11/12/2002 12:00AM

NFL's weekly 16-game schedule begins


LAS VEGAS - Bye-bye, bye weeks.

After eight straight weeks of four teams getting a week off in the NFL, all 32 teams have played nine games and we will get a full slate of 16 games each of the next seven weeks. We won't have to worry about hearing a team is half a game out of first place

Well, that was supposed to be the case, but the best laid plans of schedule-makers and men oft go astray. The Falcons and Steelers played to a 34-34 tie Sunday in Pittsburgh, and now the Steelers lead the AFC North by 1 1/2 games over the Ravens and Browns while the Falcons are 1 1/2 games behind the Buccaneers and Saints in the NFC South and half a game ahead of the Giants in the wild-card race.

As confusing as it first appears, the tie will actually make it easier when figuring out playoff tiebreakers at the end of the season. That is, unless there are more ties among contenders.

Wild finishes in week 10

Sunday's action saw enough fantastic finishes to make Alcoa proud - and many of them caused money to change hands.

The biggest pointspread-impacting play was the Saints, leading 27-24 as a 4 1/2-point favorite, returning a fumble for a touchdown on the final play of the game to win (and cover), 34-24.

The Falcons and Texans both scored late touchdowns to cover as underdogs, though neither won outright.

The Vikings, a 1-point underdog to the Giants, rallied to take a 20-19 lead but then saw the Giants score late and add a two-point conversion for a 27-20 win that also put the game over the total of 45.

The Rams (28-24 over the Chargers) and Patriots (33-30 over the Bears) also scored late to win their games, though neither covered. The 49ers had to hold on late to beat the Chiefs 17-13 for a rare third game that saw a favorite win but not cover.

NFL betting trends

Underdogs went 7-6-1 against the spread last week, with the Jets' 13-10 win over the Dolphins being the push. For the season, dogs are still winning at over a 60 percent clip against the spread at 84-55 (60.4 percent) with five pushes.

Road teams went 8-5-1 against the spread in week 10. For the season, road teams are 76-63 (54.7 percent) with five pushes.

With the Chiefs covering in their loss to the 49ers, they are now 7-1-1 against the spread. The Saints - with their miracle cover against the Panthers - are second in the league at 6-2-1. The Panthers and Bucs are 6-3. The Bengals are tied with the Colts at 2-7 for the worst spread record.

The Saints are now 9-0 with the over and hold a three-game lead over the Chiefs and Bills (both 6-3) in that department.

The Panthers and Cowboys are both 7-2 with the under.

Tackling college team trends

Boise State has won and covered its last six games, and all of them by at least three touchdowns. The Broncos are 23-5 against the spread over the last four-plus seasons on their blue AstroTurf field. This Saturday, Boise State is a 26 1/2-point favorite over Louisiana Tech, which has failed to cover its last six games, is 2-7 on the season against the spread and 2-10 dating back to last season.

Kansas State also has a huge home field advantage, as the Wildcats are 4-1 against the spread this year and 38-16-2 as a home favorite since 1992. Kansas State is an 11-point favorite over an improving Nebraska team. I'd avoid this home favorite.

The visitor has covered each of the last six games in the Alabama-LSU series, but I'd be leery about playing Alabama -2 on Saturday. LSU is coming off its miracle win last week at Kentucky, and coach Nick Saban has made it clear to his players that they shouldn't have been in position to have to win on a last-play fluke. The Tigers should respond.

Iowa has covered in eight of its last nine meetings with Minnesota. Iowa is favored by 10 1/2, and should continue that trend as the Hawkeyes are among the top teams in the country and would be undefeated except for one abysmal quarter against Iowa State.

Tackling NFL team trends

Despite their upset of the Eagles Sunday, the Colts are only 2-7 against the spread and 0-4 at home. The Cowboys have covered each of their last four road games, so they deserve a look Sunday as a 6 1/2-point underdog.

The Bills are another road dog worth a look. They've covered their each of last three away games and are getting 3 1/2 points Sunday at Kansas City.

The under in Cardinals games has gone 23-9 (71.9 percent) with one push since the middle of the 2000 season. Oddmakers seem to have adjusted by putting the total on Sunday's game with the Eagles at 37 1/2. However, check the weekend weather forecast for Philadelphia. Inclement weather would aid an under bet, but make it quickly, before the number drops.

NFL bankroll shows profit

The Raiders' 34-10 win over the Broncos on Monday night ended the weekend on a winning note, as my NFL bankroll had 1-unit plays on the Raiders +5 and under the total of 46 1/2. My 2-unit best bet on the Dolphins +3 at the Jets on Sunday night was a push. Other 1-unit winners were on the Falcons +5 1/2 and the Texans +10.

Losses were on the Patriots -3 1/2 and the Falcons-Steelers under 43. For the week, the bankroll was 4-2-1 for a net win of 1.8 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). For the season, the NFL bankroll is 39-45-3 for a net loss of 10.1 units.

The college bankroll hit a slight speedbump, going 3-4 on seven underdogs.

I won with Syracuse (an outright winner over Virginia Tech as a 14 1/2-point underdog), Purdue (a loser, 10-6, to Ohio State as a 7-point dog), and Mississippi (an admittedly lucky cover versus Georgia). The losses were on Missouri (a bad beat when Colorado won with a TD in overtime, 42-35, as a 4 1/2-point favorite), Oregon (a late non-cover vs. Washington State), Georgia Tech (came up just short, 21-13, as a 6 1/2-point dog to Florida State), and Minnesota (which imploded in the second half against Michigan). For the season, the college bankroll is 22-21, 11-8 on 2-unit plays, for a net profit of 2.1 units.