07/31/2001 11:00PM

NFL's back; bet Steelers

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There are four NFL preseason games this weekend, starting Friday night with the Steelers visiting the Falcons at the Georgia Dome, but Las Vegas bookmakers aren't expecting big action on every game.

"The marquee game is the Hall of Fame Game on Monday," said Doug Castaneda, sports book supervisor at the Stardust. "We've taken more bets on that game so far than the other three games combined."

Castaneda said there's a very simple explanation for that.

"Television," he said. "Bettors love to wager on games they know they can watch on TV."

The Monday night game between the Rams and Dolphins will be shown live on ABC, while the other three games this weekend are limited to local network affiliates in the home cities of the teams involved.

However, the Stardust often shows games on satellite that other properties say they can't get.

"We don't want to promise anything we might not be able to deliver, but we're pretty sure we'll be able to get those other games this weekend," Castaneda said.

That will only help to boost handle and sports book attendance, especially at the Stardust.

Steelers (+2) at Falcons

After struggling early last season (an 0-3 start, including a loss to the Browns), the Steelers came on strongly and narrowly missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Coach Bill Cowher has stressed that his team must get off to a better start, and that should apply in the preseason, too.

More tangible reasons to like the Steelers are that they are stronger on both the offensive and defensive lines, and they are deeper at quarterback. Kordell Stewart, Kent Graham, Tee Martin, and Tommy Maddox will all play - and there's not much of a drop-off with any of them, which is important in preseason betting.

I'll take the Steelers plus the points for 11 units to win 10, with the standard 10 percent vig.