01/28/2002 12:00AM

Final line projection: Patriots +14 1/2 or 15


The St. Louis Rams look like they will be the third-biggest favorite in Super Bowl history after early betting in Las Vegas has settled the line at 14 points. The only bigger chalk were the Colts (who lost Super Bowl III to the Jets, 16-7, as 18-point favorites) and the 49ers (who won Super Bowl XXIX over the Chargers, 49-26, as 19-point favorites).

Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which supplies odds to 90 percent of Nevada's casinos as well as many offshore books, opened the Rams as 16-point favorites over the New England Patriots on Sunday's game at the New Orleans Superdome.

"The matchup is not a good one for New England," said LVSC odds manager Cesar Robaina. "They have to face the Rams on turf and indoors. It's almost like a home game for the Rams since they play there once a year. As you know, the Super Bowl line is always inflated toward the favorite, so we decided to err on the side of caution, especially with the uncertainty of the injury to [Patriots QB Tom] Brady."

The Stardust, which traditionally is the first to take bets in Las Vegas, opened the line at 15 1/2 and immediately got large bets on the Patriots. Other sports books, including the MGM-Mirage properties, opened at 14 1/2. All of the above were bet down to 14, and that's where it has stayed as of noon Monday.

Don't expect any books to go down to 13 1/2 because they know they will get more than enough Rams money by gametime. It's more likely to go up to 14 1/2 as tourists come to town for the Super Bowl weekend festivities.

"It's looking more and more like Brady is going to play, so bettors have been taking the points with the Patriots," Robaina said. "But I still think that come Sunday, it will close around 14 1/2 or 15. When push comes to shove, the bettors are going to bet the favorite and the over."

The total opened at 52 1/2 at most books and started out as a solid number, but as of noon Monday some books were going to 53, which was the opening number supplied by LVSC.

Dogs cover in conference title games

For the first time since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, two 10-point dogs both covered the spread in the conference championship games.

Bettors were on the wrong side of the Steelers-Patriots game as the Steelers opened as a 7 1/2-point favorite at the Stardust - and 8 just about everywhere else in Nevada - and were bet up to 10. The total opened at 35 1/2 and was bet up to 37 1/2 and even 38 as Pittsburgh enjoyed unseasonably warm weather. The Patriots' 24-17 win at least made the over bettors happy, but this was a big winner for the house as it killed a lot of parlays and teasers written on the Steelers.

The Rams always attract decent action, but handle was a little down on Sunday because the Pats-Steelers game ran so long. The game kicked off right after the Patriots' victory was declared official and that meant that bettors didn't have time to bet their winnings on the second game.

The line on the Rams-Eagles game fluctuated all week. It opened at 11 last Sunday and was bet up to 12 1/2 at some books around town. The betting then reversed as word spread about Kurt Warner's injured ribs, and the line went down to 11 by Friday and ended up closing at 10 1/2. The total, which opened at 51, also dropped with the news about Warner and closed at 48. The Rams' 29-24 victory made losers of those followers. Point spread action was fairly balanced despite all the movement, and bookmakers were happy to see the Eagles/over parlay come in instead of Rams/over.

If the Eagles had pulled the outright upset, it would have been a big win for bettors, especially those who parlayed the two underdogs on the money line (to win straight-up).

Pats pad bankroll

The Patriots made my bankroll a big winner on Sunday. I made the Patriots +9 1/2 (the line that was available when my picks were made on Friday) a double-play 22-unit bet and also wagered 10 units on the money line at +350. The spread bet won 20 units while the Patriots' outright upset earned another 35 units.

I gave back a little of the profits with an 11-unit wager on the Rams -11 1/2. They were ahead 29-17 late in the game but let the Eagles in through the backdoor.

The bankroll, which started the season at 1,000 units and entered the weekend at 815, showed a net profit of 44 units to now stand at 859. For the playoffs, bankroll plays are 6-4-1 for a net profit of 49 units.