12/16/2003 12:00AM

The only awards that really matter


LAS VEGAS - On Thursday night, the NFL Pro Bowl teams will be announced.

My feeling is that these kind of things shouldn't be voted on until after the season is over, but since they're forcing my hand, here are the top contenders for the DRF All-Vegas Team:

Quarterback: Jon Kitna, Bengals. He not only led his team to the brink of the playoffs but the Bengals are the only winning team that has a better spread record (9-4-1) than their straight-up record (8-6).

Runningback: Priest Holmes, Chiefs. He is only sixth in the league in rushing yards, but he knows how to score points with a league-leading 22 touchdowns, which is crucial when trying to have your team cover.

Wide receiver: Chad Johnson, Bengals. He guaranteed his team would beat the Chiefs - and then he and his teammates backed it up. Bettors that listened to him had a nice payday.

Tight end: Jeremy Shockey, Giants. He hasn't done much on the field this year, but he's been spotted partying in town several times, including at least one time less than 48 hours before having a game back on the East Coast. Shockey is a Vegas guy all the way.

Offensive line: Eagles. The trenches is where it all begins, and despite the Eagles rotating three running backs, the Eagles' line has been getting it done and has helped lead the team to nine straight wins and covers.

Kicker: Mike Vanderjagt, Colts. He hasn't missed a field goal since he and Peyton Manning had their little off-season tiff. Technically, he did miss once. It was in overtime of the comeback vs. the Bucs, but that was cleaned from his slate when Simeon Rice was penalized for "leaping."

Defensive line: Cowboys. The No. 1-ranked defense in the league has the Cowboys on the cusp of the playoffs and boasting an 8-5-1 spread mark.

Linebacker: Willie McGinest, Patriots. His tackle on a fourth-down, last-second goal-line stand vs. the Colts' Edgerrin James preserved a 38-34 win for the Pats.

Defensive back: Charles Tillman, Bears. He stole the ball from Randy Moss's grasp in the end zone last week to preserve a 13-10 outright upset and prevent the Vikings from covering the 3-point spread with a TD.

Coach: Bill Belichick for leading Patriots to an 11-2-1 spread mark.

NFL betting trends

The Patriots have the league's best spread record, followed by the Eagles at 10-4 and the Colts and Bengals at 9-4-1.

* Previously the league's worst spread team by a landslide, the Raiders' 20-12 win over the Ravens made them 3-10-1 on the season and put them into a tie with the Giants.

* The Bills' streak of 11 straight unders came to an end in their 28-26 loss to the Titans. They are now 12-2 with the under, but only the Bucs can catch them for the season title in this category. The Bucs' 16-3 win over the Falcons made them 10-4 with the under while the league's other 9-4 under teams - the Lions and Dolphins - both went over to drop to 9-5.

* The Rams beat the Seahawks 27-22 but it went under the inflated total of 51, dropping the Rams' over record to 9-4-1. Bettors who took the over with the Colts also were victimized by an inflated number as they beat the Falcons 38-7, just one score under the total of 48, and fell to 9-5 with the over.

League-wide betting stats

Home underdogs went 3-1 last week - with the Bears, Raiders, and Cardinals winning and the Chargers coming up short - to continue their amazing run (23-6-3 over the last eight weeks) and stand at 30-27-3 for the season. There could be as many as seven home dogs this week, depending on what happens in the Dolphins-Bills and Saints-Jaguars lines, which are around pick-em. The definite home dogs are the Vikings, Jets, Ravens, Texans, and Raiders.

* Overall, home-field advantage seems to be taking hold in the final month of the season. Home teams went 9-6-1 against the spread to increase their season-long edge to 109-103-11.

* Favorites went 8-7-1 and are now 107-102-11 overall.

* Despite the increase in the games played in inclement weather, over and unders were split 8-8 last week. For the year, unders are ahead 112-107-5.

* The Eagles' 34-27 win Monday night over the Dolphins salvaged the weekend for the NFC in interconference games. The 3-3 split leaves the AFC with a 28-20 (58 percent) record with six pushes. The interconference games this week are Chiefs-Vikings, Bengals-Rams, Saints-Jaguars, and Packers-Raiders.

Undefeated weekend for bankroll

It wasn't difficult to go undefeated last Saturday as there were no football games played, but I kept my slate unblemished Sunday by sweeping my five NFL bankroll plays.

The winning selections were on the Patriots -7 over the Jaguars (a comfortable 27-13 winner as the Pats pulled away in the fourth quarter), Bears +3 vs. the Vikings (a 13-10 outright winner as the Bears held off a late Minnesota rally), Bills +6 vs. the Titans (the Bills led most of the game, then fell behind 28-20 and had to score a late TD to get in the back door in a spread-covering 28-26 loss), Cowboys PK vs. Redskins (an easy 27-0 winner) and the Cardinals +6 1/2 vs. the Panthers (the Cards nearly picked up their third home upset of the season, but fell 20-17 to lose but cover). The 5-0 record and profit of 5 units raised my NFL bankroll plays to 46-31 (60 percent) with five pushes for a net profit of 11.9 units.

RedHawks to win bowl for the birds?

The bowl season, which began Tuesday with the New Orleans Bowl, continues Thursday with the GMAC Bowl from Mobile, Ala., with Miami-Ohio favored by between 13 and 14 points - depending on where you shop - over Louisville.

I'm passing on this game as an official bankroll play, but at www.drf.com (click on the helmet logo on the homepage) Noel Michaels and I pick all 28 bowl games, and I went with the Miami-Ohio RedHawks over the Louisville Cardinals. The RedHawks have won 12 straight games and should win this game and show that they are the best of the non-BCS schools, but I just can't lay that many points.