10/14/2004 11:00PM

Packers to buck dome trend


LAS VEGAS - When giving my reasons for liking a game, I sometimes use a trend as a supporting argument. I believe you should never bet a game just because of a historical betting trend.

The lone exception to my rule in recent years has been betting against the Packers in games played in domes. Entering the 2001 season, the Packers were 2-8 against the spread in their previous 10 games indoors, when I first picked up this trend. Since then, they've continued their woeful performance and gone 1-9, including yet another loss three weeks ago at Indianapolis.

In fact, when the early lines were posted over the summer, I took the Lions +3 in this week's game and the Vikings +3 vs. the Packers on Dec. 24 based solely on this trend.

However, all good things (or bad things, from the Packers' viewpoint) must come to an end, and I actually think the Packers are the right side in Sunday's game at Detroit. Of course, call me greedy, but I certainly wouldn't mind a 1-point game either way.

Packers (+2) at Lions

The Packers, despite their 1-4 record, are the more talented team and - at sports books that put up advance odds on games - were still favored in this game by 2 points as recently as last week. Green Bay's loss to Tennessee on national TV last Monday night should not be enough to now make them a 2-point underdog. The Titans are a pretty good team, and there's no shame in losing to them. As for the Lions, Joey Harrington is no Steve McNair, and their running back-by-committee is not as good as Chris Brown, so the Lions, as improved as they are, aren't likely to explode against the Packers' defense, which should play better against this drop in class. And the Packers' offense can still put points on the board, as evidenced by the shootout in the dome versus the Colts, and last week versus the Titans. I just think the better team prevails here.

PLAY: Packers for 1 unit.

Panthers (+8 1/2) at Eagles

This rematch of last season's NFC title game is getting much hype. The Eagles are 4-0 - with each win by double digits - but even though the Panthers are 1-3, I don't think these two teams are that far apart. The Eagles have been talking trash this week, focusing on their receivers being held to one catch in the NFC title game and how they're a different offense now with Terrell Owens. But that could work to their detriment if Donovan McNabb starts forcing throws into his receivers to try and prove a point. And you know Carolina coach John Fox will have a solid defensive game plan. On offense, the Panthers are expected to get back starting running back Stephen Davis, who helped control the clock in the NFC title game, and he's really what makes the offense go. Quarterback Jake Delhomme is much better off play-action when Davis is on the field. This game will have a playoff intensity, and having a point spread over a touchdown is just way too high.

PLAY: Panthers for 1 unit.

Chargers (+5 1/2) at Falcons

I had the Chargers plus the points last week versus the Jaguars, but even I didn't expect them to dominate as they did. LaDainian Tomlinson was his usually brilliant self, and when he was dinged up, Jesse Chatman filled in and ran for more than 100 yards against a Jacksonville defense that had been shutting down everyone else. That shows how well the San Diego offensive line has been playing, and that certainly makes it easier for quarterback Drew Brees. I'm going to go with them again against a Falcons team that I cited as a fraud last week when taking the Lions +7. The Falcons didn't show anything to change my mind, and I'll take the points again with a live underdog.

PLAY: Chargers for 1 unit.

Steelers (+3) at Cowboys

In this line of work, I look back at a lot of games and point spreads. Sometimes, I see a line that seems out of whack and I think, "What were they thinking back then?" This has the potential to be one of those lines that people will look back on in a few weeks and think it's a misprint. They'll assume it was the Steelers favored by 3. These are two teams heading in opposite directions, and if the line was Steelers -3 I'd still be on them. Rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been outstanding, and both running backs, Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis, have excelled in their roles. The Cowboys' defense, ranked No. 1 last year, isn't playing nearly as well this year. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh defense has stepped up and should have no problem containing the Dallas offense.

PLAY: Steelers for 1 unit.

Broncos (-1 1/2) at Raiders

A few weeks ago, I was talking about the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest with handicapper Ted Sevransky, who also appears on several local radio shows. We agreed that the toughest thing each week is coming up with the fifth play. Most handicappers know their top two or three picks as soon as the opening lines come out, but deciding between the fifth and even less-inspiring sixth or seventh choices can be a long, difficult process. We came to the conclusion that the fifth choice probably separates the leaders from the also-rans. Needless to say, my fifth choices haven't fared well so far in the NFL this year. After that long intro, here is my fifth choice, so take that for what it's worth. The Broncos have owned this series since coach Mike Shanahan switched teams nearly 10 years ago, going 14-4 straight up and 12-5-1 against the spread. The Broncos also found their new running star in Reuben Droughns, and he should have another 100-yard game and set up Jake Plummer in the passing game. On defense, the Broncos are ranked No. 1 in the league, allowing only 240.8 yards per game, and the Raiders' offense has been too inconsistent with too many turnovers to be expected to make a game of it. (For the record, the other play I considered was the Jaguars +2 versus the Chiefs; hopefully, I didn't zig when I should have jagged.)

PLAY: Broncos for 1 unit.

Last week: 4-1 for a net profit of 2.9 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). Season NFL record: 10-14-1 for a net loss of 5.4 units.