09/02/2002 11:00PM

New coaches attracting NFL future money


LAS VEGAS - NFL fans don't have to wait any longer, as the season starts Thursday night when the 49ers visit the Giants.

But it's not like bettors have had to wait all this time to put money down. Super Bowl futures have been up since January, the week before last season's Super Bowl, conference and divisional odds were available shortly after that, and over/under season win totals went up in May. In fact, week 1 odds have been up at a few casinos since early April (right after March Madness).

As the season kicks off, let's look at a few of the betting trends that have already affected the odds for this season:

* Future is now: The Rams opened as the 5-2 favorite last January and are still 5-2, according to odds from Las Vegas Sports Consultants, but they haven't been the most popular team among bettors.

LVSC has lowered its odds on the Redskins, with Steve Spurrier taking over as coach and causing a lot of excitement, from the opening number of 25-1 down to 15-1. LVSC doesn't actually book any bets, so it's not surprising that the real-life books have lowered the Skins' odds even more. For instance, the Redskins have been bet down to 8-1 at the Stardust.

Another team with a new coach, the Buccaneers, have also been lowered from 25-1 to 15-1 by LVSC. The Patriots, the defending champs that most people regard as a fluke, and the Packers, who have a loyal following that plunks down money on them, have both been lowered from 15-1 to 10-1.

* Week 1 numbers: NFL numbers are the easiest for oddsmakers to create because they have a solid grasp on public perception and can arrive easily at the right number, or pretty close.

That was proven again this year when the Imperial Palace and the Palms posted the first week 1 numbers in early April. Even though they were posted 21 weeks ahead of time and with no idea of trades, late signings, or preseason results, 13 of the 16 games were within two points of the numbers that were posted last Saturday at the Stardust as the official opening numbers in town.

In fact, four of them were exactly the same (Jets -3 over the Bills, Bears -4 over the Vikings, Bengals -1 1/2 over the Chargers, and Packers -8 over the Falcons), and seven more were within one point.

The three exceptions were the 49ers-Giants game that opened as pick-em back in April but was -2 1/ 2 at the Stardust; the Raiders, who were only -4 1/ 2 back in April but are now -7 vs. the Seahawks; and the Cowboys, who were -3 back in April but are now -7 vs. the expansion Texans.

* Preseason a hit with bettors: Preseason games are usually seen as meaningless exhibitions (and for the most part they are). But this year, local bettors jumped all over the Redskins in their opener against the 49ers and bet them all the way from 2 1/2-point dogs to 3-point favorites. The Redskins won the game, 38-7, and started a healthy winning streak for bettors. Nearly every major line move during the preseason went the bettors' way.

The books weren't hurt too badly, helped mostly by the fact betting limits are much lower in the preseason and that they move the lines more aggressively, but the bettors who took advantage of the opportunities now have more money to fire away once the real games start.

Don't cry for the bookmakers too much, however, as they know their numbers are much more solid during the regular season and they're almost certain to make that money back in no time.

49ers-Giants (over 40)

I was leaning toward taking the 49ers in this game, but Giants coach Jim Fassell usually has his team ready for season openers (he's 4-1 since taking over as head coach), so I will pass on the side.

The total look very hittable, however. It has been bet down to 40, but I think the money is on the wrong side.

Both starting offenses showed some spark in the preseason (albeit in limited action) and should get off on the right foot. The Giants lost linebacker Jessie Armstead in the offseason and start two second-year players at the corners. In addition, Jason Sehorn is still nursing a surgically repaired knee and is limited to nickel situations. But even at full strength, the Giants would have a hard time slowing down the 49ers. Garrison Hearst and backup Kevan Barlow should get plenty of holes from the offensive line, and Jeff Garcia-Terrell Owens is among the most potent combos in football.

What really make the over attractive is that it looks like the Giants' offense will pick it up a notch with the addition of TE Jeremy Shockey, whom QB Kerry Collins has already shown he likes as a new big target.

The only thing that might hurt is opening-night jitters and mistakes by the offenses, but that could also work in my favor if turnovers turn into quick scores for the defenses or a shortened field.

Play: 49ers-Giants over 40 for 1 unit.