book at 9 p.m. Friday (also heard live on KDWN AM-720).

NCAA bankroll about even, NFL dips

My college bankroll continued its slow climb back to respectability, thanks to winning bets on Maryland (last Thursday), Miami-Fla., Texas, and Washington State. Each win netted 10 units of profit. On the downside, I lost 22 units on Purdue and 11 on Fresno State. The net gain of seven units brings the bankroll, which started the season at 1,000 units and was at 992 entering the week, back up to 999.

The news wasn't as good in the NFL. I dropped 22 units on my best bet, the Dolphins, who blew a 17-0 lead as a 3-point favorite on the way to a 21-17 loss to the Jets. I also lost 11 units on each the Browns and the Vikings (who got back-doored by the Lions). I had winning plays on the Steelers and Raiders. I also was 1-2 on three under plays at 11 units each, winning the Rams-Giants and losing the Saints-Panthers and Lions-Vikings. The net loss of 36 units, drops my NFL bankroll from 1,019 at the start of the week to 983.

Bills at Jaguars (-9)

This game was scheduled for Thursday night because Game 2 of the World Series was supposed to be Sunday night.

(Schedule-makers have had a tough time lately. The Cowboys-Raiders game that was originally scheduled for this coming Sunday was moved to Oct. 7 because Oakland Coliseum officials thought that the A's would be playing in the American League Championship Series this weekend. Oops, the Yankees spoiled that Monday night.)

The Bills and Jaguars are both coming off byes and are better than their records indicate. The Bills have losses to the Saints, Colts, Steelers, and Jets. None of those is embarrassing by itself, but the combination makes them 0-4.

The Jaguars have lost to two surprising teams, the Browns and Seahawks, after opening the season with wins over the Steelers and Titans. The Steelers game is the key. The Jaguars beat them 21-3, while the Steelers beat the Bills 20-3 three Sundays ago. That makes me feel more comfortable about laying the 9 points (though some of the offshore books were at 8 1/2 Thursday morning, so grab that if you can).

Play: Jaguars for 11 units.