09/19/2002 11:00PM

NFL's gonna let the dogs out


LAS VEGAS - I'm really at a loss to explain the NFL pointspreads this week. Looking over the odds, 10 of the 14 games have spreads of 6 points or higher.

Considering how much parity there is in the league - and that's all you ever hear football people talking about - you wouldn't think there would be this many points being laid in this many games, especially after underdogs covered 11 of 16 games (68.8 percent) in each of the first two weeks of the season (and won 11 of those outright last Sunday). Yet, oddsmakers have put up big spreads, and the public seems confident in laying the points.

Maybe they think this week's schedule has a lot of "haves" vs. "have-nots," but I don't think there's too much difference between the top teams and the bottom teams. I'll be taking the points and hoping the dogs continue to bark.

(Note: One big underdog I wouldn't recommend is the Redskins +9 at the 49ers. After the way San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci took such public exception to Washington coach Steve Spurrier piling it on 38-7 in a preseason meeting between these two teams, you won't see the 49ers passing up the chance to run up the score).

Packers at Lions (+8)

Detroit's first-round draft pick, Joey Harrington, is making his first NFL start. That's usually a very good reason to go against a team, but I think Harrington has the tools and poise to succeed right away. This is the first game at Ford Field, and teams usually perform well when opening a new stadium full of fans (the Texans upsetting the Cowboys in week 1 is the most recent example). Ford Field's playing surface is FieldTurf, which is a synthetic grass on a rubber base made from shredded Firestone tires that are cryogenically frozen. The Packers lost last week at New Orleans, which makes them 5-14 against the spread in their last 19 games on artificial turf. In addition, the Packers have failed to cover in their last five trips to Detroit. Admittedly, the Lions looked terrible in losses at Miami and Carolina, but we see these form reversals all the time in the NFL. Getting more than a touchdown is too much to pass up.

PLAY: Lions for 2 units.

Cowboys (+8 1/2) at Eagles

One form reversal arose last week, when the Cowboys bounced back from an embarrassing loss to the Texans to beat the Titans, who were coming off an impressive win over the Eagles. So we've come full circle. I don't necessarily put a lot of stock in the "Team A beat Team B, and Team B beat Team C, so Team A will beat Team C" theory, but when I'm getting more than a touchdown it certainly makes it very appealing. Cowboys Q.B. Quincy Carter has the scrambling ability to buy more time against the Eagles' pass rush and find Joey Galloway downfield. The Eagles are due for a letdown after whipping the Redskins on Monday night and might come in overconfident. The Cowboys' defense, which played much better against the Titans than it did against the Texans should keep them in the game.

PLAY: Cowboys for 2 units.

Colts at Texans (+12)

The Colts failed to cover at Jacksonville in week 1 and then lost outright as a small home favorite to the Dolphins. The Texans looked terrible last week at San Diego after stealing a win in their franchise debut at home against Dallas. The return home, and the enthusiastic Texan fans that lifted them to victory in week 1, might not be enough to get another outright upset, but the Colts are not consistent enough to lay this many points to anyone, even an expansion team.

PLAY: Texans for 1 unit.

Bills (+9) at Broncos

Drew Bledsoe (the front-runner for comeback player of the year) has revived the Bills' offense and makes them a live dog in any setting. I actually see this as being a low-scoring game (despite the 47-point total). The Broncos' defense has been stellar in shutting down the Rams and 49ers, while the offense has been doing just enough to win. That should help the Bills stay in the game even though their defense has been soft. In addition, the Broncos are coming off upsets over the Rams and 49ers and could be in for a letdown.

PLAY: Bills for 1 unit.

Seahawks (+6 1/2) at Giants

Trent Dilfer returned last week after being sidelined since the first preseason game with a sprained right ankle. Though he had his 15-game winning streak snapped by the Cardinals, he threw for 352 yards while shaking off the rust. Dilfer now has a game under his belt and the Seahawks are getting nearly a touchdown. (I have to think this line would be a field goal or less if the Giants hadn't upset the Rams.) On defense, the Seahawk weakness is stopping the run, but the Giants have shown nothing on the ground with an average of 2 yards per rush against the 49ers and 2.7 per rush against the Rams. Giants Q.B. Kerry Collins has been going to the air, and that plays to the Seahawks' strength.

PLAY: Seahawks for 1 unit.

Over/under plays

I still think there has been an "over"-adjustment by oddsmakers reacting to the record scoring in week 1, and I see eight games on this week's 14-game card in which totals are set too high. I'll make a 1-unit wager on the under in the following games: Jets-Dolphins under 41, Panthers-Vikings under 45, Saints-Bears under 41, Bills-Broncos under 47 1/2, Chargers-Cardinals under 40, Redskins-49ers under 45, Packers-Lions under 45, and Bengals-Falcons under 41 1/2.

Season record: 9-11 for net loss of 2.1 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). Best-bet record on 2-unit plays is 1-0.