08/29/2002 11:00PM

Keep these AFC tidbits in mind


LAS VEGAS - Here's a look at the teams in the AFC and what bettors should consider this season when looking to bet on or against a given team.

AFC East

Dolphins: The over/under was 8-8 last year in Miami games, but the under will be the way to go this year with a solid defense and the re-emphasis of the running game with Ricky Williams. I would be leery about laying more than a TD in any game as coach Dave Wannstedt will be even more conservative than in the past and play games close to the vest.

Jets: New York was 11-5 with the under last year, so that should prompt oddsmakers to make their totals low. The Jets lost both starting cornerbacks to Houston in the expansion draft, so they could be giving up a lot of points this year. Add to that the fact teams will be ganging up on Curtis Martin and forcing the Jets to the air and you have a lot of potential over bets.

Patriots: A popular handicapping angle is to bet against the defending Super Bowl champ, but that's usually because the public jumps on the bandwagon looking for a dynasty. New England was 13-5-1 against the spread last season, including the playoffs, but don't expect oddsmakers to inflate their lines too much because no one is expecting them to do as well this season. If the public bets up the opening lines, then you may have value on their opponents, but still not as much as in years past.

Bills: Drew Bledsoe obviously improves this team, but I think that just creates value on their opponents, who won't be laying as many points to a team that has a lot of other holes to fill.

AFC North

Steelers: Coming off a 13-3 season (and 11-4-1 against the spread), the lines will be inflated and it should be a money-maker to go against the Steelers, especially on the road.

Browns: Cleveland is expected to do well this season, so they won't often be underdogs. The better bets will probably be on the under as the running game and defense continue to make strides. Bookies were burned a little last year as the over was 12-4 in Browns games, so they might shade the numbers a little higher this year.

Bengals: The defense came on late last year. Coupled with a mediocre crops of quarterbacks (Gus Frerotte, Jon Kitna, and Akili Smith), the under is the way to go.

Ravens: Nineteen months removed from its Super Bowl triumph, Baltimore's roster continues to get depleted. But the defense will keep the Ravens in most games, and they have to be considered a live dog. Value can only be found on the over if QB Chris Redman makes great strides.

AFC South

Colts: Indy was 12-3-1 with the over last season, but that was mostly because Peyton Manning's passes kept getting run back for TD's and the defense was inept. With Tony Dungy on board, the under is the way to look if totals on the Colts games are in the upper 40's or higher.

Jaguars: If Jimmy Smith doesn't sign, you have to look at the under because the oddsmakers won't be able to make them low enough. QB Mark Brunell looks lost without his go-to guy, as well as free agent departure Keenan McCardell.

Titans: Tennessee should reemerge as a playoff contender this year and should be considered a play as a dog or a short-priced favorite. But you don't want to lay more than a TD with them because when Eddie George and the defense are playing well, they tend to eke out a lot of close wins.

Texans: The NFL's newest team should be competitive against the spread, even if they're not a contender in the win-loss column. We will have plenty of opportunities to get seven or more points.

AFC West

Raiders: The defense should be improved, and the offense is aging, so the under should come into play, especially since this is a public team and bettors love to parlay the Raiders to the over.

Broncos: Even without Terrell Davis, the offense should be potent this season. The defense is again suspect, so look to the overs. As for betting against the spread, they will be a live dog vs. St. Louis and San Fran in their first two games, and then the schedule gets easier from there.

Chiefs: Kansas City is one of my sleeper teams this year. Dick Vermeil is putting together a solid team. I would play them right out of the gate.

Chargers: Drew Brees was named the starting QB but has been ineffective in preseason. I don't see that changing when the real games start. San Diego is definitely a go-against team, and worth a look at the under in any game it plays.