10/25/2001 11:00PM

A final try at getting Jets-Panthers right

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LAS VEGAS - When I play blackjack, I subscribe to the "three strikes and you're out" theory.

If I sit down at a table and lose three straight hands, I walk away. The worst thing you can do is chase money. When I have violated this rule in the past, I usually battle back to around even but still end up losing. And this is a best-case scenario. Other times, I made the mistake of thinking "I was due" and lost a lot more.

I'm also going to apply the "three strikes and you're out" theory to my football betting this year.

There are two NFL teams that I've struggled with this year.

o I thought the Panthers would be a value play because they're usually an underdog and I figured QB Chris Weinke would perform better than expected as a rookie. I've lost on the Panthers against the Packers (a 21-7 loss after leading 7-6 at the half) and in last week's debacle against the Redskins (a 17-14 overtime loss after leading 14-0 in the fourth quarter).

o I thought the Jets would be good go-against team this season because I felt they were overrated on both sides of the ball. I've lost on them against the Bills (a 42-26 loss in which Buffalo turnovers, including two that were returned for TDs, led to 28 points for the Jets) and the Dolphins (a 21-17 loss after a 17-0 Miami halftime lead).

I feel like I had those games handicapped correctly, and I was in position to win. In blackjack, 19 is generally considered a "winning hand," but it doesn't matter if the dealer draws to 20 or 21. A loss is a loss.

Lo and behold, the Panthers host the Jets this week, and I'm anteing up. If I lose this one, I'll walk away from playing either of them the rest of the season since I obviously would not have a handle on them.

Jets at Panthers (+2 1/2)

The Jets' run defense was exposed again last week, this time by the Rams, as Trung Canidate became the third running back to gain more than 100 yards against the Jets, (and that doesn't include the 49ers team, which rushed for a combined 233 yards against the Jets). Of course, I realize that Tim Biakabutuka is out for the Panthers, just as Marshall Faulk was out for the Rams last week. But his backup, Richard Huntley, is no slouch. He's averaging 5.1 yards per carry for his career (mainly as Jerome Bettis's backup in Pittsburgh) and should be able to crack the 100-yard barrier, setting up the play-action pass for Weinke in the process. The Jets will be able to move the ball, too, so I expect the game to go over the total of 39.

Plays: Panthers for 22 units (to win 20), and 11 units (to win 10) on over 39 points.

Vikings (+3) at Buccaneers

Here are two more inconsistent teams, but at least the Vikings are showing signs of life again while the Bucs are a team in disarray. Warrick Dunn and Keyshawn Johnson are both listed as "questionable," which is trouble for the Bucs because they were having problems scoring when their offensive stars were 100 percent healthy. The Vikings dominated the Packers last week, serving notice that they're still a contender. They'll be out to prove it again against another NFC Central foe.

Play: Vikings for 11 units.

49ers at Bears (under 40)

I'm not comfortable betting either side in this game. The Bears are a 2 1/2-point favorite. But I like the under. The 49ers have a potent offense, but the Bears have been playing defense as well as anyone. Their pass defense is especially improved with former 49ers cornerback R.W. McQuarters playing a key role.

The Bears' defense is still upset over the 20 catches Terrell Owens put on them last December in a 17-0 loss (we'll take that score again). On offense, the Bears will attempt to control the ball and the clock - using Anthony Thomas, who set a Bears rookie rushing record with 188 yards last week - and keep the ball out of San Fran QB Jeff Garcia's hands.

Play: 49ers-Bears under 39 for 11 units.

Raiders (+1 1/2) at Eagles

You probably saw how the Eagles struggled on offense against the Giants Monday night, despite winning, 10-9). The Raiders' players and coaching staff saw it, too - and they are coming off a bye week, all of which means they should be well prepared for the Eagles. This will be a smashmouth game, but the Raiders have more big-play potential.

Play: Raiders for 11 units.

Dolphins (-2 1/2) at Seahawks

Miami and Seattle are both coming off byes, and both should be highly motivated by their games before the week off. The Dolphins lost their last game to the Jets; the Seahawks upset the Broncos last game.

Miami coach Dave Wannstedt will undoubtedly point his team to a return to the basics. Expect a big game from former Seahawk Lamar Smith, key to igniting Miami's offense. And Miami's defense should return to top form, especially with Matt Hasselbeck back behind center for Seattle.

Play: Dolphins for 11 units.

Starting bankroll: 1,000 units.

Bankroll entering Thursday: 959 units.

Thursday's result: Won 20 units on Colts -3 (a 35-28 winner over the Chiefs).

Current bankroll: 979 units.