12/08/2006 1:00AM

Making a case for the money line


LAS VEGAS – Sometimes you can be so close to your own handicapping that you don't see what you're doing wrong and it takes an outside observer to point it out.

I was feeling pretty good about my NFL picks last week - 4-1 against the spread - until I received an e-mail Thursday night from a Las Vegas reader named Maury Ferguson. He pointed out that all four of my wins were on underdogs and my one loss was on my lone favorite, noting, "You can't seem to pick a winning favorite to save your life."

Ouch. I guess the truth does hurt. He also pointed out that all four of my winners not only covered but won outright and that I would have made a lot more money playing them straight up, and that's certainly true, too. Furthermore, he said he's been following me for a long time and he generally plays my underdog plays on the money line and bets against me when I try to bet a favorite. He says that if I just played my dogs on the money line this season, I would be up nearly 8 units instead of being down 3.3 with all my straight bets.

The sad thing is that I should have known all this. Earlier this season, I read an article online titled, "Show me the money . . . line" by Reed Hogben M.D., a genuine medical doctor turned handicapper at thebettingdoctor.com.

In that article, Hogden wrote: "Often when bettors bet underdogs, they look at the points they get in the bet as a type of insurance. In my opinion, rare is the instance when they are not paying more for this insurance than it is worth. Assuming accurate handicapping, they would make more money by passing on the insurance and laying the same percentage of bankroll on the odds offered by the money line."

Since reading that, I have been betting more dogs on the money line - and it certainly payed off last Saturday with UCLA upsetting USC - but apparently not enough, especially the last four weeks. As Ferguson pointed out, I've played 15 underdogs, and eight of them won outright, showing a profit of more than 12 units (and that includes going 0-4 in Week 12).

I've just been giving point-spread selections all season, and I'll continue to do so, but keep in mind that if these teams play the way I think they will, it will probably be more profitable playing them to win straight-up.

Ravens (+3) at Chiefs

Both teams are coming off losses and the Chiefs have a nice home-field advantage, but I think the Ravens' body of work this season much better. The Ravens' offense, which was shut down by a revitalized Cincinnati defense in their prime-time game a week ago Thursday, should bounce back vs. a weak Chiefs' defense that was torched for 31 points by the Browns last week. The Chiefs are much more comfortable in a shootout where they try to outscore their opponents, but the Ravens' defense is second in the league against the run, second in sacks, and second in interceptions, four of which have been returned for touchdowns. The Ravens are the better team and should overcome the Chiefs' home-field edge.

PLAY: Ravens for 1 unit.

Titans (+1 1/2) at Texans

This is a rematch of a game six weeks ago that the Titans won 28-22 at home - a game that the Titans were leading 28-10 before two late Houston scores. I had the Titans in that game because of Titans' rookie quarterback Vince Young facing the team (in his hometown) that overlooked him with the No. 1 draft pick. Now, the Titans are one of the hottest teams in the league with back-to-back-to-back upsets of the Eagles, Giants, and Colts. And in the game before that streak they had the Ravens on the ropes before losing 27-26. In fact, it's actually surprising that the Texans are favored in this spot.

PLAY: Titans for 1 unit.

Bills (+4) at Jets

Here's a game where the points might come into play as it's expected to be low-scoring and could very well come down to a field goal. The Jets have done well this season in beating the teams they're supposed to beat, but I think the Bills are the right side as they're playing better than a lot of people give them credit for. Since their bye week, they beat the Packers, barely lost to the Colts, 17-16, beat the Texans and Jaguars, and lost just 24-21 to the Chargers last week. In their first meeting, in Weeko3, the Bills outgained the Jets by more than 200 yards but lost 28-20 due to their own failure in the red zone and turnovers, including one that was returned for a New York touchdown. The Bills can certainly hang with the Jets and, if they play smarter this time, should turn the tables in the rematch.

PLAY: Bills for 1 unit.

Colts at Jaguars (+1 1/2)

Home underdogs have been red-hot, winning at 63 percent against the spread this season, so you know I had to land on one this week, and the Jaguars are the logical choice as they seem to always play the Colts tough. The Colts are worst in the league against the run and should be further exposed by the Jaguars' tandem of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. And the Colts' offense isn't as good against defenses that play a physical style like the Jaguars do. Add in the fact that the Jaguars need this game to keep in the playoff hunt, and it has all the makings of a (minor) upset.

PLAY: Jaguars for 1 unit.

Raiders (+11) at Bengals

This is also an automatic play as double-digit underdogs are hitting at 58 percent. The Raiders had a horrific start to the season, and, sure, they lost as favorites to the Texans last week at home, but they covered six of their previous seven games in an underdog role and are an impressive 5-0 against the spread in their last five games as an underdog of more than a touchdown. The Bengals are coming on strong, but they'll be content with a win here, so I'll certainly be taking the "insurance" on this one with such a big spread.

PLAY: Raiders for 1 unit.

Last week: 4-1 for a net profit of 2.9 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 35-35-2 for a net loss of 3.3 units.