12/03/2004 12:00AM

NFL's hottest teams at cooling off point


LAS VEGAS - If George Carlin were a bookmaker this NFL season, his seven dirty words would be: Eagles, Steelers, Patriots, Colts, Chargers, plus Parlay and Teasers when used in conjunction with the others.

The betting public has been riding those hot teams most of the season, including in multi-team wagers, and have been cashing an inordinate number of tickets no matter how high the oddsmakers make the lines on those teams.

It has gotten so bad that MGM Mirage race and sports book director Robert Walker said: "I never thought I would say this, but I can't wait for the end of football season. It's like when we take house quinellas in horse racing, if all the favorites come in we're going to be in trouble. The key is that we can't overreact."

Kenny White, COO of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which provides opening lines to most of the books in Nevada, said his company is doing all it can.

"Every week, we adjust our power ratings on each team and the lines keep rising, but we have to send out the most solid number we can or the books will be flooded with wise guy money on the other side," White said. "At some point, the lines will be high enough where they'll stop covering. We just haven't seen it yet."

Well, I feel this week is the breaking point. I didn't set out to do this, but when I settled on my five NFL plays, four of them are against the five hot teams (and the fifth was on the bubble).

Patriots at Browns (+11)

The early line on this game was Patriots -7 last week and opened at 7 1/2 or 8 at most books after last weekend. That was before Cleveland coach Butch Davis resigned, though that didn't influence the line. Nevertheless, when it was announced that Browns' quarterback Kelly Holcomb had three broken ribs and would likely be replaced by rookie Luke McCown, the game was taken off the board at most sports books and reposted at 10 1/2 or 11 at others. I certainly understand the adjustment, especially with the public sure to back the Patriots no matter high the number, but I have to take the points. No one player - even a rookie quarterback facing the best and most complex defense in the league - should move an NFL line by three or four points. The Browns have played well at home (3-2 as a home underdog), including upsets over the Ravens and Redskins and a cover versus the Eagles, and nearly beat the Jets two weeks ago as well as played the Steelers tough three weeks back. Surely, there is some disarray in Cleveland, but I expect the Browns to put forth their best effort for interim coach Terry Robiskie

PLAY: Browns for 1 unit.

Titans (+11) at Colts

A similar situation is here with Indy laying a whopping 11 points versus a divisional rival. Yes, Tennessee isn't playing as well as its teams of recent years, but there is still a lot of talent there, and I wouldn't be shocked by an outright upset. The Colts' offense is awesome, but the Titans know them as well as anyone. Indy's defense, shaky earlier in the year, has come on lately - but keep in mind that the Colts faced the Texans, Bears, and Lions the past three weeks. Titans quarterback Steve McNair, who has been sitting out practice again this week with his bruised sternum, should still be able to play and pick apart the Colts' defense. I expect a high-scoring game, decided by a touchdown either way.

PLAY: Titans for 1 unit.

Broncos (+3) at Chargers

What a difference two months makes. In the third week of the season, the Broncos were a 10-point favorite at home versus the Chargers. The Broncos dominated that game, 23-13, resulting in a push, but the Chargers have lost only once since and have covered eight straight games against the spread. Now, the Chargers are a three-point choice. I still think the Broncos, despite some missteps, including last week's

25-24 loss to the Raiders, are the better team. They match up well with the balanced offense of Reuben Droughns's power running and Jake Plummer's passing, and the No. 4-ranked defense should be able to contain LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees just like in the first meeting. I know I love this play because I would be willing to lay -3 with the Broncos if that was the line, but I will gladly take the points as insurance.

PLAY: Broncos for 1 unit.

Packers (+6 1/2) at Eagles

Hopefully, the third time will be the charm. After winning three straight bets against the Eagles earlier this season, I have lost the last two times I have gone against them, using the Redskins and Giants. But I'm still convinced both those teams could have beaten the Eagles, or at least covered, if they had simply continued to run the ball against Philly's Swiss-cheese run defense. If you saw the Packers' win over the Rams last Monday, you saw that the Packers still have a potent running attack, and that was without Ahman Green. Najeh Davenport is a good No. 2 back who is certainly capable of big runs if Green can't go. If it comes down to crunch time, I will still take Green Bay QB Brett Favre over Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb in the clutch.

PLAY: Packers for 1 unit.

Giants (+2 1/2) at Redskins

I almost used the Jaguars +3 versus the Steelers on the Sunday night game as my fifth play, but a few things swayed me to use this game instead. For one, I expected the oddsmakers to make the Steelers -6 or thereabouts, so I'm not getting as much value with the Jaguars as I was hoping. Maybe the line would have been higher if the Steelers hadn't failed to cover in a 16-7 win over the Redskins last week. Which leads me to the Redskins' game versus the Giants. I'm not sure why the Skins are favored at all, so I have to take the points with the better team. Yes, Eli Manning has been inconsistent in his short stint as the Giants' starting QB, and the Redskins' defense is the one bright spot on the club, but the fact remains that the Redskins' offense has still failed to score 20 points in any game this season. So the Giants don't need too much production to duplicate their 20-14 win in the second game of the season.

PLAY: Giants for 1 unit.

Last week: 3-2 for a net profit of 0.8 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 28-30-2 for a net loss of 5 units.