11/09/2001 1:00AM

Give down-and-outers another chance


There is not much difference between the top and the bottom teams in the NFL. Three of my picks this week (Jaguars, Vikings, Seahawks) are underachieving teams that a lot of bettors are probably ready to throw on the trash heap. But that's how we get line value.

Bengals at Jaguars (-4 1/2)

The Bengals burst out of the gate with wins over the Patriots and Ravens, but they came back down to earth once teams started taking them seriously. Despite the records (the Bengals are 4-3; the Jaguars are 2-5), I think the Jaguars are the better team. The Jags are coming off four straight losses, but the last two have been to the Ravens and Titans, and they were leading both until the closing minutes. The Jaguars will do whatever it takes to shut down Corey Dillon and that will be enough as they should be able to put up at least 24 points on the Bengals' defense, which gave up 24 to the Bears and 27 to the Lions (two teams with less firepower than Jacksonville). It's an added bonus if Jaguars RB Fred Taylor returns to the lineup.

Play: Jaguars for 22 units.

Dolphins (+3) at Colts

The Dolphins have the defense to contain the Colts' high-octane offense, plus they have seen how the Patriots did it twice. The Colts' defense hasn't been able to stop many teams and Miami RB Lamar Smith should have a fun afternoon and set up the efficient passing game of QB Jay Fiedler. With the injury to Colts RB Edgerrin James, this game has been off the board most of the week. On Friday morning, it went up with the Colts -3 and -120, meaning you could take the Dolphins +3 at even-money. For the sake of consistency, I'll still lay the 11 to win 10, but shop around for the best price.

Play: Dolphins for 11 units.

Bills at Patriots (-6)

A logic professor would like this: The Patriots beat the Colts twice and the Colts beat the Bills twice, so the Patriots should beat the Bills twice (I just hope that applies to the spread, too). The Patriots are playing well behind Tom Brady at QB, while their defense should be able to shut down the 1-6 Bills. I almost made this my best bet of the week.

Play: Patriots for 11 units.

Vikings (+4) at Eagles

The Vikings have faced a lot of off-field adversity this year, and they have also had problems on the field, especially with the offense underachieving. However, they are not as bad off as they could be with a record of 3-4. Coming off their bye, I think they will be refocused and should be competitive with an Eagles team that also hasn't lived up to expectations. Philadelphia has crushed weaker opponents (Seahawks, Cowboys, Cardinals), but have only beaten one team that doesn't have a losing record. That was the Giants, who are only 4-4, and the Eagles rallied late in that game to get a victory that neither team deserved. As Randy Moss goes, so go the Vikings.

Play: Vikings for 11 units.

Raiders at Seahawks (+6 1/2)

This pick comes down to scheduling. The Raiders are obviously at least a touchdown better than the Seahawks (they beat them 38-14 in Oakland in Week 3), but the Raiders are coming off a crucial Monday night victory over the Broncos and due for a letdown against a team they beat 38-14 in Week 3. In addition, they have a short practice week. Oakland has lost at Seattle the past two years (when they also had superior talent) and are 2-5 against the spread at Seattle the past seven years. I wouldn't be stunned to see the Seahawks win this game straight-up.

Play: Seahawks for 11 units.

Starting bankroll: 1,000 units.

Bankroll entering last week: 986 units.

Last week: 2-4 (including best-bet loss on Saints) for net loss of 35 units

Current bankroll: 951 units.