09/23/2005 12:00AM

It's now or never for Raiders


LAS VEGAS - Football is all about adjustments.

The best coaches make halftime adjustments to correct problems they see in the first half, and also have to pull their players to the side to make adjustments during the course of the game. And then they break down their own team's game films to make more adjustments at practices, and also scout their opponents to determine what adjustments need to be made to make a specific game plan.

Coaches that don't correct their team's problems fall behind.

Football bettors have to approach their game the same way. I'm in a slump so far in the NFL, and I'm questioning a lot of opinions I formed heading into the season about how teams would perform. For instance, I thought the Raiders would break from the gate strong, yet they are 0-2. I'm playing them again this week, but if they fail then it's three strikes and they're out.

It's a fine line between sticking to your guns and being stubborn. I see too many bettors having knee-jerk reactions whereby they lose with a team and seem to bet against it the next week out of spite. I trust my judgment more than that - many times I've bet horses that I felt were rounding into form and they lost, only to bet them the next time out and have them win at a bigger price - but at some point you have to swallow your pride, cut your losses, and look for other opportunities.

To those who are having great seasons so far, don't get complacent. You need to analyze what you're doing right and if you need to, adjust your game, too. Your opponent, the oddsmaker, is working hard and if you keep doing the same things or betting the same teams, he's going to catch up to you.

Raiders (+8 1/2) at Eagles

The Raiders have been frustrating to watch because they show flashes of brilliance but keep falling short, often imploding because of penalties. This should be a shootout with Kerry Collins airing it out to Randy Moss and Donovan McNabb doing the same with Terrell Owens. If the Eagles' defense plays soft, the Raiders should pound the ball with Lamont Jordan. For me to be sweating this bet, the Eagles will have to get ahead by more than two touchdowns. I mostly like this play because I feel there's a 50-50 chance of the Raiders winning outright, so that gives a lot of value to getting more than a touchdown with the spread.

PLAY: Raiders for 2 units.

Bengals at Bears (+3)

Last week, I lost my best bet with the Vikings vs. the Bengals. I thought the Vikes could run the ball on the Bengals, and I was actually right. Their yardage gained on their first seven running plays: 9, 2, 23, 4, 9, 1, 14. That's 62 yards, or nearly 9 yards per carry. But by that time, they were behind 17-0 and only ran seven more times the rest of the game, and two of them were on Daunte Culpepper scrambles. But where the Vikes failed, the Bears should succeed. The outside/inside combo of Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson should have a good day. The key to the Bears is their defense, and they should be able to pressure Carson Palmer into some mistakes. Rudi Johnson is a good back, but sometimes he can be tentative and "tip-toe through the tulips" and if he does that he will get planted by Brian Urlacher & Co. The Bears should get their second straight home win in what many people will call a big upset.

PLAY: Bears for 1 unit.

Browns (+13 1/2) at Colts

Everyone is lauding the Colts' defense, but I'm still not convinced. Who did they shut down? The Ravens and Jaguars. The Browns are not known as an offensive juggernaut, but Trent Dilfer is looking more and more comfortable at quarterback and can light up the Colts' secondary. Everyone is also saying the Colts' offense is overdue and will bust out this week, but Cleveland head coach Romeo Crennel might have something to say about that. Does the former Patriots' defensive coordinator have the talent he had with the Patriots? Certainly not, but I'm counting on him knowing enough about game-planning to keep this within two touchdowns.

PLAY: Browns for 1 unit.

Patriots (+3) at Steelers

The Patriots don't lose often, and they haven't lost two straight games since 2002. They are also not an underdog often, and have won the last three times in that role. They're still the better team - having beaten the Steelers 41-27 at Pittsburgh in the playoffs after losing to them in the regular season - and have to be taken in this spot. Should the Steelers really be favored?

PLAY: Patriots for 1 unit.

Cowboys at 49ers (+6 1/2)

The 49ers are this year's perfect example of the old saying that "an NFL team never is as good as it looks in its best victory nor as bad as it looks in its worst defeat." They upset the Rams in the season opener in a game in which they were really outplayed. They then got blown out, 42-3, by the Eagles last week. This line was Cowboys -3 1/2 at the Plaza before the season started and 4 1/2 at the Hilton last week. Now it's at 6 1/2 and that's just too much of an adjustment. The Cowboys haven't done anything to warrant laying this many points on the road to anyone. If we are to assume 3 points for home-field advantage, are we to believe the Cowboys would be favored by 9 1/2 on a neutral field and 12 1/2 at home? That's nearly as much as the Eagles were favored at home vs. the 49ers last week. Sorry, but I'm not buying it. The 49ers' defense, led by Julian Peterson and Bryant Young, should be able to get to Drew Bledsoe, and the offense should do enough to keep the score close - just look for the Tim Rattay-Brandon Lloyd combo to try and emulate Mark Brunell-Santana Moss from Monday night.

PLAY: 49ers for 1 unit.

Last week: 1-4-1, including 0-1 on my 2-unit play, for a net loss of 4.5 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 2-8-1 for a net loss of 7.9 units.