11/25/2005 12:00AM

Let's get to the games already


I've never been a fan of NFL pre-game shows. Whether produced over the years by CBS, NBC, Fox or ESPN, they've always seemed to provide more style than substance - and not too much style at that, or at least not my style.

Since moving to Las Vegas seven years ago this week, my Sunday mornings are usually spent shopping around for an extra half-point here or there on games I like. From the short snippets I catch from running in and out of sports books and hearing the pre-game shows, it still seems to pretty much be the hosts sitting around yucking it up, telling each other how great each other is, or rehashing everything we've heard all week. I mean, how many times can we endure discussions on the Terrell Owens soap opera, the Colts' unbeaten run, etc. Heaven forbid anyone ever seriously discuss personnel matchups or game strategy. Instead, we get a fluff piece or a softball interview.

I know the pre-game shows aren't about to ruffle the league's feathers and give out information for the benefit of gamblers, but you'd think with fantasy football being so big and the NFL even endorsing such activities that there would be more injury updates. If you have a player like Donovan McNabb or Michael Vick, you get more than enough info (which is also widely discussed during the week) but for the regular run-of-the-mill players . . . good luck.

By this point, I'm thinking this intro is being viewed by some people the same way I view pre-game shows . . . enough with the irrelevant rambling and let's get to the games.

Patriots (+3) at Chiefs

I like this game so much that I bet it a week ago Thursday at the Las Vegas Hilton when the Patriots were getting 3 points. I was expecting the line to drop, but since it hasn't, I went back and bet it again. That's the very definition of a 2-unit play. I also like this game in light of the Thanksgiving Day results as both these teams have played the Broncos, but while the Chiefs were blown out 30-10 with their only touchdown coming in garbage time at the two-minute warning, the Patriots actually rallied to within 28-20 of the Broncos and had the ball with a chance to tie. The Patriots should pass at will on the Chiefs' secondary, and while the Pats have given up plenty of yardage, they are still capable of coming up with the big plays to keep the Chiefs out of the end zone.

PLAY: Patriots for 2 units.

Chargers (-3) at Redskins

The Redskins have overachieved this season, but the beginning of the end was probably last week's 16-13 home loss to the Raiders. It doesn't get easier here as the Chargers, who won 27-14 at Oakland back on Oct. 16, are a much better team. The offense is led by running back LaDainian Tomlinson and the steady play of quarterback Drew Brees. Even if the Redskins' defense doesn't let Tomlinson run wild, the Chargers can send the receivers deep and dump the ball off to LT in the flat and Washington will be hard-pressed to stop it. The San Diego defense should contain Redskins running back Clinton Portis and pressure Mark Brunell. The travel also shouldn't be a problem as the Chargers have traveled to the East Coast three times already this season and are 2-1 both straight-up and against the spread.

PLAY: Chargers for 1 unit.

Browns (+4) at Vikings

Both of these teams are playing much better lately and I think the Vikings will be a popular play, but I'm going with the underdawg Browns. I've written before that Romeo Crennel has Cleveland heading in the right direction and I think he'll continue to show that here by outcoaching Minnesota's Mike Tice (OK, that's not too hard, but let me continue). The defense - Crennel's specialty - should be able to shut down the Vikings' inconsistent offense and running back Reuben Droughns is showing he wasn't just a product of the Denver system with a very solid season. He should find many holes vs. the Vikings. The Browns are also breaking in rookie quarterback Charlie Frye in some series for Trent Dilfer and that should allow Crenell to utilize each of their strengths in this game just like they did last week vs. the Dolphins.

PLAY: Browns for 1 unit.

Bears (+3) at Buccaneers

The Bears' defense really made me a believer last week in their 13-3 win over the Panthers. I really thought the Panthers would be able to break through with some big plays, but the Bears' pass rush kept Jake Delhomme from having any chance. Now picture Chris Simms facing that same pass rush and it's hard to see the Bucs having any success on offense. When the Bears have the ball, the offensive line is really playing well together (when they're not fighting at FBI gun ranges) and opening nice holes for Thomas Jones and giving Kyle Orton time to throw. The Bucs' defense is tough, but the Bears should be able to come up with more big plays. This should be a tight game that could very well come down to a field goal, so I'd much prefer getting the 3 points than giving them.

PLAY: Bears for 1 unit.

Steelers (+8) at Colts

Now, after the Colts routed the Patriots and took care of the Bengals and with the Steelers recent struggles, a lot of people aren't looking at this as a possible upset spot, but I think it's the best chance for the Colts to get knocked off (OK, since the other games have already been played, I'm not really going out on a limb). They key is that the Steelers have a physical defense that can give Peyton Manning & Co. fits. The big question mark will be the Pittsburgh offense, which will have to sort out its running-back-by-committee and also have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger shake off some rust after missing the last three games. But I look for receiver Hines Ward to have a huge game and if the Steelers' defense can just keep the Colts in the 20's, they'll be in great position to cover the spread and maybe even end the Colts' perfect season.

PLAY: Steelers for 1 unit.

Thursday's picks: 1-1 on under 42 in both Thanksgiving Day games. NFL season record: 24-36-3 for a net loss of 17.2 units.