11/01/2002 12:00AM

Dogs doing pretty well on the road, too


LAS VEGAS - In our weekly look at NFL betting trends, I have pointed out how well home dogs are doing this season.

They are 23-15 (61 percent) with two pushes this year. Playing home dogs in the NFL has been a popular angle for a long time, so that's why that one is pretty obvious.

In past years, a lot of the success of underdogs could be traced to underdog teams playing at home. This year, however, underdogs are 67-45 (59.8 percent) with four pushes overall, so what doesn't often get mentioned is that road dogs are thriving, too. They are 44-30 (59.5 percent - just 1 percent lower than home dogs) with two pushes.

This week, my top play is on a home dog (playing, appropriately enough, in the Dawg Pound in Cleveland) while my other four top plays are road dogs.

Steelers at Browns (+3)

These teams met Sept. 29 in Pittsburgh. The Browns (as a 6-point road dog) dominated the first quarter and had the chance to take control of the game, but had to settle for two field goals. Still, they still led 13-6 until Tommy Maddox replaced Kordell Stewart in the fourth quarter and led a drive to force overtime.

The Browns had a chance to win in OT, but the usually reliable Phil Dawson missed a field goal. The Steelers then moved into FG range, but their attempt was blocked. Since it was on a second down and the Steelers recovered behind the line of scrimmage, however, Todd Peterson was given a second chance and the Steelers won 16-13.

If it took all that for the Browns to lose that game in Pittsburgh, I see no reason why they can't turn the tables in Cleveland (and getting 3 points to boot). PLAY: Browns for 2 units.

Vikings (+7 1/2) at Buccaneers

The Vikings aren't a very good team, but I like them in this spot. They showed signs of life last week dominating the Bears 25-7. The Buccaneers, who have played great defense most of the year, continue to struggle on offense.

Rob Johnson was unable to mount a TD drive last week against the Panthers, though the Bucs managed to win 12-9 on four field goals. Brad Johnson returns at QB for Tampa Bay, but he wasn't much better. That makes me less wary about the Vikings' defense. If Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss can just hook up one or two times, the Vikes should be able to stay within a touchdown. PLAY: Vikings for 1 unit.

Ravens (+7 1/2) at Falcons

The Falcons came through for me last week in upsetting the Saints, but I can't lay more than a touchdown with them at home. Even with Ray Lewis out, the Ravens' defense should be able to contain Falcons QB Michael Vick (and it wouldn't shock me to see him knocked out of the game).

Jeff Blake sparked the Ravens' offense last week in place of Chris Redman, but three interceptions marred his performance. If he eliminates those mistakes, the Ravens can fly with the Falcons. PLAY: Ravens for 1 unit.

49ers (+3) at Raiders

This Bay Area battle shapes up as the game of the week. The 49ers' balanced offense should shred the Raiders' defense, giving them an early lead; they can then let the running game take over and control the rest of the game. Raiders QB Rich Gannon will probably throw for 300 yards for the seventh straight time, but this one will end up the way the last three games did - defeat. PLAY: 49ers for 1 unit.

Jaguars (+3) at Giants

The Jaguars, considered one of the early surprises this season, are coming off an embarrassing 21-19 loss to the Texans. Coach Tom Coughlin has been trying to use that as motivation to get back on the winning track against the Giants, who are coming off a Monday night loss to the Eagles.

Sunday night games are 5-2 with the over (there was no game two weeks ago because of the World Series), but this looks like an under with these two teams.

I won't make it an official bankroll play because the total was a low 35 1/2 at press time, but if the public bets it up to 37 by kickoff, that's the side I would recommend. PLAY: Jaguars for 1 unit.

Over/under play

When playing totals, I generally look to the under, but this week one game screams over. The Rams, coming off two straight wins under QB Marc Bulger and also coming off a bye, visit the Cardinals. The Rams should be even more in synch than they were in wins over the Raiders and Seahawks. That doesn't bode well for a Cardinals team that always seems to start slow.

This has all the makings of a 21-7 halftime lead by the Rams. Then, as so often is the case, Cardinals QB Jake Plummer will start to click in the second half and bring his team back. They may or may not win, but the rally should send this game flying over the total, especially since Rams coach Mike Martz isn't one to sit on a lead and play conservative. PLAY: Rams-Cardinals over 43 for 2 units.

Season record: 33-40-1 for a net loss of 9.5 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).