12/23/2008 12:00AM

Home-field advantage means little


LAS VEGAS - The Titans and Giants locked up home-field advantage in their respective conferences with wins over the Steelers and Panthers this past Sunday. That news left me with several thoughts:

* What's the big deal about home-field advantage? Isn't this the same New York team that won three games on the road in last year's playoffs? All the fuss being made over the fact that the Giants will be staying home seems more than a little contradictory. The truth of the matter is that the teams that get to the Super Bowl each year are the ones playing the best in the month of January. Home field is nice, but it's more important to be healthy and playing well.

* Home-field advantage has been a misnomer anyway. Home teams are 105-128-6 against the spread and will finish below .500 for the second time in three years.

* We've known the Titans and Giants have been the best teams in each conference for most of the season, and they've been very good to bettors as the accompanying chart shows. The Titans' 31-14 spread-covering victory clinched the top spot in the NFL against-the-spread standings. They're 12-2-1 against the spread and can't be caught by the Giants or Ravens, who are both 11-4 ATS. But this is not to say that you should rush out and back the Titans this week. They're favored by 3 points over the Colts, but this is one of those games where neither team has anything to play for, as the Colts are locked into the No. 5 seed in the AFC. Both teams are expected to rest starters. The only reason the oddsmakers made the Titans the favorite is because Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher has said he might keep his starters in longer to keep them from getting too rusty since the Titans do have a first-round bye. Still, this should resemble a preseason game and it's best to pass.

* The Giants-Vikings game may be a different story, even though the Giants are in the same boat as the Titans. They're 6 1/2-point underdogs vs. the Vikings, who need a win to clinch the NFC North. The Giants could mail it in, but we all remember how New York coach Tom Coughlin didn't rest his starters in the regular-season finale last year even with "nothing to gain from it," and it certainly worked out well for him.

Other notes from the NFL ATS standings:

* The Jaguars are at the bottom of the list with a 4-10 record, though I'm still not sure how they failed to cover vs. the Colts a week ago Thursday, losing 31-24 as a 6-point underdog after leading most of the game.

* The Redskins went under for the seventh straight game last Sunday in their 10-3 win over the Eagles and are an impressive 12-2-1 with the under this year. Their total in Sunday's finale vs. the 49ers is set at 37. Looks like another under play to me.

* No team has been that consistent with the over, with the Texans and Lions being the best at 9-5-1. The Texans host the Bears with a total of 46 1/2 while the Lions visit the Packers with a total of 42 1/2. The Patriots have been the hottest over team with six in a row. Their total is 42 1/2 at Buffalo.

w With an earlier deadline with the holiday this week (and not wanting to tip my hand to my competitors in two major handicapping contests in which I'm trying to finish in the money), I'll just offer two plays for Week 17.

Jaguars +12 vs. Ravens

As stated above, the Jaguars were a live underdog in their last game, vs. the Colts, and should have won outright. The Ravens are one of the pleasant surprises this season, but when it comes down to it, there's not that much difference between these two teams. Oddsmakers have been trying to catch up to both teams this season, as the Jaguars have been one of the biggest underachieving teams, but there's no way this spread should be double digits. It's only inflated because the Ravens need a win to secure the last wild-card spot in the AFC, but I think the Jaguars will again be out to prove they're not as bad as their record indicates. Take the generous points.

PLAY: Jaguars for 1 unit.

Rams +14 1/2 vs. Falcons

There is a theme to these picks. Again, the Rams have been awful most of the year but they have played better the past two weeks. The Falcons are another surprise team, but now they're being asked to cover more than two touchdowns? Atlanta has never been this big of a favorite in franchise history. It's too much to ask in a season that has seen double-digit underdogs go 19-8 against the spread. I'm on the big underdog again.

PLAY: Rams for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-1, including 1-0 on a 2-unit play on the Bills, for a net profit 1.9 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). Season DRF record: 25-13-2, including 2-2-1 on 2-unit plays, for a net profit of 10.5 units.

College bowls rolling on

A final note to follow-up on last week's column with Mike "tpking" Rose and his "pick the winner theory." The first five bowl games played out where the team that won the game covered the spread. Favorites that won and covered were Wake Forest over Navy, South Florida over Memphis, and Arizona over BYU, while Colorado State pulled the outright upset over Fresno State, and Southern Mississippi did the same thing to Troy. In all five cases, the point spread didn't come into play. He also called the Giants-Panthers game a "pick the winner" game, and the Giants punched it in for the spread-covering touchdown.

So, keep that in mind for the rest of the bowl games and when the NFL playoffs start.

"The problem is," Rose said, "figuring out who will be the winner."