12/10/2004 12:00AM

Five plays, all dogs as spreads increase

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LAS VEGAS - All of the talk in the NFL betting circles has been about how the top teams in the league keep covering the spread no matter how high oddsmakers make the lines.

The sports books have been flooded with money from the public backing these popular teams, and they have been cashing consistently, as well as connecting those teams in parlays and teasers, which have also cashed at a higher-than-usual rate.

Most people - including myself - have said it's a fluke, but a week ago Friday night in the Stardust Invitational, professional gambler Brent Carter offered an insightful dissenting opinion, saying the oddsmakers only have themselves to blame.

"The oddsmakers were slow to adjust to the better teams," Carter said Thursday at the Palace Station. "When teams were this dominant back in the 80's and early 90's, you would see lines of 13, 14, or 15 points in about two games a week. Maybe it's parity, but oddsmakers didn't make the numbers high enough on the top teams this season.

"The oddsmakers and the books are smart. They'll usually make a mistake for only two or three weeks and correct it, but this year it took them longer. Talk about readjusting - look at this week's board: 12 games are 7 points or more. Earlier this year, there would only be two a week."

Last week, I jumped in with five underdogs (including going against the Eagles, Patriots, Colts, and Chargers) and promptly went 0-4-1. Here's hoping the oddsmakers have adjusted enough this week, and the underdogs will finally be cashing.

Bengals (+11) at Patriots

The Bengals have been playing much better lately and come into this matchup with a confidence-building rally in their 27-26 victory at Baltimore against the Ravens' talented defense. Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer has been getting better and better and is using his top weapons, running back Rudi Johnson and receiver Chad Johnson. There's no denying the Patriots are the better team - and I still maintain they're the best overall team in the league - but there's plenty of room for them to win yet not cover this double-digit spread.

PLAY: Bengals for 1 unit.

Raiders (+7 1/2) at Falcons

At 9-3, the Falcons are a team that I have felt has done it with mirrors. I have had some success going against them, as their record against the spread is only 5-7. This looks like another good spot because the Raiders, like the Bengals, are playing much better than they were earlier in the year, especially on offense. Oakland quarterback Kerry Collins is showing what he can do when he has time to throw and is reviving the vertical passing game synonymous with the Raiders. Michael Vick, my favorite NFL player, is still more a runner than a passer and prone to mistakes. The Raiders should be able to contain him, so I would have to say that among my five underdog plays, this is the one in which I'm most confident of getting an outright upset.

PLAY: Raiders for 1 unit.

Bears (+7 1/2) at Jaguars

The Jaguars played great last Sunday night in a 17-16 loss to the Steelers in a playoff-intensity-type atmosphere, but this game might be the definition of an over-inflated line. The Jaguars have come back to earth since their hot start, but even when they were winning, they weren't blowing people out. When looking at this line, take into consideration that the Jaguars have not won a game this year by more than six points. The biggest win was 23-17 vs. the Lions four weeks ago, when the Jags were favored by 3 1/2 points, and now they are giving more than a touchdown to a Bears team that is playing better than the Lions were at that time. The Bears are a much better team with Brian Urlacher (5-3 with him, 0-4 without him), but also adding to the strong defense has been the return of cornerback Charles Tillman. The Jaguars will not put up many points, and if Bears quarterback Chad Hutchinson can approach anywhere near the success he had last week in an outright upset of the Vikings, the Bears should be in position for another upset this week.

PLAY: Bears for 1 unit.

Colts at Texans (+11)

Four weeks ago, the Colts beat the Texans 49-14. So why do I think the Texans can turn the tables? Well, for one, the Texans are at home, where they are 3-2-1 against the spread (3-1-1 in their last five games) and generally more competitive. They also tend to make fewer mental mistakes at home. That loss to the Colts was a perfect example. The Texans fell behind 7-0 and then had two false-start penalties to start their next drive. Their next possession started in Indianapolis territory, but two sacks and fumbles netted a loss of 22 yards. Their next possession resulted in a missed field goal. Before they knew it, they were down 21-0, and it snowballed from there. With Domanick Davis healthy again and David Carr spreading the ball around to his talented group of receivers, the Texans can score with the Colts and at least stay inside the number.

PLAY: Texans for 1 unit.

Eagles at Redskins (+9 1/2)

I have lost three straight bets against the Eagles, but I still maintain the Eagles' run defense will be their undoing. I considered shopping around for odds against the Eagles winning the NFC title, but I think I will wait to just bet against them on the money line in the playoffs. As for this game, I just keep thinking back to their first meeting three weeks ago. The Eagles won 28-6, but the score was 7-6 until midway into the third quarter, and the Redskins' defense is fired up for the rematch on Sunday night primetime TV, partly because that giveaway of 28 points ties the most points they have allowed in any game this season. Hopefully, Clinton Portis is back on track after his 148-yard performance against the Giants last week. I strongly considered this as a 2-unit play. The line is a pretty solid 9 1/2 everywhere. If it goes to 10 by Sunday evening (and I certainly expect it to), I will be doubling down.

PLAY: Redskins for 1 unit.

Last week: 0-4-1 for a net loss of 4.4 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 28-34-3 for a net loss of 9.4 units.