11/26/2004 12:00AM

Pendulum will swing back to dogs' side


LAS VEGAS - Peyton Manning looks like a runaway winner of the NFL's MVP award after throwing six more touchdowns on Thanksgiving Day, giving him 41 on the season as he pursues Dan Marino's record of 48.

But before crowning him king, let me tell you how fast these things can change.

On Nov. 8, as the NFL was wrapping up its ninth week, Pro Football Weekly sent out an e-mail release of its All-NFL teams for the first half of the season to members of the Professional Football Writers of America. The starting quarterback was listed as Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper, who at the time was on pace to break Marino's record after his hot start. That night, Manning went 23 for 29 for 268 yards and four touchdowns (Culpepper threw only one TD). Pro Football Weekly sent out a correction, subbing Manning for Culpepper.

The same thing happened with a proposition wager at the Olympic offshore sports book. There had been a prop on whether Culpepper would break Marino's record. The following week, it was changed to Manning.

So things change quickly in the NFL. This week, I'm hoping last week's run of favorites comes to an end. Last weekend was a disaster for the sports books here in Las Vegas, as NFL favorites went 11-4-1 against the spread. When you consider all the parlays that included those favorites, it was even worse. I will make two predictions based on those results:

1) Oddsmakers will tend to shade the point spreads higher to make favorite bettors pay a higher premium.

2) Chalk players, fresh from their success last week, will continue to bet that way after picking up "easy money" and will drive the lines even higher as the games approach.

Both those factors should give underdog bettors a lot of opportunities Sunday. I'm laying out five NFL selections below, all dogs, but I wouldn't be surprised if I'm on 10 or 12 by the time the games kick off.

Eagles at Giants (+7)

I lost with the Redskins +10 1/2 vs. the Eagles last week, and it was my first loss going against the Eagles in my last four attempts. The Redskins actually played close, trailing by 7-6 at halftime and only 14-6 after three quarters, but just didn't have the offensive consistency to capitalize. The Giants should fare better as a 7-point home underdog. When these teams first met in Week 1, the Giants ran the ball well early, then abandoned the ground game a little when falling behind, but then Tiki Barber broke a 72-yard TD in the fourth quarter. In all, the Giants ran for 170 yards on just 23 carries. Even if you toss out the 72-yarder, they still averaged nearly 4.5 yards a carry. With Eli Manning making his second start, the Giants will try to establish the run to take pressure off him.

PLAY: Giants for 1 unit.

Jaguars (+6) at Vikings

The stars for each team, Byron Leftwich of the Jaguars and Randy Moss of the Vikings, are expected to return in a key game for two teams that have cooled off from hot starts and are trying to stay in the hunt for the playoffs. The Vikings clearly have the better offense, but the key is that they have to go against the Jaguars' tough defense, while the Jaguars go against a much softer Vikings defense. Jacksonville's Fred Taylor has stepped up with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games since Leftwich was hurt, and that will help balance the attack against the Vikings, who are 22nd in the league against the run and 25th against the pass. The Vikings, the No. 2 passing team behind the Colts, should be able to score their share of points, but I just don't see them getting enough.

PLAY: Jaguars for 1 unit.

Buccaneers at Panthers (+2 1/2)

The Bucs have won three of their last four games and the Panthers have won two straight. But before getting carried away, consider that the Bucs' wins have come against the Bears, Chiefs, and 49ers, while the Panthers have beaten up on the 49ers and Cardinals. Despite their improvement, the Buccaneers haven't shown they can take their act on the road. Those three recent victories were at home, and they are 1-4 both straight up and against the spread on the road this season. I have to side with the Panthers at home. Jake Delhomme has carried the team through this rough season, which has been plagued by injuries a season after it was injury-free in its NFC championship run. Nick Goings did his best DeShaun Foster imitation last week (sorry, he's no Stephen Davis) to offer hope for the running game.

PLAY: Panthers for 1 unit.

Bills (+5) at Seahawks

If you want to know whether the Bills can play with the favored Seahawks, just look at their games against a common opponent: the Rams. The Seahawks have lost twice to the Rams, 33-27 and 23-12, while the Bills dominated the Rams, 37-17, last week. Speaking of last week, the Seahawks barely got by the Dolphins, 24-17, and were in a position to lose if the Dolphins could have moved into field-goal range late. Instead, Seattle's Michael Boulware intercepted an A.J. Feeley pass and returned it for the game-winning touchdown with 56 seconds remaining. The Bills defense should be able to contain Seattle's Shaun Alexander and force the Seahawks to win through the air, which could be tough with Matt Hasselbeck, still listed as questionable, or Trent Dilfer behind center. The Bills offense is also coming around with Willis McGahee taking over the running chores.

PLAY: Bills for 1 unit.

Raiders (+11) at Broncos

Here's another example of an inflated line. The Raiders are down, but they still have talent and shouldn't be getting this many points. Last week, the Raiders failed to cover vs. the Chargers in a 23-17 loss, but they had a go-ahead touchdown called back on a penalty and also had a wide-open Ronald Curry drop a long pass for another TD that would have put them ahead. I'm usually a Broncos backer - I like that they always run the ball well and play good defense - but the betting value this week is clearly on the other side.

PLAY: Raiders for 1 unit.

Last week: 1-3-1 for a net loss of 2.3 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 25-28-2 for a net loss of 5.8 units.