08/23/2001 12:00AM

Here's a trend you can believe


Team trends that go back a few years can be a tricky handicapping tool.

Often, the trend was begun by players and coaches who are no longer with the team. With new players constantly arriving from colleges and free agency, a team's current players might have no idea that they're 0-5 against a given opponent or on a certain surface.

You have to take these types of trends with a grain of salt.

But it would take a whole shaker of salt to mask the trends on one game this Saturday. Consider these preseason trends for the Jets-Giants game:

* The Jets have covered the spread in their last nine exhibition games against the Giants.

* The Jets are 14-5 against the spread when they're an underdog of fewer than four points.

* The Jets are 9-3 ATS when they're a dog after a straight up win (and the Jets beat the Ravens 16-3 last week).

* The Giants are 2-9-1 ATS in games after they won and covered the spread (the Giants beat the Jaguars and covered 27-5 last week).

* The Giants are 3-10 ATS vs. AFC teams.

* The Giants are 1-7 ATS in Week 3 games.

* The Giants are 1-7 ATS in their last home game of the preseason (as Saturday's game is).

If you throw in the fact that the Jets play their home games on the same field, I can't see why the Giants are favored at all. But I'll gladly the additional point and a half and wager 11 units (to win 10) on the Jets +1 1/2.

Other plays:

Bills at Bengals (under 35): The Bills have been struggling with their new West Coast offense, and the nagging injuries to Rob Johnson haven't helped. The Bengals, who are coming off a bye week after splitting their first two preseason games, will be going with Scott Mitchell for the entire first half and him replace him with Jon Kitna. The Bills' defense, which gave up only 3 points to the Eagles last week, will be able to handle the Bengals' offense. I'll wager 11 units on the under.

Rams at Chargers (+3): St. Louis coach Mike Martz has all but said that the Rams are merely going through the motions (though that's what he said before his team beat the Dolphins 17-10 in the opener). More important in my handicapping is that starting quarterback Doug Flutie is expected to play into the second half for the Chargers. Plus, his backups - Drew Brees and Dave Dickenson - have fared well so far this preseason, so the dropoff shouldn't be too great.

It's an 11-unit play on the Chargers.