01/06/2006 12:00AM

NFL: Dogs on Saturday, Faves on Sunday


LAS VEGAS - Most football parlay bettors look to either go with the favorite and the over or the underdog and the under. Conventional wisdom says that if the favorite is going to cover the spread, there will be a lot of scoring and the game will tend to go over. Conversely, many people believe if the underdog is going to have a chance, it'll probably be a tight, low-scoring game.

I guess I really am a contrarian because in Saturday's games I'm going with the underdog/over combination in both games and on Sunday I have the favorite/under.

Saturday, Jan. 7

Redskins (+2 1/2) at Buccaneers

This game is pretty much a tossup, as evidenced by the fact the oddsmakers have the line at 2 1/2, not even favoring the home team by a full field goal.

I have to side with the Redskins with the tiebreaker being the playoff experience of Washington quarterback Mark Brunell over Tampa Bay first-year starter Chris Simms, who has a history of making mistakes in pressure games going back to his days at the University of Texas (unlike Vince Young, who took the program to a new level after Simms' departure).

With Clinton Portis being able to set the tone on the ground, Brunell can spread the ball around to his receivers, led by Santana Moss, and also to his underrated tight end Chris Cooley. Simms tends to look for Joey Galloway more often than not, and if he telegraphs his passes, that could lead to some interceptions by the Washington secondary.

But even though I like the Redskins' side, I love the total. It opened at 37 1/2 and has since been bet down to 36 1/2; I think the money has been on the wrong side. For one thing, when these teams met on Nov. 13, the Bucs won 36-35 (I certainly wouldn't mind seeing that score on Saturday) as each team nearly reached the total for this game. It might not be quite that explosive Saturday, but even though the Skins and Bucs have reputations for having strong defenses and conservative offenses, the fact is that down the stretch the Redskins went over the total in their final three games and the Bucs went over in their final two.

PLAY: Redskins for 1 unit and over 36 1/2 points for 2 units.

Jaguars (+8) at Patriots (over 37)

The Patriots got healthy in the second half of the season and showed they're ready to defend their title. The Patriots are not going to go down without a fight and the general public will probably be backing them as gametime approaches, but I think this like is just too many points to lay to a quality team like Jacksonville.

The Jaguars, who went 12-4 on the season, were 9-5-2 against the spread, including 6-2 on the road and 3-0 as road underdogs. They're going to be in this game the whole way.

Keep in mind that the Patriots have a tendency to squeak out close games, especially in the playoffs and usually with a Adam Vinatieri field goal. This season, they were 5-3 at home but just 2-6 against the spread, meaning they didn't even cover in more than half of their home victories.

Even as improved as the Patriot' have been down the stretch, the defense still has some holes and the Jaguars should be able to have some success either running with Fred Taylor or through the air with either Byron Leftwich or David Garrard.

Three Jacksonville defensive starters - linebacker Mike Peterson and defensive ends Reggie Hayward and Paul Spicer - missed practices earlier this week, but now it appears they'll be able to go. The Patriots will get their share of points, too, as Tom Brady certainly excels at this time of year, which is why I also like the game to go over the total of 37 points. I can certainly see his game being 23-20 or 27-24 either way.

PLAY: Jaguars for 2 units and over 37 points for 1 unit.

Sunday, Jan. 8

Panthers at Giants (-2 1/2)

With three wild-card games lined at a field goal or less, it's clear that oddsmakers think the games are pretty much toss-ups. This looks like the biggest coin-flip of all. Both teams have been inconsistent down the stretch and arguments can be made for or against either team. I give the edge to the Giants because of the running games - DeShaun Foster can break big runs, but he is nowhere near as consistent as the Giants' Tiki Barber - and also because of their strong home-field advantage. If you count the "away" game vs. the Saints at the Meadowlands as a home game, the Giants were 8-1 straight up and 7-2 against the spread at home. This game could very well come down to a late field goal, so I'll lay the short price with the Giants and also look to the under in a low-scoring battle.

PLAY: Giants for 1 unit and under 43 points for 1 unit.

Steelers (-3) at Bengals

This game opened with the Bengals favored by between 2 1/2 and 3 points here in Vegas and the Steelers quickly got bet to favoritism. I think the money is on the right side and just wish I had been quicker on my feet to get the Steelers plus the points. The Steelers and Bengals split the season series with both winning on the other team's field. The first game, a victory by the Steelers in Cincinnati, was viewed by a lot of people as proving that the Bengals were not-ready-for-prime-time players. Then the Bengals went into Pittsburgh and turned the tables and it was seen as a big victory. However, since that win, the Bengals have only played well once (in a rout of the Lions) in their last four games, losing their last two, while the Steelers have won four straight. The Steelers definitely have the momentum, but more importantly they have their swagger back and I think they take it to the Bengals like they did in the first meeting with a strong running game. That leads me to look strongly to the under as I don't see a shootout this time around. In addition, the Steelers were 7-1 with the under on the road while the Bengals were 5-3 with the under at home.

PLAY: Steelers for 1 unit and under 46 points for 2 units.

Last week: 0-5, including a 2-unit loss on the Bills -1 1/2 vs. the Jets, for a net loss of 6.6 units. NFL season record: 33-50-6 for a net loss of 25.1 units.