02/01/2002 12:00AM

Hey gang, Super Bowl party at Steve's!


LEXINGTON, Ky. - I'm willing to handicap and/or bet on horse races on 364 days of every year. The lone exception is Super Bowl Sunday. Super Bowl Sunday is a day of rest. A day for me to forget about speed figures, pace figures, class, track bias, and the like.

And what better way to relax and recharge my batteries than to host a Super Bowl party and spend the entire week leading up to the Super Bowl thinking about point spreads, yards, turnovers, first downs, and the merits of the Cover 2 defense while handicapping and betting on dozens of Super Bowl propositions?

Football handicappers have to avoid the risk of being overwhelmed by information overload. The first thing you will want to do is to throw out the statistics that make absolutely no sense. Every year someone on some radio or television pre-game show will tell you exactly how many games the two Super Bowl teams have won and lost against each other dating back to a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth. And he will quote that stat with such a serious tone of voice that you will be tempted to believe that it might actually count for something. I will go out on a limb here and say that any statistic dating back long enough to include NFL players who now reside in rest homes can safely be discarded.

Once the irrelevant statistics have been eliminated, what's left? I like to try to determine which public perceptions aren't supported by the recent form of each team. This year the prevailing attitude seems to be that New England's offense, while not as strong as the St. Louis offense, is at least capable of keeping the game close enough to allow the Patriots to stay within striking distance, close enough to give the Patriots a legitimate chance of losing by something less than the 14-point spread.

For me, the key to betting on this game is the recognition of the fact that, despite their current eight-game win streak, New England's offense has been sputtering badly in the playoffs. I've already listened to many hours of Super Bowl preview shows, and I haven't heard a single commentator or expert bring up this particular angle.

In the divisional playoff game against Oakland, New England scored a total of just three points during the first three quarters. The Patriots scored only a single touchdown in the fourth quarter, and would have been eliminated from the playoffs if not for a controversial call that went their way late in the game. Does that sound like the type of offense that can keep up with the Rams' offensive juggernaut for four quarters?

New England beat Pittsburgh, 24-17, in the AFC championship game, but 14 of those points were the result of a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown, and a 49-yard blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. It is extremely unlikely that either team will score any touchdowns on those types of plays in the Super Bowl. How many touchdowns did New England's offense score against Pittsburgh? Just one. Does that sound like an offense that is going to be able to stay within the two-touchdown point spread against the Rams?

Given New England's anemic offensive performances in those two playoff games, I will be betting on St. Louis minus the 14 points, with the idea that the Rams should pull away to win, 34-13.

As far as the over/under, once the Rams grab a comfortable lead in the first half, we will see lots of Marshall, Marshall, Marshall in the second half. Look for Faulk to run the ball repeatedly while giving the Rams the edge in time of possession during the second half. The game total is 53, but you might still be able to find find 53 1/2. With the Rams gearing down their passing offense during the third and fourth quarters, this game should go under.

The most attractive proposition bet is New England to score fewer than 19 1/2 points at even money (you would have to lay 6-5 if you bet the over). I will bet the under early, and often.

I will also play the fourth quarter total to go under 14 for a smaller amount with the Rams doing their best to run out the clock. The primary concern on that bet is that New England is likely to be intercepted once or twice during the fourth quarter, but I'm hoping that the Rams won't be able to return those interceptions for touchdowns.

There are a couple of other Super Bowl proposition bets I like, but you might have trouble finding anyone who will take action on them. Time of possession in the big, comfortable leather chair in front of my big screen TV? I'm the 1-50 favorite at my house. And the chances that one of my guests will fumble the salsa bowl and ruin the beige carpet? I make it a 5-1 longshot. I expect each guest to do his/her best to avoid turnovers by securing the salsa bowl with both hands at all times. Any guest who attempts to knock the salsa bowl out of the hands of the salsa bowl carrier will be beaten up by my wife. And if a guest fumbles the salsa bowl anyway, I expect him to chip in (no pun intended) to help me pay to dye the rest of the carpet red in time for next year's party.