01/03/2007 12:00AM

NFL lines sharper, opportunities fewer


LAS VEGAS - It's NFL playoff time, when the teams have to be at their best and so do the bettors.

After having between 13 and 16 NFL games (depending on byes) to handicap each week during the regular season, looking for mistakes by the oddsmakers or finding where the public is backing the wrong teams, we now have just four games this weekend in the wild-card round and four more next weekend in the divisional playoff round. So the betting opportunities are getting fewer and the lines are getting sharper.

In Saturday's games, the Colts are a 6 1/2-point favorite over the Chiefs with a total of 51 points and the Seahawks are -3 vs. the Cowboys with a total of 47. On Sunday, the Patriots are between -8 and -9 vs. the Jets, depending on where you shop, with a total of 38, while the Eagles are between -6 1/2 and -7 vs. the Giants with a total of 46 1/2.

I'm hoping the public drives the lines higher so that I can get Chiefs +7 vs. the Colts, Giants +7 or higher vs. the Eagles, and Cowboys +3 vs. the Seahawks. I think two of those three underdogs should cover. I don't anticipate getting involved with the Jets-Patriots point spread unless I uncover more in my handicapping this week. I'm also leaning toward the under in all four games. Full analysis will appear in Saturday's print editions of Daily Racing Form and on the drf.com/football website by Thursday evening.

Adjusted Super Bowl odds

The Chargers are the 5-2 favorite to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy, according to the odds sent out by Las Vegas Sports Consultants to its sports book clients. The Bears are next at 7-2, with the Ravens at 9-2, followed by the Colts and Saints (each at 6-1), Patriots (9-1), Eagles (12-1), Seahawks (16-1), Cowboys (18-1), Giants (40-1), Jets (50-1) and the Chiefs (70-1). The Jets opened at 200-1 in the send-outs from LVSC while the Saints opened at 80-1, though a partner and I have the Saints at 200-1 at the Hilton.

Team point-spread records

The Jets came on strong by covering their last three games to tie the Titans at 11-5 atop the NFL point-spread standings (see the accompanying chart). Of the top seven teams in last week's point-spread standings, New York was the only one to cover, not counting the Ravens-Bills game because both were in the top seven and someone had to win. In fact, the Jets and Ravens were the only teams in the top 11 to cover their final game. The Ravens, Bears, Saints, and Bills all finished a game behind the leaders at 10-6.

* The bottom of the standings also saw a shakeup as four of the bottom teams covered their final game with the Broncos being the lone exception. The loss dropped the Broncos to 5-11 and the bottom of the standings, half a game ahead of the Panthers at 5-10-1, and a game ahead of the Lions and Raiders at 6-10.

* The Titans did end up as the best over team at 10-3-3, including going 7-1-3 over their last 11 games behind Vince Young, just ahead of the Bears at 11-4-1 and the Cardinals at 10-5-1, including going over in the last six games.

* The Raiders' weak offense helped them go under in their last four games and finish as the top under team for bettors, at 12-4. The Falcons were next at 11-4-1. After being the best under team most of the season, the Patriots went over in their final three games to finish at 10-6 along with the Dolphins.

League-wide betting trends

Much is made of home-field advantage, but road teams won the regular-season battle by going 11-5 last weekend to finish the year at 129-120-7 against the spread in all games played this season.

* Finishing with an 8-8 split, underdogs also finished a winning season at 140-106-7 (57 percent), a year after favorites won at a 58 percent clip. Who says all these stats don't even out in the long run?

* Speaking of evening out, over/unders were nearly split down the middle with overs holding a slight 124-122-10 edge.

* Home underdogs went 0-3 last weekend, but home dogs were still a big story this year at 47-33-2 (59 percent). The bummer is we're not likey to see any home underdogs in the playoffs.

* Double-digit underdogs went 3-1 last weekend to finish 20-14-2 (59 percent). If the Jets-Patriots line goes to 10, that might get me involved. There also might be some double-digit dogs in the divisional playoffs depending on the matchups.

* We won't get an interconference game again until the Super Bowl, but file it away in your memory that despite going 0-2 the last weekend the AFC finished 36-27-1 (57 percent) against the spread. The AFC is currently a 4 1/2-point favorite in advance wagering on Super Bowl XLI.

Bankroll plays end on winning note

My NFL bankroll plays went 3-2 against the spread last week for a net profit of 0.8 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). The winners were on the Steelers +6 vs. the Bengals, the Dolphins +9 vs. the Colts, and the Cardinals +13 1/2 vs. the Chargers. The losers were on the Jaguars +2 1/2 vs. the Chiefs and the Bills +9 1/2 vs. the Ravens. For the season, I showed a net profit of 8.2 units. My record coming into this week was listed at 48-38-2, so at first glance I thought it was 51-40-2 on the season, but since I averaged just over five plays per week, it should have been a shade over 85 games, so I did some end-of-year accounting and found I added in my 2-3 record from Week 12 twice, so my final regular-season record should be 49-37-2, including 1-1 on 2-unit plays, for the same profit of 8.2 units.