12/30/2005 12:00AM

NFL Analysis: Must-win doesn't mean will-win


LAS VEGAS - There are many teams this weekend in the NFL that are in must-win situations, needing wins to wrap up playoff spots.

A lot of times, novice bettors assume those teams will roll because of the extra motivation and bet them blindly. But it's a precarious situation because if a team was so good that they were able to "flip the switch" on command, they wouldn't be in a must-win situation in the first place.

Besides, the oddsmakers know all the playoff scenarios and certainly make bettors play a premium to back such teams.

So, I'm going against some of these inconsistent teams this weekend. Happy New Year to all.

Saturday, Dec. 31

Giants at Raiders (+8 1/2)

After buying into the preseason hype, I got off the Raiders' bandwagon long ago, thankfully. In recent weeks, however, I've been tempted to take them as 3-point favorites vs. the Browns (a 9-7 loss) and last week as 13-point dogs vs. the Broncos (a 22-3 loss), so it was a good thing in both cases that I talked myself out of it and passed. This week, when I had that same nagging feeling, I thought that would pass, too, but the more I looked at the matchup the more I couldn't resist. The Giants are not very trust-worthy on the road, going 2-4 away from home (their other "road" game on the schedule was vs. the Saints at the Meadowlands) and those wins were over the 49ers and Eagles. Last week, the Giants' secondary was toasted by the Redskins' receivers and I can't help but think that the Raiders' offense - with LaMont Jordan to go to on the ground - will air it out with some success and be able to keep up with the Giants if not totally ruin their NFC East divisional title hopes and chances for a home playoff game.

PLAY: Raiders for 1 unit.

Sunday, Jan. 1

Bills (-1 1/2) at Jets

The Bills were my best bet last week as a 14-point underdog vs. the Bengals and came through with the outright upset (I wish I had made a bankroll play on the money line like I did at the Gold Coast at 10-1), and I'm going to come back with them again this week. The Bills, despite being out of the playoffs, continue to play hard as they showed two weeks ago in their loss to the Broncos and then again last week. They're obviously a much better offense with Kelly Holcomb at quarterback and the defense is stepping down in class to take on the struggling Jets. I think they close the season strong with back-to-back wins.

PLAY: Bills for 2 units.

Panthers at Falcons (+4)

The NFC South was pretty much epitomized in last week's Falcons-Bucs game: neither team looked like it wanted to go to the playoffs by making mistake after mistake and missing short field goals in the Bucs eventual 27-24 overtime win. Carolina has also failed to take control of the division when given a chance, and I think they'll have problems in this must-win game. The Falcons are just a year removed from playing in the NFC title game and they'll try to end a disappointing season on a winning note. I very easily see this also coming down to a late field goal, so I'll take the points with the home dog.

PLAY: Falcons for 1 unit.

Lions (+13 1/2) at Steelers

This is a game I bet at Lions +17 last Monday based solely on the fact I felt that the Chargers would beat the Broncos on Saturday to clinch a wild-card spot for the Steelers and cause them to rest starters in this game, figuring that even the Lions' starters could keep within 17 points of the Steelers' subs. Obviously, others felt the same way and the line was down to 13 1/2 by Friday, but I still think there's value there as this line could drop below a touchdown if the Chargers win. If the Chargers lose and the Steelers still need to win this, I'll be praying for them to get the lead and then rest starters in the second half.

PLAY: Lions for 1 unit.

Redskins at Eagles (+7 1/2)

The Redskins come into this game needing a win to secure a playoff spot (and a possible division title if the Giants lose Saturday), but I see the Eagles putting up a fight in this divisional rivalry for the same reasons as the Falcons mentioned above. Washington quarterback Mark Brunell's right knee is not 100 percent and the Skins could really be in trouble if they have to rely on Patrick Ramsey again. This should also be a low-scoring battle with the point spread coming into play.

PLAY: Eagles for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-3, including a 2-unit win on the Bills +14 vs. the Bengals, for a net loss of 0.3 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).
NFL bankroll record: 33-45-6 for a net loss of 18.5 units.