10/21/2010 1:57PM

Favorites finally have a good week in NFL


LAS VEGAS – NFL favorites – and the bettors who back them – bounced back a little last week.

A little.

After the first five weeks of the NFL season saw favorites fail to post a composite winning record against the spread as they went 7-8-1, 5-10-1, 5-11, 4-9 (the Patriots-Dolphins game closed pick-em, so no “favorite”), and 5-9, the chalk went 7-5-2 last week as the sports books here suffered their first losing weekend. But, as you can tell from the numbers, it didn’t put much of a dent in their bottom line so far on the season.

The two pushes were the Ravens-Patriots and Colts-Redskins as both were won by the favorite by the closing 3-point spread, showing what we have known all along that 3 is the biggest key number in NFL betting, as roughly 16 percent of all games are decided by that margin. Last week, a whopping six of the 14 games had that final margin, though half of them were the underdogs pulling upsets by 3.

Despite last week’s setback, underdogs are still 52-33-4 overall against the spread with home dogs actually underperforming against the overall number at 20-13-2. The Dolphins and Panthers, playing the Steelers and 49ers, respectively, are the only home dogs this week with both getting 3 points.

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Double-digit underdogs are another pet category of mine. They’re doing okay at 5-4 after going 1-1 last week. The big dogs this week are the Browns and Bills, playing the Saints and Ravens, respectively, and again getting identical points at +13. I prefer a play on the Browns, as I will get to after this bit of housekeeping.

Back to the betting board

I went 1-2 in this space last week. I took both double-digit dogs and won with the Lions covering in their 28-20 loss to the Giants and losing with the Browns, 28-10, to the Steelers. The other loss was the Ravens +2 1/2 as I went with the most available line at the time I filed my plays. I certainly hope anyone following my plays was able to get the +3 and get the push, but I have no problem grading it here as a loss in case some did go ahead and bet the +2 1/2 (but please let it be a lesson in the future to always shop for the best number).

Browns +13 vs. Saints

The Browns let me down last week, but I saw enough good things to think they will stay within this number against the defending Super Bowl champions, who haven’t been playing like champs even though they are 4-2 and tied with the Falcons atop the NFC South. The Browns, even with rookie Colt McCoy thrown into the fire against the Steelers’ No. 1 defense, were in the game the whole way, trailing only 7-3 until late in the third quarter. Even after falling behind 21-3, McCoy led a TD drive to get the Browns in the back door until the Steelers tacked on a late TD to get back over the number. I expect a similar effort against a New Orleans team that blew out the Buccaneers, 31-6, last week but I’m not convinced they are consistent enough to post two straight routs.

PLAY: Browns for 1 unit.

Cardinals +6 vs. Seahawks

Entering this season, the 49ers were the odds-on favorite to win the NFC West, yet here we are in Week 7 with this game between the Cardinals and Seahawks being for the division lead as both are 3-2. In addition to the records, I see these teams as pretty equal. With Seattle’s home-field advantage, I would expect this line to be around 3 or 4, but there’s exactly value at the current number of +6. Both teams have benefiting from soft schedules with their only victories over teams with winning records were their last outings: the Cardinals defeated the Saints, 30-20, two weeks ago before having a bye last week, and the Seahawks beating the Bears, 23-20, last week. I like the Cards’ victory better in the debut of rookie QB Max Hall, as well as the fact they beat the Rams earlier this year while the Seahawks lost to the Rams. Having said all that, if this was closer to pick or even 3, I would probably pass, but the closer it gets to the Seahawks needing to win this by a touchdown, I have to jump in on the live dog.

PLAY: Cardinals for 1 unit .

Giants +3 vs. Cowboys

The Cowboys are 1-4 and generally regarded as the biggest disappointment of the young NFL season, especially since they were being touted as having a great chance to be the first team to play in a Super Bowl they were hosting. After they looked horrible in the preseason, I have been betting against them most weeks this year as I doubted they could “flip the switch” – and they haven’t. The Giants are 4-2 after winning three straight games in which they dominated the Bears, 17-3, on national TV and the Texans, 34-10, before having a workmanlike victory over the Lions last week in which they didn’t cover but were in control the whole game. And the line on this game is . . . Cowboys –3? Am I missing something? I hope not. I have got the team with the better offense and better defense as well as the team that has shown it can win big games on the road.

PLAY: Giants for 1 unit.

Last week: 1-2 for a loss of 1.2 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 12-7 for a net profit of 4.3 units.