12/09/2005 1:00AM

NFL analysis: Making plays by the book

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LAS VEGAS - The other night, I was trying to get my mind off this horrendous NFL season by playing some blackjack at Wynn Las Vegas.

Some things are easier said than done.

A guy at my table was following basic strategy, seemingly doing everything right "by the book," and having a terrible run of luck. This was especially true when was doubling down. He was getting dealt 10's and 11's against varying dealer up cards. He was doubling down every time he should have, yet he was getting really bad cards (ace when he had an 11, or else 2, 3, etc.) and even when he got a decent card (6, 7, 8), the dealer still made a better hand. The only time he got a face card for a 21, the dealer drew to a 21 for a push.

After such a bad run, he got gun-shy. When he got 10's and 11's, the would hesitate and have to think about whether he was going to double-down, even a few times when he had 11 vs. the dealer's 5 or 6. He decided he wasn't going to risk it anymore and stopped doubling down ? you can guess what happened: he started winning those hands, but he was only winning half as much as he should have.

Well, I know exactly how he was feeling. For a bettor like myself who looks for value in underdogs, this NFL season has been awful with favorites covering at nearly 60 percent. And now I look at this Sunday's card and see a lot of situations where the dogs appear to be getting more points than they should. If I was like that blackjack player, I would back off, but risk not capitalizing when I do have a winning run.

(Note: to keep with the doubling down analogy, it would be easy to make all plays 2 units, but I don't want to bastardize the process and to reflect my own wagers, I'll stick with the 1-unit base except for my best bet.)

Bears (+6) at Steelers

This is a game I bet a week ago Thursday at the Las Vegas Hilton when the line was Bears +4 1/2. I figured the Bears would beat the Packers (which they did) and that the Steelers would lose to the Bengals (which they did) ? I thought that would cause the line to drop to 3 or 3 1/2. And when the current lines went up this past Sunday afternoon, that's where the line opened and I felt like a genius for having one of the few tickets on the Bears +4 1/2. Then a funny thing happened. The line started to climb and climb and climb. Now, as I write this Friday morning, the line is a solid 6 everywhere here in Vegas and offshore. I guess it's because the favorites have been covering and all lines are getting bet higher, but I can't help doubling down on this one. The Bears' defense speaks for itself and takes on the struggling Steelers' offense. And while the Bears' offense isn't lighting up any scoreboards, the line is opening much bigger holes for Thomas Jones than they did earlier in the season. The total on this game is a mere 31 points, and getting 6 points with a live underdog looks good to me.

PLAY: Bears for 3 units.

Buccaneers (+5 1/2) at Panthers

Here's another game I took +4 1/2 last week and now it's been inflated for no better reason than the oddsmakers are trying to cool off favorite bettors. I don't like this as much as the Bears' play, but this NFC South battle looks like it should come down to a field goal either way.

PLAY: Buccaneers for 1 unit.

Colts at Jaguars (+8)

This game looks like an automatic play for me ? quality team getting more than a touchdown at home ? but I almost passed as I've got run over the last two times going against the Colts. But if I'm going to keep betting like that blackjack player, I have to go by the book. The Jaguars have played the Colts well since becoming divisional rivals and haven't lost by more than a touchdown in the last four meetings and six of the last seven. Back in the second week of the season, the Jags lost only 10-3 in Indianapolis. Granted, that was before the Colts' offense got rolling, but Jacksonville plays well at home and this is a statement game.

PLAY: Jaguars for 1 unit.

Texans (+7) at Titans

This is more of a play against the Titans than a play on the Texans. Last week, the Dolphins and Ravens failed to cover as big favorites when they were laying more points than mediocre teams should ever be asked to lay. The Titans are the same. This game has no meaning beyond draft position and should be a back-and-forth affair and the 7 points should come in handy.

PLAY: Texans for 1 unit.

Redskins at Cardinals (+4)

The Redskins were a rare winning pick for me last week, so I almost felt a sense of loyalty, but decided to still go against them here. The Cardinals have been playing better of late with a defense that can hold its own against the Washington attack and an offense ? albeit with a lack of a running game ? that should match the Redskins score for score with Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald emerging as one of the top receiving duos in the league. I see an outright upset here.

PLAY: Cardinals for 1 unit.

Giants at Eagles (+8 1/2)

This is really getting ugly, but I can't pass up this many points no matter how bad the Eagles have looked lately. The Giants just aren't a team to blow out opponents (their wins over the Rams, 49ers and Redskins notwithstanding). They might grind out a double-digit win, but the Eagles should be in this game throughout. Again, going with a divisional rivalry and getting more than a touchdown at home is an automatic play in my book.

PLAY: Eagles for 1 unit.

Chiefs (+3) at Cowboys

The Chiefs are playing really well right now, coming off wins over the Patriots and Broncos, while the Cowboys are trying to right the ship after losses to the Broncos and Giants. I'll take the hotter team with the more explosive offense.

PLAY: Chiefs for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-4, including a 2-unit loss on the Titans +16 vs. the Colts, for a net loss of 3.5 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).
NFL season record: 24-40-3 for a net loss of 23.1 units.