12/21/2001 12:00AM

'Must-win' doesn't apply to NFL wagers


LAS VEGAS - Bettors often jump on teams in must-win situations, but professional handicapper Andy Iskoe (thelogicalapproach.com) warned listeners on the "Stardust Line" and Larry Grossman's "You Can Bet On It" radio programs last week that it's not as cut-and-dried as some people make it.

"Just because a team is in a must-win situation doesn't mean they will win. If they were that good, they wouldn't be in that position to begin with," said Iskoe, who has expressed the same thoughts on the "Lee Pete Show," on which he's a regular with Pete and Peter Ruchman, and in his columns in GamingToday.

Iskoe's thoughts are worth considering as the NFL heads into the last three weeks of the regular season, and playoff spots, as well as home-field advantage, are on the line.

Jets at Colts (-1)

The Jets have been one of my favorite go-against teams this year. They burned me early but have lived up to my low expectations and lost three straight against the spread, barely escaping with a 15-14 straight-up win over the Bengals last week or they would be in danger of slipping out of the playoff race. The Jets need this game to help avoid a collapse, but the Colts are finally clicking again on offense and should hand the Jets their third loss in four games and fourth straight spread loss on Sunday night. The Colts' defense is still pretty weak, but the Jets have had trouble putting points on the board all year. Back in the season's opener, the Colts beat the Jets 45-24 in New York. I see a similar score here.

Play: Colts for 22 units.

Saints (+3) at Bucs

The winner of this game will have the inside track on the sixth NFC playoff spot. Both teams have offenses and defenses that can look awesome one week and then go in the tank the following week . . . but current form has the Saints on the improve (despite losing to the Rams on Monday night) while the Bucs are on a downward trend. The Saints' Aaron Brooks and Joe Horn have been one of the top QB-WR combos the past few weeks and have made it so defenses can't gang up on Ricky Williams. The Buccaneers faced a "must-win" situation against the Bears last week and fell flat in a 27-3 loss. The same thing should happen here.

Play: Saints for 11 units.

Chargers at Chiefs (-3)

The Chiefs have played well recently, nearly beating the Raiders two weeks ago and then outlasting the Broncos in overtime. The Chargers also hung tough with the Raiders last week, but the wheels have come off the offense and they refuse to give Drew Brees a chance to gain valuable experience. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have been mixing up the running of Priest Holmes and passing of Trent Green and should continue to put up points against the Chargers' overrated defense, just like they did in a 25-20 victory at San Diego on Nov. 4.

Play: Chiefs for 11 units.

Seahawks (+3 1/2) at Giants

Both teams are clinging to playoff hopes, so this could be a sloppy game, which often happens when you mix playoff-type intensity with two teams that aren't too good. The Giants are doing their best impression of the Jets as they either lose or fail to cover against mediocre teams (for instance: their 17-13 win over the Cardinals last Saturday). Meanwhile, the Seahawks have shown a knack for pulling out close games and are coming off a 29-3 win over the Cowboys. Getting a field goal is a bonus in a game that should be pick-em. Both teams will try to establish the run without much success, and that should keep the clock running, so I look for a low-scoring affair.

Play: Seahawks for 11 units and under 35 points for 11 units.

Browns at Packers (-7 1/2)

Here's a case in which I really like the team that needs the win more. The Packers, after beating the Bears two weeks ago and moving into a first-place tie in the NFC Central, suffered a letdown in a loss to the Titans. Now, they return home (where they always play better) and face a Browns team that saw its playoff fortunes get reversed with the riot-inspiring instant replay fiasco. That has been the focus in Cleveland all week, and it's hard to imagine them being focused. The Packers, however, need to get back on the winning track, and Brett Favre should be up to the task before the home crowd.

Play: Packers for 11 units.

Starting bankroll: 1,000 units.

Bankroll entering last week:

932 units.

Last week: 6-3, for net profit of 37 units.

Bankroll heading into Saturday's games: 959 units.