10/24/2005 11:00PM

Parity in the NFL ain't what it used to be


We've all heard the sayings: "Parity is the rule in the NFL."

"The league would love it if every team finished .500."

"Any team can beat any other team on any given Sunday."

But looking at the state of the NFL, is all this still true?

For one thing, with all this alleged parity, the league has had the same team win the Super Bowl the last two years and three of the last four.

This year, there hasn't been any underdog of more than 7 points pulling an outright upset. An even dozen chances, 12 losses. You would think there would be one big upset through the first seven weeks of the season but there's hasn't been any. Zilch. Nada. And there's only been two 7-point dogs to pull off the feat - in 23 attempts, no less - and that was done back in the opening week of the season - the Saints beating the Panthers and 49ers beating the Rams. If you're in one of those survivor/suicide/king of the hill pools in which you pick one team to win each week (and most contestants take the biggest favorite on the card), there's no doubt a record number of people are still alive.

Yet despite all the evidence, people still talk about parity. What parity?

Just this past week, in taking the 49ers +13 vs. the Redskins, I used another time-worn cliche: "This is just too many [points] for one NFL team to be giving another."

After watching the Redskins romp 52-17, I've vowed not to use that clich"e any more. I might say that a certain team is getting too many points, but blanket statements such as the ones above are no longer true. There are teams that are that much better than the rest, and others that are that much worse. It's getting harder to find live underdogs, especially if you're a money-line player looking for the underdog to win straight up.

It might be a little early to declare it a league of haves and have-nots, but there's not as much parity as we've been led to believe. In fact, of the 14 games this upcoming weekend, six have favorites of more than a touchdown. We'll see if this week a big favorite falls. The big lines include Bengals -9 vs. the Packers, Panthers -7 1/2 vs. the Vikings, Cowboys -8 1/2 vs. the Cardinals, Buccaneers -11 vs. the 49ers, Patriots -8 1/2 vs. the Bills, and Steelers -9 1/2 vs. the Ravens.

More league-wide betting trends

Another widely held belief is that the AFC is clearly superior to the NFC. While that might be true in the upper echelon, it certainly wasn't true from top to bottom this past weekend. There were six interconference games - and the NFC won all of them, and was 4-2 against the spread. For the year, the NFC is 16-14 on the scoreboard, but the AFC still leads 17-13 against the spread. This week, if you still feel the AFC is stronger despite those results, the plays would be the Bengals -9 vs. the Packers, Dolphins +2 vs. the Saints, Jaguars -3 1/2 vs. the Rams, and Broncos -3 1/2 vs. the Eagles.

* Favorites as a whole went 9-5 against the spread this past weekend and are 55-44-3 (55.5 percent) for the season.

* Home teams were 7-7 last week and hold a similar edge for the season at 55-43-3 (56 percent). The reason for the discrepancy in the number of games is because of the 49ers-Cardinals neutral-site game in Mexico City three and a half weeks ago.

* Home underdogs are just 13-13 against the spread this season. The only home dogs this week are the Rams +3 1/2 vs. the Jaguars and the 49ers +11 vs. the Buccaneers.

NFL who's hot, who's not

Every team in the NFL has lost against the spread this season, two teams having fallen just once. The Lions beat the Browns 13-10 as 3-point dogs Sunday to improve to 5-1, while the idle Jaguars stayed at 4-1-1. This Sunday, the Lions are -3 at home vs. the Bears while the Jags are 3 1/2-point favorites at St. Louis. The Colts are 5-2 heading into their bye week. At 4-2 are the Chiefs, Redskins, Bears, and Broncos (actually 4-2-1).

The Texans, who were sacked 38-20 by the Colts despite staying close most of the game, took over the league's worst spread record at 1-5. Amazingly, the Texans are favored by 2 points this Sunday vs. the Browns. Also at the bottom of the standings are the Rams and Jets at 2-5 and the Dolphins, Ravens, 49ers, Eagles, Panthers, Cardinals, and Vikings at 2-4.

* In totals wagering, the Patriots stayed at 5-0-1 with the over during their bye week. This week, the Pats have a total of 44 vs. the Bills. The 49ers improved to 5-1 with the over, mostly due to their porous defense, in the 52-17 loss to the Redskins. The idle Panthers are next at 3-1-2. The Seahawks and Rams both went under Sunday and drop to 5-2. The Cardinals, Redskins, Jaguars, Giants, and Dolphins are 4-2 with the over.

* The Buccaneers, who were idle, stayed 5-1 with the under and inherited the top spot as the Colts went over to drop to 5-2 with the under. Also at 5-1 are the Bears, Vikings, Browns and Ravens.

* The conflicting game of the week is the 49ers-Buccaneers, which opened with a total of 37. The 49ers are 5-1 with the over while the Bucs are 5-1 with the under. It would be fitting if it ended in a push.

College who's hot, who's not

Last week in this space, I mentioned that Texas was 6-0 both straight up and against the spread, as well as with the over. The Longhorns beat Texas Tech 52-17 as a 17-point favorite to stay undefeated in both point-spread category but the total went under the closing number of 69 1/2 - barely, but it counts.

Four of the teams also listed here last week as point-spread gold also covered with the following improving to 6-1: Wisconsin (actually 6-1-1), Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, and East Carolina. Indiana (3-1-2) and Oregon (5-2) faltered.

Speaking of faltering, Utah fell to 0-8 against the spread when they beat UNLV by only a 42-32 score as an 11 1/2-point favorite. Other underachieving teams are Duke (0-7), Purdue (0-6-1), and Rice (0-6).

Some readers (okay, two readers) asked for a list of college teams that have been solid over or under players. The top teams with the over are Texas (6-1), UCLA (6-1), Missouri (6-1), Rice (5-1), and Washington St. (5-1). Top under teams are Eastern Michigan (7-1), Florida (6-1), and Baylor (5-1).

Arkansas St. is 4-1 with the over, but had no total listed Saturday at the Stardust for its 3-0 overtime win over Florida Atlantic. I think it would have been an under no matter what number would have been posted (offshore books had it at 54).