11/18/2005 12:00AM

NFL analysis: Bye-bye to bye weeks


LAS VEGAS - The NFL bye weeks are behind us and there will be a full slate of 16 games each week as the season heads down the stretch.

Over the years, especially the last two, I tend to do better in the second half of the season after the byes are complete. For some reason, having those two extra games to choose from each week seems to open up the betting opportunities ? plus, for whatever reason, that?s also when the underdogs start barking.

Assuming (hoping, pleading . . .) that?s the case again this year, that?s the good news. The bad news is that for people who like to watch all the games ? whether it?s on satellite TV at home, a bar with NFL Ticket or in a Vegas sports book -- it gets harder to follow all the action when the schedule is set up like this Sunday?s: 10 games kicking off at 10 a.m. here and only four in the afternoon.

It?s partly a result of a lot of games this week being scheduled in the Eastern and Central time zones, plus CBS is probably trying to get the marquee matchups between the undefeated Colts and the Bengals (who knocked off 9-0 Kansas City two years ago in Cincinnati) shown in as many markets as possible.

Having to follow 10 games at a time is a pain in the neck ? literally, as I feel like the stereotypical tennis fan ? but hopefully this minor inconvenience is offset by some more winners.

Eagles (+7 1/2) at Giants

Yes, the Eagles are in disarray. Yes, Mike McMahon is starting at quarterback in place of Donovan McNabb. But, you know what?, as bad as the Eagles have underperformed, they have every bit as much talent as the Giants and I think this line has been overinflated (it was between 3 and 3 1/2 at several books here in Vegas prior to McNabb?s injury on Monday night). Think back to three years ago when McNabb was sidelined with a ankle. Backup Koy Detmer and A.J. Feely combined to lead the Eagles to five straight victories and keep them in the playoff hunt. I?m not suggesting the Eagles will bounce back to make the playoffs, but Andy Reid has certainly proven capable of devising a gameplan to win with a backup quarterback. It also helps that the Eagles found a running game vs. the Cowboys on Monday night. The Giants, meanwhile, are having a nice season but didn?t get the job done against the Vikings? which is much weaker overall than the Eagles ? in their loss at home last Sunday. Similarly talented teams. Getting more than a touchdown. Seems too good to be true.

PLAY: Eagles for 3 units.

Jaguars at Titans (+4)

Here?s another pick that will probably elicit a ?huh,? but it looks like a good spot to take the Titans as a home underdog. The Titans have won six of the last seven in the series (5-2 against the spread). Granted, the Titans had the better team most of those games, but while the Jaguars are the better team this year, it?s not by a wide margin. The Titans are 2-7 but they?ve been in most of the games well into the second halves. Meanwhile, with the exception of last week?s 30-3 win over a struggling Ravens squad, the Jaguars are much more likely to be involved with games that come down to a late field goal or touchdown. Getting 4 points certainly helps in this spot. With the Titans coming off their bye, that should help Steve McNair with his usual litany of aches and pains and wide receiver Drew Bennett is back from a thumb injury and that should open the passing attack, which in turn should help the running game as well. This looks like the most likely outright upset of the week.

PLAY: Titans for 2 units.

Panthers (-3) at Bears

This game should be played as tough as it was to pick. The Bears have been one of the most surprising teams this season and their defense always shows up, but this is the case of the Panthers? defense also being able to shut down the Bears? mediocre offense (even with the return of Thomas Jones), and then do enough on the offensive side of the ball to get the victory. Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith will take their shots downfield and should connect at least once, and even the Bears? defense might not be able to keep Stephen Davis out of the end zone on short yardage.

PLAY: Panthers for 1 unit.

Colts (-5 1/2) at Bengals

This is a game that a lot of handicappers are releasing as their upset special, but I?m taking the contrarian viewpoint again. In their previous ?prove we belong? game, the Bengals were dominated by the Steelers 27-13 four weeks ago. I don?t foresee a blowout by the Colts, but I see them in control from wire to wire, winning by 7-10 points. It could very well be one of those games that teaser bettors win no matter which side they play ? Colts + 1/2 or Bengals +11 1/2. But with so much attention on this matchup, if you?re looking for the game that the Colts have a letdown and ruin their perfect season, I think you have to look elsewhere.

PLAY: Colts for 1 unit.

Buccaneers at Falcons (-6)

A lot of people are gushing about Chris Simms? performance last week in Tampa Bay?s win over Washington, and he played very well, but I think he has problems against the Falcons? defense this week on the road. The Falcons were embarrassed last week when falling behind 14-0 to the Packers, only to rally to tie it 14-14 and then get run over the rest of the way in a 33-25 loss. I think the Falcons will return to what they do best, run the ball mixed in with Michael Vick?s improvisations. Despite his public comments about being a complete quarterback, the team isn?t at its best with Vick throwing 30 times a game like he did last week.

PLAY: Falcons for 1 unit.

Chiefs (-6 1/2) at Texans

I?m taking three road favorites, which is scary as I?m expecting home dogs to start barking the second half of the season, but I can?t pass up this one either. The Chiefs didn?t show up in their 14-3 loss at Buffalo last week as the Bills? defense shut them down. However, playing the Texans should cure all those ills.

PLAY: Chiefs for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-4, including a loss on a 2-unit play on the Chiefs +2 1/ 2 vs. the Bills, for a net loss of 3.5 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 23-35-3 for a net loss of 17.1 units.