11/28/2003 12:00AM

Patriots +4 plenty vs. Colts


LAS VEGAS - It was fun starting the NFL week with a pair of games on Thanksgiving. I was hoping to start with two wins, but instead went 1-1 with a win on the Lions (+7) upsetting the Packers 22-14 and a loss on the Cowboys (-3) in a 40-21 blowout by the Dolphins.

But having those two games out of the way doesn't mean there is a depleted schedule this weekend. We have 13 games on Sunday and the Monday night game to dissect - the same number of games that we had during the bye weeks - and there appear to be plenty of good plays. Hopefully, here's five of them.

Patriots (+4) at Colts

Barring an unforeseen collapse, both of these teams are playoff-bound. They're tied for the second-best record in the AFC (9-2) behind the Chiefs (10-1), and the winner could have the inside track at a first-round bye, with the Titans also in the running. New England coach Bill Belichick is the best when it comes to making defensive game plans to stop top-notch quarterbacks, including Indianapolis' Peyton Manning. In fact, the last time these two teams met was in 2001 - the Patriots' Super Bowl season - when both were AFC East rivals. The Pats won those games 44-13 and 38-17 as Belichick's defense shut down Manning & Co. New England is playing at that level again, and getting more than a field goal is a bonus in a game that, at worst for the Pats, should come down to a field-goal kicking contest.

PLAY: Patriots for 1 unit.

Bengals (+3) at Steelers

The Steelers beat the Browns 13-6 last week to keep their hopes alive in the AFC North. If you watched that game, however, you would have seen that the Browns dominated the whole game on both sides of the ball except for three turnovers that set up all three Pittsburgh scores. The Browns also shot themselves in the foot with turnovers and a failed fourth-down play in five red-zone opportunities that resulted in only two field goals. The Bengals are on a roll and not making the types of mistakes that led to a 17-10 loss to Pitt earlier this season. The two-headed running attack of Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson is making things easier for Jon Kitna to throw the ball to Chad Johnson and Peter Warrick, and they should be able to move the ball consistently. The Cincy defense is also getting better in coach Marvin Lewis's system, and should shut down the Steelers as well as the Browns did last week. I would feel confident with this bet if it were the Bengals laying 3 points.

PLAY: Bengals for 1 unit.

Broncos (-3) at Raiders

We often hear that in the NFL no team is as good as it looks when it wins and no team is as bad as it looks when it loses. That's the case here as the Broncos, who started the season 5-1, are coming off an embarrassing 19-10 home loss to the Bears, and have lost four of their last five. The Raiders have played well recently with an upset of the Vikings (another team that wasn't as good as its record indicated earlier this year) and a hard-fought 27-24 loss to the Chiefs last week as an 11-point underdog. However, a couple of weeks ago this line would have been around 6 or 7. I'll gladly lay the 3 points here and expect these teams to return to form.

PLAY: Broncos for 1 unit.

Chiefs at Chargers (+7)

This is another case of a team, the Chiefs, coming back to the pack. They haven't played as well on the road - including their one loss at Cincinnati two weeks ago - and they could have similar problems at San Diego this week as the Chargers have been playing better at home recently since Doug Flutie took over at quarterback. The key will be the Chargers' defense, and if it can put the collar on Chiefs star Priest Holmes better than it did in the 27-14 season-opening loss at Kansas City. Any success at all will allow LaDainian Tomlinson, who is every bit as good as Holmes but without the supporting cast, to remain a factor deep into the game.

PLAY: Chargers for 1 unit.

Titans (-1 1/2) at Jets

This looks like a steal. The only reason for this line to be less than a field goal is because of Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair's questionable status with a right calf strain. But Billy Volek came on in relief last week and went 9-for-15 for 117 yards to rally the Titans from a 21-point deficit to beat the Falcons 38-31, and the team showed confidence in his ability to lead them. Besides, the defense has been just as instrumental in the Titans' 9-2 start, allowing 20 points or fewer in all but three games this year. The Jets' offense is playing better since Chad Pennington's return, but they still haven't beaten a team with a good defense.

PLAY: Titans for 1 unit.

This week: 1-1 on Thanksgiving games for a net loss of 0.1 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). Season record: 34-27-5 for net profit of 4.3 units.