10/13/2003 11:00PM

NFL favorites cruel to bookmakers


LAS VEGAS - During football season, the perception is that Las Vegas sports book operators are laughing all the way to the bank (or at least to the casino cage).

Bettors have to lay 11 to win 10 on straight bets, and the takeout is even higher on parlays. With the public usually jumping all over the favorites, and parity causing so many upsets in recent years, the books usually have no problem grinding out a consistent profit.

But it hasn't been that way so far this NFL season with favorites coming in at an amazing rate. Favorites went 9-5 against the spread last week to improve to 46-37 (55.4 percent) with three pushes on the season. Road favorites - typically a losing proposition for bettors - have been uncharacteristically cruel to bookmakers by going 17-5 (77.3 percent) against the spread, and that's with a losing 1-3 mark last week.

Imperial Palace race and sports book director Jay Kornegay says the bettors have won five of the first six weeks. He knows he's not likely to get any sympathy but at least he's keeping his sense of humor.

In fact, Kornegay has enough material to go to "The Improv" comedy club next door at Harrah's:

* "It's gotten so bad, I was going to stand out on the street with a sign that said, 'Will work for underdogs to cover.' "

* "The way the favorites have been covering is ridiculous. I feel like I'm in the movie 'Groundhog Day.' I'm reliving every NFL Sunday over and over."

* "Some teams are so doing so well for bettors that their bandwagons are so full that they can't even drive down the Strip.

"We wouldn't mind a few people falling off those wagons."

* "It could be worse . . . the Cubs and Red Sox could be still alive and trying to get to the World Series . . . oh, wait, they are!"

NFL betting stats

Buoyed by road favorites' 17-5 record, road teams are 50-35 (58.8 percent) overall with three pushes.

Also, double-digit favorites (another typical long-term losing proposition) went 2-0 last week - the Titans blowing out the Texans 38-17 and the Rams blanking the Falcons 36-0. For the year, double-digit favorites are back over .500 at 4-3 with the only huge favorite to lose straight-up being the Dolphins vs. the Texans in the season's opening week.

In totals wagering, the under still holds a slight 46-40 (53.5 percent) edge with one push after going 8-6 this past week.

As for the team trends, the Vikings are the last remaining undefeated team against the spread. The Vikes (5-0) had a bye last week, while the Colts (now 5-1) got knocked off by the Panthers, who are now 4-1 along with the Dolphins, Patriots and Cowboys.

On the losing side of the ledger, the Raiders are 0-6 against the spread while the Falcons and Cardinals are 1-5 and the Bears, Eagles and Chargers are 1-4.

The Texans are still a perfect 5-0 with the over after failing to slow down the Titans. No other NFL teams has fewer than two unders.

The best under team has been the Bengals (5-0), followed by the Bills at 5-1 and the Dolphins, Lions and Seahawks at 4-1.

Tackling the trends

In last week's trend analysis, we recommended Colorado St. (an easy winner), nixed a positive trend in favor of Arkansas (which lost, so we were glad we passed), and suggested Ohio St. was ready to finally lose a game at Wisconsin (which happened).

This week, we'll start with a look at ESPN2's Thursday night game, Air Force and Colorado St. Air Force has been a great road dog over the years, going 9-4 the last five years and 18-9 over the past 10.

However, this Air Force team isn't as strong as the teams of year's past, and Colorado St. is hitting its stride, so I'll go against that trend and take Colorado St. -6.

North Carolina has lost its last 10 home games against the spread, and this Saturday it is a 5 1/ 2-point underdog against visiting Arizona St. That looks like a trend that is likely to continue.

California has covered five of its last six meetings with UCLA and is getting 3 1/ 2 points in this Saturday's matchup. Having already knocked off a better Southern Cal team, California could make it an L.A. sweep.

Bankroll results

The NFL card wasn't as easy as I suspected last Sunday, but it didn't totally fall apart on me. My bankroll plays went 3-3 for a net loss of 0.3 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). The wins were on the Buccaneers (easy over the Redskins), Dolphins (nip-and-tuck until pulling away in the fourth quarter vs. the Jaguars), and Ravens (easy over the Cardinals), while the losses were on the Texans (blown out by the Titans), Eagles (losing on a late field goal vs. the Cowboys), and Bills (blown out by the Jets). For the season, my NFL bankroll is 15-12-4 for a net profit of 1.9 units.

In the colleges, last weekend was easily my best of the season as I went 5-1 for a net profit of 3.9 units. The wins were on Colorado St. (blowout winner over BYU), Miami-Fla. (outright winner over Florida St.), Northwestern (lucky cover in OT), Texas Tech (blowout win over Iowa St.), and Wisconsin (outright upset of Ohio St.). The lone setback was Syracuse (blowout loss to Virginia Tech). For the season, my college bankroll plays are back in the black at 17-15 for a net profit of 0.5 units.

Air Force at Colorado St. (-6)

As mentioned in the trend section, Air Force doesn't travel as well as it has in the past. In fact, even though the Falcons are 1-0 as a road dog this year (winning at BYU), they're 0-2 as road favorites (failing to cover at Northwestern and losing outright at Navy). In addition, Air Force quarterback Chance Harridge has a foot injury, not a good thing for an option QB. After back-to-back blowouts over Fresno St. and BYU, coach Sonny Lubick has Colorado St. on track for a strong second half.

PLAY: Colorado St. for 1 unit.