10/10/2005 11:00PM

Like getting 3 points? Then shop for 3 1/2


Three is a magic number.

The "rule of threes" has been used in architecture and advertising. And deaths of famous people are said to come in threes.

It's also the key number in NFL betting. As mentioned in this space Sunday, 11 of this past weekend's 14 games had a point spread within a half-point of 3. One of them, the Falcons -3 vs. the Patriots, was taken off the board when it was learned Michael Vick's knee injury might keep him from playing. When the game was put back up, the Pats were installed as a 1-point road favorite and the public bet them to -2 1/2.

On the "Stardust Line" radio show last Thursday, handicapper Andy Iskoe of thelogicalapproach.com said his research showed that 10 percent of the time when a team is favored by 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 points, the favored team wins by exactly 3. So, it wasn't surprising when the Patriots won 31-28 on a last-second field goal on Sunday afternoon. Then, the Jaguars beat the Bengals 23-20 on Sunday night as a 3-point fave. Many books had moved the line to 2 1/2 during the week, so bettors who took the Jaguars -2 1/2 were ecstatic with the result while those who took the Bengals +2 1/2 were kicking themselves.

In the other nine cases, it didn't matter in the point-spread outcome whether you had 2 1/2, 3, or 3 1/2, but I'm reminded of a conversation I had with a professional bettor four weeks ago. He was talking about how some people question him about why he shops around so much for just a half-point.

"It only matter when it lands," he conceded, "but you don't know that until after the fact, so you have to get the best number every time."

Turning even the occasional push into a win or a loss into a push will have a noticeable impact on a bettor's bottom line.

Who's hot, who's not

The Colts are the last remaining unbeaten team in the NFL after the Buccaneers, Redskins, and Bengals lost Sunday. The 1973 Dolphins are probably putting champagne on ice as every year they celebrate when the last undefeated team falls, keeping their perfect season unmatched. But they might need a lot of ice as the Colts face the Rams and Texans the next two weeks before having a bye week leading into their big game at New England on Monday night, Nov. 7.

The Colts do not have the best record against the spread. With the Bengals and Jaguars pushing on Sunday night, they're both 3-1-1. Other teams at 3-1 are the Steelers, Browns, Giants, Lions, and Redskins. The Colts are in a group of seven teams at 3-2.

On the downside, the Rams and Cardinals are both 1-4 against the spread, with the Vikings, Ravens and Texans right behind at 1-3.

* In totals wagering, the Patriots are 4-0-1 with the over, and four NFC West teams - the Seahawks, Rams, Cardinals and 49ers - are all at 4-1. Last week, I noted that the Rams and Seahawks were both 3-1 with the over and playing each other with a total of 49; the game easily went over, the Seahawks winning 37-31. The Giants (3-1) and the Panthers (3-1-1) are the only other teams above 60 percent on the over. This week, there is no matchup between two top "over" teams.

* The Colts are also on top with a 5-0 record on the under. That's right, the under. They're matched only by the Buccaneers. The Bengals went under in their loss to the Jags, so they're now 4-1 with the under, along with the Bills. There are seven teams at 3-1 with the under: the Bears, Browns, Ravens, Texans, Chiefs, Vikings, and Raiders. The Vikings and Bears meet this week with a total of 37 and the Ravens and Browns play with a total of 34.

League-wide betting trends

Road teams had their second straight winning week, going 7-6-1 against the spread, and now after a fast start, home teams are only ahead 38-33-2 (54 percent).

* Favorites went 7-6-1 to even up the ledger with underdogs at 36-36-2.

* Home underdogs had their second straight losing week at 2-3 to drop a little to 11-9 (55 percent) on the year. This weekend's home dogs are the Saints +4 1/2 vs. the Falcons (though some books still had this game off the board as of noon Tuesday because of Vick's injury status), Titans +3 vs. the Bengals, and Raiders +2 vs. the Chargers.

* Double-digit underdogs dropped to 2-2 as the 49ers failed to cover vs. the Colts, but with the Redskins losing 21-19 to the Broncos as a 7-point underdog, the 15 dogs of a touchdown or more so far this season are 10-5 against the spread. This week's only big dogs are in the Sunday and Monday night games. The Texans are +9 1/2 at the Seahawks, and the Rams are +13 1/2 at the Colts.

* The AFC won 5 of the 6 interconference games on Sunday and went 4-2 against the spread to improve to 13-8 (62 percent). If you think the AFC is clearly superior, there are three interleague matchups this week: Chiefs -6 vs. the Redskins, Dolphins +4 1/2 vs. the Buccaneers, and Colts -13 1/2 vs. the Rams.

* After going 4-0 two weeks ago, teams off their bye week went 1-1 (not counting the Bears and Browns, who played each other) to drop to 5-1 (83 percent) so far. This week's teams coming off bye weeks are the Giants +3 1/2 vs. the Cowboys, Vikings +3 vs. the Bears, Chiefs -6 vs. the Redskins, and Raiders +2 vs. the Chargers.

Bankrolls go belly up

The less said about this the better. I went 1-2 in college plays Saturday - an outright upset by Penn St. as a 3 1/ 2-point underdog vs. Ohio St. but ugly losses on Oklahoma +14 vs. Texas and Tennessee -3 vs. Georgia - to drop to 9-10 on the season for a net loss of 2 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).

In the NFL, I went 2-4-1 - wins on Patriots +3 vs. Falcons and Panthers -2 1/2 vs. the Cardinals, and losses on Ravens +1 1/2 vs. the Lions, 49ers +14 1/2 vs. the Colts, Bucs -3 vs. the Jets, and Eagles -3 vs. the Cowboys, plus the Bengals-Jaguars push - to drop to 10-17-2 for a net loss of 11 units.

When I was managing editor of GamingToday, the late Chuck Di Rocco had a saying that went something like this: "If you're putting your picks in print, just don't be mediocre. People will read you if they can win with you or by going against you. They'll stop reading if you're .500."

That's small consolation. I'll try to climb back to .500 anyway.