09/27/2001 11:00PM

Look for Panthers to sack the Pack

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Playing big favorites in football is risky.

For an example, you just have to look at Thursday night's college game between Miami and Pitt. Except for a few books that opened the No. 1-ranked Hurricanes around 21 or 22 (those got bet up quickly), most books made the 'Canes a

24-point favorite. But the big number didn't scare away the public, as it bet the game all the way up to 28 before some bettors took the other side.

It seemed like such a sure thing. That's what we call a trap.

Miami was ahead 40-7, and all those bettors were counting their winnings. That is, until Pitt scored two touchdowns in the final quarter to get a back-door cover, 43-21.

When I was making my college selections this week, I wanted to take the 'Canes, but the line had moved to 27 by Tuesday, so I had to pass. I'm doing the same thing with the Colts (-12), Raiders (-10 1/2), and Eagles (-13 1/2) this Sunday. These are all solid teams playing opponents who are struggling, but I smell a few more traps. It's just too tough to lay double digits in the parity-filled NFL.

Packers at Panthers (+3 1/2)

I'm not normally a trend or systems player, but one I like is "bet against a team going on the road after a Monday night game." Unlike most trends or systems that use statistical oddities with no logical cause, this one makes sense because the team coming off the prime-time game has less time to nurse injuries and a shorter practice week made even shorter by the travel requirements. In addition, teams that perform well in prime time generally attract a lot of public money, so there is value on the other side.

The Panthers let me down in a 24-16 loss to the Falcons last week, but I saw enough to think they will revert to the form they showed in their season-opening win over the Vikings. The Packers are playing well, but they will be a victim of tough scheduling. For added measure, the Panthers have beaten the Packers each of the last two years, including a 31-14 victory at home last year.

PLAY: Panthers for 22 units (to win 20)

Chiefs (-3) at Redskins

This matchup of politically incorrect nicknames has a solid team, the Chiefs, whom I still like despite losses to the Raiders and Giants, and a struggling team, the Redskins. But we're only being asked to lay a field goal here. I know preseason games don't count for much, but the Chiefs did beat the Redskins, 20-0, last month. This is the game where KC QB Trent Green gets on track against a Redskins' defense that has allowed 67 points in two games.

PLAY: Chiefs for 11 units

Dolphins at Rams (-6)

The way the Dolphins have been playing, this is a lot of points to be laying, but this is the week the Rams' offense finally meshes. After playing on grass the last two weeks, they return to the fast track in the RCA Dome. The Miami defense is strong, but with the Rams spreading out the receivers, that's going to leave a lot of room for Rams' RB Marshall Faulk to operate. The Dolphins will be able to move on the Rams, too, but not enough to stay within a touchdown.

PLAY: Rams for 11 units

Steelers (-3) at Bills

I was chomping at the bit when this game opened pick-em, but there's still value in laying the field goal. The Steelers are well-rested and face a Bills team that is still struggling with its West Coast offense. Don't be deceived by the Bills' 26 points against the Colts last week. They only scored that many because the Colts kept scoring so fast and giving them plenty of opportunities. One of the Bills' scores came on an interception return, and Rob Johnson kept some drives alive with his scrambling (yes, his scrambling). Don't expect Johnson to rush for 63 yards vs. the Steelers' defense.

PLAY: Steelers for 11 units

Ravens at Broncos (-4 1/2)

I bet this game Monday when the line was 4. The Broncos were my Super Bowl pick before the season started and they've been my best bet the last two games. The move to 4 1/2 is enough to keep it from being my best bet, but I think it's still a solid play. The Broncos' offense is hitting on all cylinders and the defense is improved. The Ravens lost to the Bengals, 21-10, last week and looked very bad in doing it. They miss RB Jamal Lewis even more than I originally anticipated, and Elvis Grbac is not the answer at QB. The Ravens are going to have to win with defense again this year, but even their defense isn't enough to slow down the Broncos this week.

PLAY: Broncos for 11 units

Starting bankroll: 1,000 units.

Bankroll entering last week: 1,008 units.

Last week: 2-3, including a double play on the Broncos, for a net loss of 3 units.

Current bankroll: 1,005 units.