09/27/2001 11:00PM

Dilfer may not be a back-up for long


NEW YORK, N.Y. - What a difference a year can make. Last season Trent Dilfer was the starting quarterback for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. This year, he's carrying a clipboard on the sidelines as the back-up for the Seattle Seahawks. Dilfer was considered the one weakness in Baltimore's armor, but he did win a Super Bowl, and perhaps soon will win Seattle's starting job from current starter Matt Hasselbeck. Seattle has scored a combined total of only 12 points in two games so far with Hasselbeck at the helm, and the quarterback has already earned the moniker "Hasselback-up" from the Seattle fans who booed him persistently last week. Amid the boos, Seattle fans could also be heard chanting "Dilfer, Dilfer" for the man that nobody except the Seahawks would take a chance on. The same man the Ravens couldn't wait to get rid of.

Seattle at Oakland (-10 1/2)

The Raiders did a lot of travelling to and from Miami last week, but are back in Oakland this week and finally get to play their home opener here against the hated Seahawks. The fans should be pumped up, and the Raiders should get a big boost off that emotion in addition to being very ill-tempered from last week's 18-15 loss to Miami. The Raiders were quite effective in Oakland last year, and come into this game with a streak of six straight regular-season home covers including a 31-3 win over Seattle last season. Oakland's offense sputtered last week on the road against the tough Dolphins' defense. However, this week's task should be quite a bit easier against Seattle's D which gave up 27 to Philadelphia last week. The Raiders averaged 34 points a game at home last season, and the Seahawks have no chance to come close to that total based on what we've seen from their offense so far. Play: Oakland for 3 units.

Baltimore at Denver (-4 1/2)

The Super Bowl champs are in trouble due to their complete lack of a running game, but who would have believed they would lose to Cincinnati? The Ravens have turned in poor efforts against Chicago and Cincy, and now get their first real test of the season as they travel to the mile high city to take on Denver. The Broncos christened their new stadium in Week #1 with a rousing 31-20 win and cover over the Giants, and are now waiting for revenge against the Ravens who unceremoniously dumped them from last year's playoffs, 21-3 in Baltimore. These Ravens are certainly not the same team they were last year on offense where they really miss the presence of the injured Jamal Lewis and his 1364 rushing yards. Baltimore brought in Elvis Grbac at quarterback in an attempt to shore up the offensive attack, but they certainly didn't intend for him to throw 60+ passes a game like he did last week. Denver is hurting from the losses of both Ed McCaffery and Terrell Davis, but Eddie Kennison and Mike Anderson are capable back-ups at both positions. On the other side of the ball, the Broncos D is familiar with Grbac from his days in the AFC West, and should shut down the non-existant Ravens offense. Play: Denver for 2 units.

Cleveland at Jacksonville (-8 1/2)

The Jaguars and Browns meet in an AFC Central match-up, but to call this a

divisional "rivalry" would be quite a stretch based on recent head-to-head results between these teams. In the 2-year history of the new Cleveland franchise, these teams have met four times with the Jags winning all four games by a combined score of 123-28. For you non-math majors out there, that's an average score of 31-7 and an average margin of victory of 24 points a game in favor of Jacksonville. The Jags are red-hot with divisional home wins against Pittsburgh and Tennessee to start the season, and they are not about to let their AFC Central advantage go to waste against their annual whipping boys, the Browns. Cleveland has been very competitive so far this season, but this game marks the road debut for the Browns this season. The Browns are going to need to improve away from home based upon their two-year road record of 3-13 against the spread on the road which includes a 1-7 ATS road record last season. Fred Taylor is out for a month with a groin injury, but Stacie Mack proved to be a good replacement last week. Play: Jacksonville for 2 units.

Miami (+6) at St. Louis

The Dolphins have begun the season in fine form with wins and covers over two of the better teams in the AFC, Tennessee and Oakland. Miami's win against the Titans came on the road, and bumped the Dolphins' record to 7-1 against the spread as underdogs under coach Dave Wannestadt. The Rams are at home for the first time this year after going 3-5 against the spread in St. Louis last season as undervalued favorites. They won't have much of an advantage on Miami thanks to their artificial turf, either. The Fins were 4-1 straight up and against the spread last season on turf (including playoffs), and outscored their opponents by a combined score of 103-58. Play: Miami for 1 unit.

Cincinnati at San Diego (-6 1/2)

These teams are vying for the title of "most improved team of 2001," and it's notable that their four combined wins so far already account for 80 percent of their combined total of five wins last season. San Diego upgraded last season's poor 26th-ranked offense with Doug Flutie and LaDanian Tomlinson, and the Chargers are also much healthier on defense than they were last year. Cincy, meanwhile, has boosted its offense by replacing quarterback Akili Smith with Jon Kitna, and acquiring OT Richmond Webb to protect him. The Bengals also upgraded their pass rush with fourth overall draft pick DE Justin Smith (Missouri). San Diego's home field advantage may end up making all the difference in this game. The last time the Bolts were at home, they crushed the Redskins 30-3 in a dominating performance. The Bengals, are coming off a stunning win over the Ravens, but that win was accomplished at home thanks to a bevy of Baltimore turnovers. This week the Bengals are playing their first road game of the season. Last year, they were only 2-4-1 against the spread as road dogs. Play: San Diego for 1 unit.

Pittsburgh (-3) at Buffalo

Is there anyone still left out there who is not convinced that Buffalo is one of the worst teams in the league? The Bills are a proud franchise, but they are now two head coaches removed from Marv Levy, and they truly deserve every blowout loss they suffer this year after letting go of Doug Flutie instead of the pathetic Rob Johnson. Last week's blowout de jour was a 42-26 loss to Indianapolis, proving that the offense isn't the only thing that's pathetic in Buffalo. The Steelers have had three full weeks to simmer after their 21-3 opening week loss to Jacksonville, and they will be anxious to take out their frustrations on the hapless Bills, even on the road. Pittsburgh may be a grass team now, but they've been a turf team until this year and were 5-3 against the spread last season on artificial turf. Buffalo played a division game last week against Indianapolis, and play another division game next week against the Jets, making this a non-division sandwich game. Not that it matters. Play: Pittsburgh for 1 unit.

Last week: 6-0 (Plus 9 units)

Season record: 8-2-1 (plus 10 units)