12/21/2006 12:00AM

Ride the teams you have a grip on


There comes a point in any season when you have to go with what you know.

For me, there are certain teams that I seem to be in tune with. Sometimes, I ride a team that's hot, like the Titans. Other times, I go against a team that's cold or offering more betting value by playing the other side, as I did with the Colts before last week. The best plays, however, come when you can figure out when the teams are likely to play well and when they're likely to put in a clunker.

On the other hand, there are teams that are totally puzzling, and it seems that if you zig, they zag, and vice versa. Consider the Cardinals, Panthers, and Lions. I initially thought those teams were getting too many points this week, but I'm going to pass on them and stick with teams (both for and against) that have served me well.

Colts at Texans (+9)

This is a play against the Colts. I had success going against them two weeks in a row with the Titans and Jaguars before I lost against them last Monday night with the Bengals. I don't agree with the talking heads on TV and sports radio who say the Colts are back after that victory. Yes, Peyton Manning and the offense played great, but the defense didn't play nearly as well as the masses are being led to believe. A typical comment was that the Bengals shouldn't have tried to run the ball as much as they did, but I feel they should have run more, since the Colts have the worst-ranked rushing defense in the league. Almost every time the Bengals ran the ball, they got four yards, even when there wasn't a hole. Their drives stalled when they got fancy and tried to pass on first down. I'm counting on Houston coach Gary Kubiak to be smarter and stick with the run with Ron Dayne and Wali Lundy, especially since the Texans don't pass-block particularly well. More reasons to like this play: Home dogs are 44-29-3 (60 percent) against the spread this season, and all underdogs of more than a touchdown are 31-24-2 (56 percent). Besides, in the earlier meeting this year, way back in Week 2, the Colts won only 24-23 as 12-point favorites at home. Houston has covered two in row in the series, three of the last four, and five of the last seven. This is the Texans' Super Bowl, and I'd also recommend them on the money line at 3-1 or higher (7-2 was widely available Thursday morning). I was planning to go with just five 1-unit plays this week, but the more I think about it, I'm making this my second 2-unit play of the season (I lost the previous one).

PLAY: Texans for 2 units.

Titans (+5 1/2) at Bills

The Titans, behind rookie quarterback Vince Young, have covered six straight games, including five straight outright upsets. Granted, the Bills have covered seven straight, but I think the Titans are playing like the better team now. Young presents unique challenges for a defense and should be able to move the ball on the Bills, and the Titans' defense has stepped up even when the offense has struggled, such as last week, when the defense had three returns for touchdowns. Both teams head into this game with an outside shot at the playoffs, so it should be a hard-fought game that comes down to a field goal. If the line were around 3, where it opened, I would probably pass, but the additional points are insurance.

PLAY: Titans for 1 unit.

Patriots (+3) at Jaguars

The Jaguars won for me against the Colts two weeks ago, and then I went against them last week with the Titans, so I seem to have a handle on how they match up with particular teams - I don't like them in this spot. The Patriots have been flying under the radar, with the Colts and Chargers getting most of the attention in the AFC, but the Pats will be a very difficult out in the playoffs as long as Tom Brady is leading the offense and Bill Belichick is leading the defense. They're trying to win this game to clinch the AFC East so they can rest their starters next week. The Jaguars are also fighting for a playoff spot, but the loss to the Titans last week really showed they're not ready to make that next step.

PLAY: Patriots for 1 unit.

Chargers at Seahawks (+5)

Here's another home underdog that I feel is live. Usually when you take a home dog, you're taking a pretty bad team, but in this case I'm relying on the Seahawks. Obviously, they put in a clunker last Thursday, losing to the 49ers when they had a chance to wrap up the NFC West title, but I think they'll bounce back here. The Chargers are the team du jour in the NFL, but the crowd noise at Seattle will make this a tough test for quarterback Philip Rivers. Although the Seahawks' offense didn't show it vs. the 49ers, it should continue to come around with Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander getting more healthy.

PLAY: Seahawks for 1 unit.

Eagles (+7) at Cowboys

The Eagles have been good to me the last two weeks. They were a non-bankroll play at pick-em vs. the Redskins, and then last week they pulled a 36-22 outright upset of the Giants as 5 1/2-point underdogs. Similar to that game, which was looking like it would come down to a field goal until a late Eagles touchdown and then another TD on a turnover, this should be a closely fought battle. The Eagles can catch the Cowboys for the NFC East lead with a victory. It's my feeling that if Donovan McNabb was still healthy for the Eagles, this line would be 3 or 4 at the max. I don't see the Eagles being that much worse the way Jeff Garcia has been playing, so the value is clearly on the Philly side.

PLAY: Eagles for 1 unit.

Last week: 4-2 for a net profit of 1.8 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 43-38-2 for a net profit of 1.4 units.