10/07/2002 11:00PM

Man bites dog, er, bettors beat books

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LAS VEGAS - NFL bettors have been getting the better of the bookmakers early in the season. The money has been on the right side more often than not. This past weekend, bettors won three of the four games that moved more than a half-point.

Two games actually had a change of favorites (with the bettors winning one and the bookies winning one).

The losing move was on the Falcons. The Buccaneers opened as a 2 1/2-point favorite against the Falcons, but the money moved the line all the way to Falcons -1 1/2. That was a big loser as the Bucs won 20-6. But bettors were on the right side of the Giants-Cowboys game, betting the Giants from a 1-point dog to a 1 1/2-point favorite. The Giants won 21-17.

There was also nearly a change of favorite in the Monday night game as the Packers were bet from a 1-point dog on the opening Stardust line (though it went to 1 1/2 and even 2 at some books) down to pick-'em by kickoff. The Packers romped, 34-21.

The only other game that moved more than a point was the Titans getting bet down from a 5 1/2-point favorite over the Redskins to 4. That was another winner for the bettors as the Redskins prevailed 31-14.

For the season, lines that have moved from the Stardust opening number have been winners in 34 of 55 games (61.8 percent) while moves on the totals have been slightly less profitable at 32-25 (56.1 percent).

Don't take this as an endorsement to follow the money because the winning percentage drops as you move further from the opening number, plus these things have a way of evening out. But so far so good.

More NFL betting trends

The Raiders (5-0) are the only undefeated team in the NFL, and the Jaguars are the only other team with a perfect record against the spread. With the Bengals covering against the Colts last Sunday in a 28-21 loss, the Rams (0-5) are the only winless team against the spread. The Raiders are 7-point favorites at the Rams this upcoming Sunday.

Home dogs went only 1-3 last week (the Jaguars were the sole dog victor), but are still 16-10 (61.5 percent) on the season and have won 13 of the 26 games straight up. This angle will get a huge test this week as there are home dogs in six of the 14 games: Redskins (+1 1/2) vs. the Saints, Bengals (+6 1/2) vs. the Steelers, Texans (+7 1/2) vs. the Bills, Titans (+2) vs. the Jaguars, Rams (+7) vs. the Raiders, and Seahawks (+3) vs. the 49ers.

This past week was the first week of the NFL season in which favorites posted a winning pointspread record, going 7-6-1 (the Steelers' 31-28 loss to the Saints was the push). Underdogs still have a healthy record of 44-28 (61.1 percent) with two pushes.

September was the highest-scoring month in NFL history, and the explosive offenses continued into October as 10 of the 14 games went over the total. The over has a 41-32 (56.2 percent) overall mark.

The 20 interconference games have been split with 10 wins apiece by the AFC and NFC, but the AFC still holds a 12-7 pointspread record (63.2 percent) with one push. This week, the AFC sends the Patriots (-4) vs. the Packers, the Raiders (-7) vs. the Rams, and the Browns (+7) vs. the Buccaneers.

The Raiders, Bills, Saints, and Lions have gone over the total in all of their games so far. Every team has had at least one over.

Tracking NCAA and NFL team trends

Kansas has lost its last seven home games against the spread. But a play on Colorado Saturday could be dicey as the Buffaloes are banged up on defense (five starters could be out) and laying 21 points.

Florida State is rarely an underdog, and coach Bobby Bowden and the Seminoles don't perform well in the role. They are 0-3 as a road dog in the past 10 years. Miami-Fla. is favored by 14.

Joe Paterno's Penn State is much better as a road dog, covering the last five times in the role. The Nittany Lions are getting 5 points at Michigan on Saturday.

California is another team that does well as a road dog, going 17-9 against the spread over the past five years. In addition, they're 5-2 against USC the last seven years, including four outright upsets. Cal is getting 12 points on Saturday.

In the NFL, the Ravens are 15-4 against the spread as a dog over the past three years, including straight-up wins the last two weeks. They're getting 6 1/2 points at the Colts Sunday.

The Lions have covered five of their last six games against the Vikings. The Vikes are 1-9 the last 10 times as favorites. The Lions are getting 4 1/2 points at Minnesota.

The Browns have gone over the total in 11 of their last 12 road games. The over-under on Sunday's Browns-Bucs game is 36 1/2 on parlay cards (no total had officially been posted by noon Tuesday because of the injuries to Browns QB's Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb).

Three out of four ain't bad

My college bankroll continued its rebound last week with winning plays on Florida St. -15 over Clemson for 1 unit (last Thursday), Mississippi +13 vs. Florida for 2 units and Missouri +14 vs. Oklahoma for 1 unit. Mississippi upset Florida outright, 17-14, while Missouri lost 31-24. My one college loss on the weekend - Nevada -1 1/2 over UNLV for 2 units - kept me from getting back in the black for the season. That looked like a winner, too, with Nevada leading and covering 17-14 until a controversial roughing-the-punter penalty gave UNLV new life on the way to a 21-17 win. But I'll take a 3-1 record and net profit of 1.8 units (based on laying 1.1 units for every 1 unit I'm trying to win) anytime.

For the season, the college bankroll has a record of 11-12 for a net loss of 1.7 units.

In the NFL, my 2-unit best bets didn't fare as well as I won with the Chiefs but lost with the Titans and Rams. One-unit wins on the Cardinals and Ravens cut my losses, and I went 1-1 on two under plays.

For the week, I was 4-3 but had a net loss of 0.5 units because of the losing record on best bets. For the season, I'm 25-25 for a net loss of 3.9 units.