11/04/2003 12:00AM

Patriots safety hard on bettors' hearts

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LAS VEGAS - Monday Night Football is the traditional "get-out" game - the last game of the weekend - for football bettors.

Many a bottom line (both for those making and taking bets) isn't decided until that final game because many bettors are trying to make a winning weekend even better or trying to get out of debt after a losing weekend.

Often a blowout on Monday night will let everyone get to bed early knowing where they stand, but this past Monday night wasn't one of those cases. The game went down to the wire.

The Broncos-Patriots game opened pick-em at the Stardust last week (and took a lot of Broncos action), and most books in Las Vegas opened it around Broncos -1 1/2 or -2. The money continued to come in on Denver, which closed as a 3-point favorite by kickoff. The sports books had a pretty good day Saturday and Sunday, but they would have given a lot of money back if the Broncos had covered, and a 3-point Denver win would have been a disaster for the books because they would have had to pay all the early bettors who laid the low points with the Broncos and refund all the wagers at 3.

As it was, New England kicker Adam Vinatieri cut the Broncos' lead to 24-23 with 11:08 remaining in the game, getting the Patriots within the spread. For those who had the Patriots +2 1/2 or less (you'll recognize us by our lack of fingernails), it provided hope that a few punts and the Broncos' ability to run out the clock might get us the money.

There were three straight punts, but when the Patriots were faced with a 4th-and-10 from their own 1-yard line with 2:51 left to play, coach Bill Belichick took an intentional safety to give the Broncos a 26-23 lead and cause heart palpitations throughout the football betting world. It was a great strategic move, allowing the Pats to take a free kick from the 20 instead of punting from the shadow of their own goal post, but bookmakers were looking at getting sided, and a lot of bettors were looking at a push.

But the strategy worked as the Patriots got the ball back and scored the winning touchdown with 30 seconds to spare for a 30-26 victory.

NFL betting stats

We've been seeing the oddsmakers begin to make road teams lay more points, and that has helped home underdogs to finally start covering some games. (I just wish it hadn't happened in two games I played Sunday.) Home dogs went 4-1 this past week with the Lions, Texans, Cardinals, and 49ers all winning outright. The hapless Falcons were the only home dog to fail. For the season, road favorites still hold a decisive 23-13 winning edge (64 percent).

Home teams went 8-5-1 overall against the spread (the push was the Giants' 3-point win over the Jets, a game that really didn't have a home team anyway). For the year, road teams had their advantage drop to 69-56 (55 percent) with four pushes.

Underdogs also went 8-5-1 - and now favorites, which had been covering at unheard of rates, are now 66-58 (53 percent) with four pushes.

The NFC also made great strides at evening the ledger against the AFC by winning five of the six interconference games last week and going 4-1-1 against the spread. For the year, the AFC has a slight 14-13-3 edge.

Looking at the spread records of individual teams, the Chiefs (8-0 straight up) are 7-1 against the spread, as are the Patriots, though the Pats also have a push. The Vikings' loss on Sunday night dropped them to 6-2 along with the Cowboys, Colts, and Titans. The Raiders (0-8 against the spread) and Falcons (1-7) are by far the worst spread teams.

In totals wagering, the Dolphins barely went over their total of 39 in a 23-17 loss to the Colts on Sunday and dropped to 7-2 with the under.

The Bills are the best under team at 7-1.

The Packers and Texans are 6-2 with the over.

Overall, the unders went 9-5 last week to improve to 68-60 (53 percent) with one push.

Tackling the trends

The home team has won and covered the last six meetings between West Virginia and Boston College. The game was off the board earlier this week because of an injury to WVU quarterback Rasheed Marshall, but Las Vegas Sports Consultants released BC -2 for its parlay card customers. With the Mountaineers playing extremely well - they upset Virginia Tech two weeks ago and earlier nearly upset Miami-Fla. - I wouldn't back the home team here.

In the NFL, the Buccaneers and Panthers have met six times overall, with all six scores coming in under the betting total, including a 9-6 Panthers win earlier this season. This week's total is posted at a low 34 1/2, but the under would be the only way to look.

Including the Super Bowl and four preseason games, the Raiders have lost their last 13 games against the spread. Bet against them, right? I'm not so sure. They're +3 at home vs. the Jets this upcoming Sunday, and this is exactly what I wrote above about the oddsmakers adjusting the line until the trends reverse. The Raiders have hosted the Jets six times over the past four seasons with the line being between the Raiders -3 1/2 and -7. I'll pass on this one.

Football bankroll updates

Just like the above trends regressing toward 50 percent, my college plays went 1-4 last week as the state schools didn't come through (the losses were on Michigan St., Oklahoma St., Washington St., and Miami-Fla, while the lone win was on North Carolina St.). For the season, the college bankroll plays are 24-23 for a net loss of 1.3 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).

The news was only slightly better with the NFL plays as I went 3-3 for a net loss of 0.3 units with the vig. The wins were on the Saints (an outright winner over the Buccaneers as an 8 1/2-point underdog), Texans (an outright winner over the Panthers as a 7-point dog) and the aforementioned Patriots (making me 3-0 with underdogs). My three favorites failed me as the Bengals, Rams, and Vikings all lost outright. But the NFL bankroll is still doing well for the season at 27-17 (61.4 percent) with four pushes for a net profit of 8.3 units.