02/04/2005 12:00AM

Eagles and under in a tight game


The odds on the Super Bowl have been up for nearly two weeks, but the betting heading into this weekend will be dwarfed by the amount of action leading up to kickoff at 3:25 p.m. Pacific.

Sports book directors annually estimate that 90 percent of Super Bowl handle comes in on game day, so the books will be packed Sunday, especially with the NFL's crackdown on public-viewing parties.

So, it's not an official slogan of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau, but Super Bowl partygoers in Las Vegas are advised to bet early and often.

Eagles (+7) vs. Patriots (over-under 48)

I have been a Patriots backer and an Eagles basher all season long, so two weeks ago when the Pats were dismantling the Steelers in the AFC championship game and a Pats-Eagles Super Bowl became inevitable, I really had to take a step back to objectively analyze this matchup.

Some books opened the Pats -6 or -6 1/2 and I felt that was a really solid line, and I knew it would be hard to come to a decision. The line was quickly bet to 7, and money has come in on the Patriots, and as of Friday morning the Pats were at -7 -120 (bet $1.20 for every $1 you would win) at many books with the Eagles +7 at even money.

The betting value has clearly swung to the Eagles' side. The only thing keeping me from really loading up on the Philadelphians is that I usually like to feel reasonably confident about an outright upset when backing an underdog, especially when getting single digits. I still feel the Patriots are the better team; it's just that with 7 points being a push, I feel the odds are better that the Eagles will win or lose by 6 points or fewer as opposed to the Patriots needing to win by 8 or more.

My opinion above is basically in handicapping the line value. When looking at the player matchups, I give the edge to the Pats, but there isn't much difference between the two teams - certainly not 7 points' worth.

Both defenses are playing extremely well, and I just don't see this being the shootout that last year's Pats-Panthers game turned into, though you'll recall that game had scoreless first and third quarters, so it wasn't an up-and-down-the-field affair all night long. That was a game of big strikes, and I don't see that happening again. The Patriots will grind the ball out with running back Corey Dillon and with quarterback Tom Brady's precision short-passing game, but I can't see them scoring in the 30's. The Eagles will have to get running back Brian Westbrook in open space and quarterback Donovan McNabb's mobility will pose problems for the Patriots, but I don't see either of them going wild.

That's why my preferred play is actually on the game to go under the total of 48 points. I don't foresee a three yards and a cloud of dust, 13-10 type of throwback game, but I'm thinking more in the range of 20-17, 24-20.

PLAY: Eagles +7 for 1 unit. Under 48 points for 2 units.

Season record: 47-46-3 for a net loss of 4.7 units
Proposition bets: The game(s) within the game

Super Bowl betting is now more than just picking the winner and the over/under. Close to half of the overall handle will be on the hundreds of proposition wagers available on the game.

A forest was cleared to print out all the sheets at Vegas sports books. The Las Vegas Hilton offers 250 props, filling nine pages of legal-sized paper, front and back. The Imperial Palace is next with seven pages. Harrah's is the most economical with one page (using small print).

Unless you're betting purely recreational dollars and aren't going to worrying about nickel-and-diming yourself, it pays to shop around as the price on the same prop can vary greatly from property to property.

I will slip in my annual warning about playing the convenient parlay cards with preset props. They are all "ties lose," so even if you win every other pick on the card, it's still a loser with one push. If you bet off the board and get a push, you get a refund. And these cards are created to increase the likelihood of a push. Every card I've seen has the line on the game at 7 with the total at 48, so those could turn most every card sold into a loser. In addition, the other props are on the most common numbers for field goals by both teams (2), interceptions (2), fumbles (2) and sacks (5).

Those cards are tempting because most books don't allow you to parlay props. Others limit parlays to two props, or only to certain props. The Aladdin is one exception as it will take parlays on up to six props, as long as they're not "correlated" (such as Pats on the money line to Pats -7).

Proposition predictions

Here are some of my prop plays for Sunday's Super Bowl. Please note that lines are subject to change, especially with the heavy volume this weekend.

First player to score TD: I'm going with the field at 5-1. This one takes some shopping around as some books went ahead and put Terrell Owens on their list of individual players while others left him off, yet most put the field at 5-1. There's value with Owens in the field.

Will either team score three straight times, unbroken by the other team scoring?: I'll take the "no" at +180 offered at the Stratosphere. This goes along with feeling the game will be relatively close and low-scoring.

Largest lead of the game: I'll take the under 13 1/2 at +170 at MGM Mirage.

Double result: This is definitely one of those "long-term positive expectation" wagers. The past two years, I've lost this bet - which links the first-half winner to the game winner - which is available at most larger casinos. The option I like is taking the "tie/Patriots" at 10-1 and the "tie/Eagles at 14-1." Basically, I'm cheering for a halftime tie, which would guarantee a winning bet. Sure, I lost a bet and cut my odds in half, but either 5-1 or 7-1 on my combined wagers will more than make up for my previous losses on this prop.

Will there be a score in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter: I'll take the "no" at +105 offered at MGM Mirage, though most others have it at minus-money.