01/06/2004 12:00AM

Keep statistics in perspective

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LAS VEGAS - Statistics don't lie, but the people who use them can sure stretch the truth.

The standard work week in this country generally broken down to five eight-hour days a week. Back in a former life as a sports copy editor at the Northwest Herald, a daily newspaper in the Chicago suburbs, my hours were roughly 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Since that equated to 90 hours over a two-week pay period (or 10 hours of overtime that our company didn't want to pay), the other copy editor and I worked it out with our sports editor that we would each get an extra day off every two weeks, working nine nine-hour days for a more reasonable total of 80 to 81 hours per pay period.

This caused a lot of fluctuation in my schedule, and my friend Rick Grad, a fellow horse handicapper, would often say I had a cushy job because I hadn't worked three of the previous four days, which he felt was way out of line. I would then point out that I had worked the five days previous to that, so I had actually worked six out of the previous nine and could hardly be considered a slacker.

Both statements sound pretty convincing, but we were both taking the statistics to the extreme to support our argument. As with most things in life, the truth falls somewhere in the middle.

When discussing trends and betting statistics in this space, I've always tried to keep that in mind. So just remember the following the next time you hear someone say they're on a roll picking sporting events: If they say they have won three straight, that means they have won three of their last four, since they obviously dropped the last losing bet - and likely they're three of their last five, or they probably would have mentioned they were 4 of 5. If someone cites their outstanding record over their last 10 bets, you can be sure that their winning percentage over their last 20 is less desirable.

Everyone does it to some extent, but the key is to notice when it is being done and to adjust accordingly to get a clearer picture.

Divisional playoff trends

That lengthy introduction leads right into the fact that I have already seen from several different sources this week that home teams coming off first-round byes are 23-12 (66 percent) against the spread with one push the past nine years in the NFL divisional playoffs. That's certainly true, but what they're leaving out is that in the year before that run, the teams coming off byes were 1-3. That lowers it to a slightly less gaudy 24-15-1 record.

More impressive is the fact that this trend is 9-3 (75 percent) against the spread in the past three years. Of course, if you do the math, you can see that bye teams were a barely better-than-average 15-12-1 in those previous seven years.

So, while betting the teams off the bye has been profitable in recent years - and we won't go into excruciating detail about the fact that these teams are at home, have the extra rest, and get additional preparation time while facing a team that had to play a do-or-die game already - it's not the sure thing that some people will lead you to believe.

* Another factor that helps a lot of these bye-benefiting home teams to cover is that a good portion of this round's games turn into blowouts. Again, using the past three years, nine of the 12 games (75 percent) have been decided by 14 or more points. None of this year's point spreads are in double digits, and it should be noted that over the past 10 years, 26 of the 40 divisional playoff games (65 percent) have been decided by 10 points or more.

* Here's one trend you're not likely to see elsewhere: Three teams that lost the first meeting in the regular season vs. their wild-card opponents rebounded to cover last week (Panthers routing the Cowboys, Seahawks covering in the overtime loss to the Packers, and Colts routing the Broncos). This week, the Titans vs. the Patriots and the Packers vs. the Eagles are in that revenge role.

Game-by-game trends

Rams (-7 1/2) vs. Panthers (o/u 45): The Rams were 6-1-1 against the spread at home this season. The Panthers were only 4-4 on the road, but they were 3-1 as a road underdog. Carolina was also 2-1 in domes, including outright upsets at Indianapolis and New Orleans. (The loss was at Atlanta in Michael Vick's nationally televised comeback.) The Rams were 5-3 at home with the over. The Panthers were 4-4 with totals on the road.

Patriots (-6) vs. Titans (o/u 37): New England was a perfect 8-0 straight up and against the spread at home. Including last week's win at Baltimore, Tennessee is 4-4-1. The Pats were 5-3 with the under at home, while the Titans are 5-4 with the over. The first meeting between these two teams way back on Oct. 5 was a 38-30 win by the Patriots. That went way over the total of 40, but the most interesting betting news in that game was that the Titans opened as a 1 1/2-point road favorite and the line was bet to pick-em. Now, the Pats are laying 6.

Chiefs (-3) vs. Colts (o/u 50): The Chiefs were 6-2 against the spread at home, while the Colts were an impressive 7-1 straight up and 5-2-1 against the spread on the road. The Chiefs were 5-3 at home with the over, but that could have been better if not for pitiful offensive performances by the Bills (a 38-5 K.C. win) and Bears (a 31-3 K.C. win). The Colts were 5-3 with the over on the road, so it's understandable that this total is at 50.

Eagles (-5 1/2) vs. Packers (o/u 42): The Eagles were only 5-3 at home this year and an even more mediocre 4-4 against the spread. The Packers were 5-3 against the spread on the road. The Eagles were 6-1-1 with the over at home, with the only under being the season-opening 17-0 loss to the Buccaneers. The Packers were 5-3 with the over on the road. The line on this matchup has swung 11 points: The Packers were favored by exactly 5 1/2 points when the teams first met on Nov. 10 in Green Bay. The Eagles won that game 17-14. The Packers have won seven of their eight games since then, with the lone loss being on Thanksgiving at Detroit.

Bankroll plays split

My NFL bankroll plays went 2-2 last weekend as I split both days. I won with the Titans and lost with the Cowboys on Saturday, then won with the Seahawks and lost with the Broncos on Sunday. That resulted in a net loss for the bankroll of 0.2 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). For the season, I am 57-37 (61 percent) with five pushes for a net profit of 16.3 units.