12/01/2006 12:00AM

Despite defeat, stay the course


LAS VEGAS - In every gambling game, there are winning streaks and losing streaks, ups and downs, days in the penthouse and days in the poorhouse.

Last week I bottomed out with an 0-5 NFL card. But one of the tenets of successful gambling is continue to play the right way and not panic.

It's like in blackjack. To win in the long run, you have to use basic strategy.

If you have a 10 or 11 with your first two cards and the dealer has a bust card like a 5 or 6 showing, you should double down. You have an increased chance to make a hand, and the dealer has about a 42 percent chance of busting. You definitely have the advantage at that point and will make money on those bets in the long run.

Now, let's say you do that and lose. Then you do it again and lose again. If the situation comes up, what do you do? Double down, of course - or at least that's what I hope your answer was.

I've seen many players in casinos get scared and stop playing the right way because of a short sample of bad luck. The same happens when novices bust on 15 or 16 vs. a high card; they start to stand on those hands, and it ends up costing them even more. If you're going to play the game, you have to play it right and keep making the proper decisions.

As most regular readers know, I'm an underdog player (some would say "to a fault," but whatever). Last year, when favorites were covering at a record pace, I heard a lot of people saying how there was a lack of parity and that you couldn't win by betting just underdogs anymore. Those people jumped on the bandwagon too late and got run over when the dogs starting barking. Those that stayed the course made their money back late in the season and into the playoffs.

So, I'm sticking with my basic strategy: emphasis on underdogs, especially those playing at home, and some underpriced favorites.

Colts at Titans (+7 1/2)

This ranks right up there as a basic-strategy play for me. Home underdogs are hitting at a 61 percent clip this year at 35-22-1, plus all underdogs of more than a touchdown (+7 1/2 or higher) are 24-18-2 against the spread. We also have a Tennessee team that is playing much better lately. Three weeks they had the Ravens on the ropes before losing 27-26 and followed that with outright upsets of the Eagles and Giants. The Colts still have holes in their run defense, and Tennessee quarterback Vince Young will further test that and their tackling ability. Also, remember that when these teams played back in Week 5 in Indianapolis, the Titans weren't intimidated by the Colts as the defense stood up to Peyton Manning & Co., nearly knocking them off before losing 14-13. Expect another close battle here.

PLAY: Titans for 1 unit.

Jaguars at Dolphins (-1)

The Dolphins began the year as a major disappointment while the Jaguars were one of the early-season darlings. Those roles have reversed as the Dolphins have been playing solid on both sides of the ball in winning four straight games. The Jaguars still seem to step up vs. top-tier teams (wins over the Steelers, Jets, Eagles, Giants) but fall short vs. teams they should beat (two losses to the Texans, and one to the Bills last week). The Dolphins are clearly the better team right now, and playing at home. If you had made this line before the season, it would have to be at least a field goal, and I think that's where it should be now, so there's value in laying the short price.

PLAY: Dolphins for 1 unit.

Falcons (+1 1/2) at Redskins

These are two of the most enigmatic teams this season. One week they look great, and the next they have a head-scratching performance. Jason Campbell has injected some energy into the Washington offense, but there's a growing process for young starting quarterbacks in the NFL and, even though Atlanta's defense hasn't been too tough lately, it could pose problems for the Skins. Washington is trying to rely on the run to take pressure off Campbell, but the Falcons are No. 9 in the league vs. the run and will force Campbell to beat them, and I'm not sure he's ready to carry the load yet. This also looks like a statement game for Falcons' QB Michael Vick after all that finger-flipping flap.

PLAY: Falcons for 1 unit.

Cowboys at Giants (+3 1/2)

This one might belong in the Basic Strategy Hall of Fame. We have a home underdog in a game for the division lead. These teams played Oct. 23 in Dallas with the Cowboys favored by 3 and the Giants winning 36-22. So, how do the Giants win that game and go from being a 3-point road dog to a 3o1/2-point home dog? Granted, the Giants are in a three-game skid, including blowing a 21-0 lead vs. the Titans last week in a 24-21 loss that resulted in a full-blown locker room soap opera that lasted well into the week, while the Cowboys have won three straight. But I still feel that's an overadjustment in the line. Unlike the last week, the Giants should be focused and play a complete game. This should be close throughout and could very easily come down to a field goal, which I wouldn't mind at all even if Dallas wins outright. Full disclosure note: last Sunday, I got a line of Cowboys -2 on this game, but - to borrow a poker term - came over the top with the Giants +4 before the line came back down.

PLAY: Giants for 1 unit.

Seahawks (+3 1/2) at Broncos

Just like going against the Redskins' Campbell, I have to go against Jay Cutler making his first start for Denver. Yes, he's going to be a good NFL quarterback, and, yes, he's had three extra days to prepare after the Broncos' last game on Thanksgiving, but the Seahawks defense is quick and will be better than the defenses Cutler faced in preseason. In addition, the Seahawks' offense is getting Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander healthy at the right time. If this was closer to pick-em, I'd probably pass, but I can't pass up getting more than a field goal with the better team.

PLAY: Seahawks for 1 unit.

Last week: 0-5 for a net loss of 5.5 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 31-34-2, including 0-1 on my one 2-unit best bet, for a net loss of 6.2 units.