10/08/2008 11:00PM

Handicappers have plenty of tournaments to choose from


Before we get to this weekend's football picks, the Breeders' Cup is two weeks away and the race books here are buzzing with all sorts of promotions, especially with handicapping tournaments.

The October festivities actually got an early start with the Fall Classic at the Orleans, which has been taking place since early Thursday morning and will conclude late Saturday afternoon. The top 50 finishers qualify for the Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans on Feb. 19-21.

The South Point also has a year-long series of events leading up to the South Point Finale next April 17-18. Anyone can buy into the Finale for $500, but the mini "pick our five" contests held throughout the year cost $150 with the top five finishers earning Finale berths as well as anyone who goes 5 for 5 in picking winners on those days. The next mini-qualifier is next Thursday.

One other tournament is being held this month, the Pick the Ponies at the Las Vegas Hilton, which traditionally holds its fall tourney on the three days leading up to the Breeders' Cup but for the second straight year will conclude on the Friday BC card. The entry fee is $500, but you can still get in for the $400 early-bird price before 4 p.m. Pacific on Friday.

One other event taking place prior to BC Week is the Legends Tour of jockeys Pat Day, Angel Cordero, and Laffit Pincay Jr. that has been making its way around the country. The last stop on the tour before Santa Anita is in the Wynn Las Vegas race book on Thursday, from noon to 3 p.m. The legends will talk about their careers, have a question and answer session, and sign autographs for fans.

Next weekend there will be a full look at all the BC Week seminars, parties, and promotions.

Bankroll plays at .500

My plays went 2-2-1 last week as I lost with Oregon +16 1/2 vs. USC on Saturday and with the Bills +1 vs. the Cardinals on Sunday, but won with the Patriots -3 1/2 vs. the 49ers and the Bengals +17 vs. the Cowboys. The push was on the Buccaneers +3 vs. the Broncos, but most everyone who played that game over the weekend was able to get the Bucs +3 1/2 or even +4. In fact, as part of my write-up for the game, I stated: "I'm just hoping the public bets this to 3 1/2 for a little added insurance." With a 16-13 final, that was very advantageous. But I will swallow my pride and go with the posted line. With no strong opinion on college games this weekend (and after losing my only college play last week), I will stick to the NFL:

Ravens +4 1/2 vs. Colts

The Colts should be 0-4 by all rights, but rallies against the Vikings and last week's miracle comeback against the Texans have them at 2-2. However, their weaknesses have been exposed and they're nowhere near the level that we have seen in years past. The Ravens, though not an offensive juggernaut, should be able to pound the ball on the ground vs. the Colts' defense and their defense (ranked No. 1 in the league) can contain the Colts' inconsistent offense even better than other opponents.

Play: Ravens for 1 unit.

Rams +13 1/2 vs. Redskins

I told you last week's pick of the Bengals +17 vs. the Cowboys was ugly. It was, but it was also a winner and double-digit underdogs are now 7-0 against the spread so far this season. This week, we have the choice between this game and the Lions +13 1/ 2 vs. the Vikings. You can take the Lions if you want, but I prefer this game. The Rams are coming off a bye and have Marc Bulger back at quarterback and will hopefully have new life (though a bye didn't help the Lions last week). Another big reason for this play: The Redskins, while impressive in winning four straight, might be a little overrated by the oddsmakers and bettors. Less than two weeks ago, the advance line on this game at the Las Vegas Hilton was Redskins -8. Now it's nearly two touchdowns? I think that's too much of an adjustment.

Play: Rams for 1 unit.

Jaguars +3 1/2 vs. Broncos

I had the Bucs vs. the Broncos last week and now I'm taking the Jaguars against them for the very same reason (and this time the +3 1/2 is more readily available.) The Broncos' offense was slowed down when playing a decent defense, and their defense allowed the Bucs to stay in the game. Despite a 4-1 record, the Broncos are 1-3-1 against the spread, which shows me they're still underperforming and getting more than their share of breaks. This is a key game for the 2-3 Jaguars, especially after losing to the Steelers last week, and I think they come with a strong effort.

Play: Jaguars for 1 unit.

Patriots +6 vs. Chargers

I will make the Sunday night game my play of the week and my first 2-unit wager. The Chargers might have the best overall talent in the league but their performance on the field makes me wonder what makes them worthy of being a 6-point favorite here. They barely covered vs. the Raiders and then went out and lost to the Dolphins. The Pats also lost to the Fish, but then went out to San Francisco last Sunday and played much better (Matt Cassel finally got the memo to throw the ball to Randy Moss). You also have to take Bill Belichick over Norv Turner. Handicapper Marc Lawrence of playbook.com points out that Belichick is 8-0 against the spread in his head coaching career when his team has a winning record and is getting 6 points or more.

Play: Patriots for 2 units.

Last week: 2-2-1 for a net loss of 0.2 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1).