10/19/2001 12:00AM

Say bye-bye to theory about rested and ready


One handicapping theory you hear just about every week is that a team coming off a bye is a good bet. You will hear handicappers say "they're well-rested and healthy" or "they've had extra time to prepare."

Obviously, every NFL team had an unwanted bye after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, but how has this angle fared since play resumed?

In Week 3, the Buccaneers had an extra week to prepare for a key NFC Central battle against the struggling Vikings. The Bucs lost 20-16. That same week the Saints had an extra week to get ready for the Giants and lost 21-13. The Steelers did beat the Bills, 20-3, after their week off.

In Week 4, the Titans had two weeks to prepare for AFC Central rival Baltimore, yet got dominated in a 26-7 loss. The Bears romped in their return from a bye, but the Lions had more than two full weeks in advance of their Monday night battle with the Rams and were getting two touchdowns. Final score: Rams 35, Lions 0.

Last Sunday, the Colts hosted the Raiders after a bye week. You would think that would have helped the talented Colts get back on track. Final: Raiders 23, Colts 18.

Thursday night, both the Jaguars and Bills were coming off a bye. Unfortunately, I was on the Jaguars -9. Neither team looked like the added rest and preparation time did them any good.

In all, teams coming off their bye week are 2-5 both straight up and against the spread (not counting bye teams who faced each other).

The only other team coming off a bye this week is the Eagles, who face the Giants on Monday night. I lean toward the Eagles on talent alone, but I'm passing because it's just getting too hard to tell if teams will come off their byes refreshed or rusty.

Keep all this in mind because five teams have byes this week (Cowboys, Raiders, Dolphins, 49ers, and Seahawks), and you're sure to hear the same faulty logic in the days ahead.

Titans (-5 1/2) at Lions

The Titans finally got off the schneid, outlasting the Buccaneers in a 31-28 overtime win last Sunday. Now they get a Lions team whose biggest claim to fame this season is getting a backdoor cover against the Vikings last Sunday. The Titans should be able to name the final score in this game. It's only a minor problem if Eddie George or Derrick Mason don't play. They will not have to score much to cover this point spread.

PLAY: Titans for 22 units.

Panthers (-3 1/2) at Redskins

The Panthers have been inconsistent so far this season. The Redskins have been much more consistent . . . consistently bad. There's no need to go into how badly the Redskins have played. That's been well-documented. The Panthers' 1-4 record, including a win over the Vikings and competitive losses to the 49ers, Saints, and Packers (at least for the first half), is light years ahead of the Redskins' 0-5 mark. The Redskins nearly beat the Cowboys last Monday before losing by two points on a last-second score. That's been the highlight of their year so far. The Panthers nearly beat the Saints last Sunday before losing by two points on a last-second score. The level of competition was much different.

Play: Panthers for 11 units.

Bears (+1) at Bengals

The Bears, at 3-1, have been one of the surprise teams of the early part of the season. Jim Miller isn't flashy at quarterback, but he gets the job done. An argument could be made that if Miller had started against the Ravens in Week 1 the Bears could be undefeated. In addition, Chicago's defense is among the best in the league. The Bengals got a lot of notice after their 2-0 start and subsequent battle of the unbeatens with the Chargers (which they lost), but they have only notched one win since, which was last week against the Browns. This should be a low-scoring affair, and the difference should be the Bears' newfound ability to do whatever it takes, whether it's a big pass play, or to grind out the clock on the ground, or to come up with the big play on defense.

PLAYS: Bears for 11 units, and another 11 units on under 36.

Broncos (-2 1/2) at Chargers

For one, this is the Chargers' first game against a quality opponent. Denver QB Brian Griese was listed as questionable for most of the week, but it now looks like he's set to play. That will help to keep the Chargers from keying on Mike Anderson, which they would be more likely to do if Gus Frerotten was behind center for the Broncos. The Broncos' balanced attack should guarantee a victory of at least 7-10 points.

Play: Broncos for 11 units.

Packers at Vikings (+3)

This is risky considering the play of the underachieving Vikings (though, honestly, if they hadn't been 4-0 in the preseason after the death of Korey Stringer, no one would be saying their 2-3 record is a disappointment). But there are a number of things I like in this spot. For one, Brett Favre usually has his worst games in domes. For another, Randy Moss loves the prime-time spotlight. He has been hobbled with an ankle injury, but don't be surprised to see him get a touchdown or two. Along those lines, RB Michael Bennett's injury might be a blessing in disguise. The Vikings have killed a lot of their own drives this year by trying to establish the run. Here's hoping they get back to the sandlot style they do best.

PLAY: Vikings for 11 units.

Starting bankroll: 1,000 units.

Bankroll entering this week: 983 units.

Loss from Thursday: 11 units.

Current bankroll: 973 units.