10/22/2004 12:00AM

It's lucky 7 for a trio of underdogs


LAS VEGAS - In the NFL, the most common margin of victory is 3 points, occurring in about one of every six games, or 16 percent of the time. Seven is the next most common, happening around 10 percent of the time, followed by 10, 6, and 4.

That's usually reflected each week in the point spreads with the most usually being around 3, and so on.

This week is a little different with nine of the 14 NFL point spreads falling between 6 and 7 1/2. As it turns out, all five of my picks this week fall in that range, as I'm on three underdogs getting 7 or more points, and laying 6 and 6 1/2 with two favorites.

Eagles at Browns (+7 1/2)

The Eagles have won all five of their games by double digits and that has to end sometime, right? Well, I'm hoping this is the game. The Browns have capitalized on their home-field advantage this year as they are 3-0 in the Dawg Pound with wins over the Ravens, Redskins, and Bengals. The key will be to not let the Eagles get out to an early lead. The Eagles' defense can be run on, but the problem for most teams is they get too far behind and abandon the ground attack. Running backs William Green and Lee Suggs are both healthy for the Browns and should be able to find holes. That, in turn, should help Jeff Garcia have time to find his receivers downfield and come up with big plays, the way he has so far this season. Garcia also has added incentive after being called out by former teammate Terrell Owens during the off-season. This looks like the most likely home underdog to come through this week.

PLAY: Browns for 1 unit.

Titans (+7) at Vikings

The Titans have underachieved this year. In addition to an acceptable loss vs. the Colts, they have also fallen to the Jaguars, Chargers, and Texans, three teams they should have been able to handle. But two weeks ago, in the Monday nighter at Green Bay, they dominated and showed what they're capable of doing. That's the kind of performance that I expect from this veteran team this Sunday. The fact that Randy Moss's playing time might be limited is certainly a bonus, but Daunte Culpepper and the offense have plenty of other weapons and will score their share of points. The key is that the Titans should be able to move the ball at will against the Vikings' defense and take this game down to the wire.

PLAY: Titans for 1 unit.

Bears (+7) at Buccaneers

This was my fifth selection in the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest, in which the line was Bears +6, so I feel a little more confident giving it out as it has been bet up to 7. Basically, the Buccaneers shouldn't be favored by a touchdown against anyone. I'm assuming there are a few points factored into this line for home-field advantage, but I don't see why. With both of these teams' pathetic offenses, they're both better off playing on the road and away from the booing of their own fans - and the records bear that out. The Bears' two best performances this year have come on the road, a 21-10 upset at Green Bay and a 27-22 spread-covering loss at Minnesota. The Bucs' only win of the year has also come on the road, and their best home performance was a push in a 16-13 loss to the Broncos. The Chicago defense was able to contain the Vikes and Packers and held the Eagles to 19 points and the Redskins to 13 the past two weeks, so they should have no problem doing the same to the offensively challenged Bucs. I also look for the Bears' Thomas Jones to have a big game against his former team.

PLAY: Bears for 1 unit.

Jets at Patriots (-6 1/2)

This late afternoon matchup is the marquee game of the day - both teams are 5-0 atop the AFC East - and should be a great lead-in to Game 2 of the World Series on Sunday night, especially for fans in New England. Normally, if a team is on a 16-3-1 run against the spread, I will be looking to fade that team because the line will usually be inflated on all their games. But I still don't see that happening yet with the Patriots. I would normally expect to see a team like the Patriots let up on occasion, but the past two weeks they've had goal-line stands to cover the spread vs. the Dolphins and Seahawks. Now, I'm not suggesting that was their incentive - rather, it was that they play the full 60 minutes and know how to put teams away and want to prevent any miracle finishes. That's a big plus when laying points. The Patriots have the ground game to move the ball on the Jets and make Tom Brady even more effective, and their defense is still second to none and should contain Chad Pennington, Curtis Martin & Co. By nightfall Sunday, New England fans should be reveling in another win at the expense of a team from New York.

PLAY: Patriots for 1 unit.

Broncos (-6) at Bengals

It's out of character for me to be laying nearly a touchdown in any game, let alone two in a row, but I can't pass up this spot on Monday night, either. The Bengals' offense has taken a step backward from last year, and now it faces the No. 1 defense in the NFL in the Broncos. Even if the Bengals manage to put a few scores on the board, there's nothing to show me that the Bengals' defense can slow down the Broncos with Reuben Droughns's power running and Jake Plummer spreading the ball to his deep receiving corps. This could get ugly very early.

PLAY: Broncos for 1 unit.

Last week: 4-1 for a net profit of 2.9 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). Season NFL record: 14-15-1 for a net loss of 2.5 units.