11/25/2003 12:00AM

Push is no boon for the books


LAS VEGAS - A lot of people - media types, as well as the public at large - marvel at how accurate the oddsmakers in Las Vegas are when a game falls right on the number. You'll hear comments such as, "How did they know that?" and "The sports books must have made a killing."

What they often don't realize is that the more accurate the betting line is, the worse it can be for bet takers. The most basic reason is because a push means that a lot of bets are refunded. But even worse for the sports books is when money moves the line and the game ends on the closing number.

An example of that happened in the Buccaneers-Giants game on Monday night. The number in that game started at 4 1/2 and got bet to 6. The Bucs led 17-13 late in the game, and when they bypassed a field goal from the 12-yard line with just over two minutes remaining, it looked like the Giants would cover and the sports books would win all the money bet on the Bucs.

However, after the Giants threw two incompletions, a sack backed them up to their own 3-yard line, and they took an intentional safety to make the score 19-13. After a failed onside kick, that was the final score, and it meant the sports books lost all the bets on the Bucs at anything less than 6, including all live parlay cards, which had the Bucs at -4 1/2 or -5 1/2 around town.

But this wasn't anything new for the sports books. Three games Sunday landed on the number (Colts -3 over Bills, Ravens -3 over Seahawks, and Titans -7 over Falcons). The Ravens really hurt the books, as they were bet from pick-em.

In addition to losing on straight bets, the books are also hurt on parlays when the games land on key numbers such as 3 and 7, as parlay-card bettors tend to take the extra half-point on either side of a key number when they see a line at 2 1/2, 3 1/2, 6 1/2, or 7 1/2.

Another thing that kills bet takers is that teaser bettors - who move the line in their favor in exchange for lower payouts - can win regardless of which side they play if the game ends up less than a touchdown from the spread.

Of the 16 NFL games played this past week, 12 of them landed within a 6-point teaser either way. The Chiefs-Raiders, Bears-Broncos, Steelers-Browns, and Eagles-Saints were the only exceptions.

The sports books were happy to be "wrong" in those games.

More NFL betting stats

The best bet in the NFL continues to be the Bills, at 10-1 with the under. Their total is 35 this Sunday at the Giants. The Dolphins and 49ers are 8-3 with the under.

* The Texans are 8-3 with the over. They are home this week vs. the Falcons with an over/under of 40 1/2. The Colts, dragged down by the Bills, are 7-4 with the over.

* Of the top five NFL teams against the spread heading into last week (all in the AFC), only the Bengals cashed for their backers, though the Titans and Colts both pushed. The Patriots remain on top of the league at 8-2-1, followed by the Chiefs and Bengals at 8-3 and the Titans, Colts, and Cowboys at 7-3-1.

* The Raiders' cover vs. the Chiefs makes them 2-8-1 against the spread, but they still hold the league's worst spread mark ahead of the Jets at 2-6-3. The Chargers are 3-8, while the Falcons and Giants are both 3-7-1.

* Home underdogs continued their recent hot streak, going 2-1-2 against the spread with the Chargers being the only team to fail to get at least a push, vs. the Bengals. For the season, the edge for road favorites has been cut to 24-22-3.

* Underdogs in general went 8-4-4 against the spread to cut the favorites' lead to just 83-81-10 on the season. Last week's record was particularly impressive since favorites actually won 14 of the 16 games outright, meaning six of the dogs covered and lost in addition to the four pushes. The week before that, favorites won but failed to cover in five games, for a total of 11 in the past two weeks. How odd is that? Well, in the ninth and 10th weeks of the NFL season, it didn't happen a single time, and in the first eight weeks it happened only a combined 15 times.

* Road teams went 7-5-4 against the spread and now hold a 84-81-10 advantage for the season.

* The AFC won three of four games vs. the NFC but was only 1-1-2 against the spread. The AFC is 20-15-6 for the year.

* The over went 9-7 last week, but the under still holds a slight lead at 87-84-5. But as you can see with the trends above, most have reverted to nearly 50 percent.

Football bankroll updates

Last week was a marginally profitable weekend for the bankroll plays, as I went 3-2 in the colleges and 2-2-1 in the NFL.

The winning college picks on Northwestern, West Virginia, and Clemson were all pretty easy, while the losses on Kentucky and Stanford were both due to them giving up late scores. The 3-2 record gave me a net profit of 0.8 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). For the season, college bankroll plays are 32-28 (53.3 percent) for a net profit of 1.2 units.

In the NFL, the Colts were my push, while I won with the Lions and Jaguars and lost with the Saints and Browns. For the season, the NFL bankroll is now 33-26 (55.9 percent) with five pushes for a net profit of 4.4 units.

Thursday is a day to give thanks for having more games to play:

Packers at Lions (+7)

The Packers are making a playoff run right now, and if this game were played on any other day I'd have to look at backing them. But this is Turkey Day, and you know the Lions will put forth a top-notch effort. Detroit is also coming off a strong defensive game at Minnesota in which the Lions only allowed one offensive touchdown. Getting a touchdown at home is too much to pass up. (Note: The Pack was favored by 6 1/2 on Thanksgiving two years ago at Detroit and only escaped with a 29-27 victory with a team that made it to the NFC title game.)

PLAY: Lions for 1 unit.

Dolphins at Cowboys (-3)

The Dolphins are not playing particularly well right now, especially on offense, and barely escaped with a 24-23 victory Sunday night over the Redskins. Now they have to travel to Dallas on a short week and face the No. 1 defense in the league. The Cowboys are looking more and more like coach Bill Parcells' past playoff teams: solid defense, coupled with an offense that is somewhat methodical but is capable of hitting the big plays when needed. I'll lay the short price.

PLAY: Cowboys for 1 unit.