11/22/2002 1:00AM

Some dogs look well worth pounding


NFL underdogs went 7-9 against the spread last weekend, but it's not time to jump off the bandwagon just yet. Besides, in last week's bankroll I went 3-1 with the four dogs I played, so it only matters which puppies you pick from the litter.

This week, I have five underdogs, three of whom have shown at certain times this season that they have the pedigree to be show dogs, while two are mutts who can still bare their teeth and get in there and fight.

Bills (+3) at Jets

The Bills have gone from a sandlot team with a high-flying offense and no defense to an efficient offense with an improving defense. After holding the Chiefs' combo of Trent Green and Priest Holmes to 17 points last week, the Bills should be able to slow down Chad Pennington and Curtis Martin this week. The Bills also should be able to move the ball at will vs. the Jets' No. 26-rated defense, with Travis Henry on the ground and Drew Bledsoe through the air. When these two teams played in the season opener, the Jets won by returning two kickoffs for touchdowns. Unless they repeat that feat, I see the Bills winning easily.

PLAY: Bills for 2 units.

Browns (+6) at Saints

I like how the Browns' offense has been coming around, running the ball with William Green and setting up the pass for Tim Couch to a group of underrated receivers. Their success should continue against the Saints' defense, which is ranked 28th in the league. Most of the year, the Saints' offense has been able to make up for the defense's shortcomings by piling up points of its own, but Aaron Brooks and the rest of the offense hasn't been as efficient recently. They went three quarters without scoring a TD in a 24-17 loss to the Falcons last week, and the previous week's 34 points vs. the Panthers was inflated by two scores being set up by the special teams and the defense returning a fumble for a TD on the game's final play. The Browns are playing much smarter football than they were earlier in the season and won't make it as easy on the Saints.

PLAY: Browns for 2 units.

Titans at Ravens (+2)

The Titans are playing well, having won five games in a row. The Ravens have their number, however, covering the last four times they have played. It looks like the Ravens will be without middle linebacker Ray Lewis, but football is a team sport, and the defensive unit has plenty of other talent and should rally together. The Ravens offense - with the exception of last week's loss at Miami - has been playing much better since Jeff Blake took the controls.

PLAY: Ravens for 1 unit.

Bengals (+10 1/2) at Steelers

This is the first of two really bad teams I'm playing this Sunday. The Bengals have the league's worst record at 1-9, but this is just a case of getting too many points. Even though the Bengals can't beat anybody (except the expansion Texans), they have been pretty competitive. Their only other time this season as a double-digit underdog was at Indianapolis in week 5. They lost 28-21 but covered the 13 1/2-point spread. They have also come up just short (1 yard short, to be exact) vs. the Titans and the Browns. The Steelers were much more efficient with Tommy Maddox at quarterback, so with Kordell Stewart back under center, that should help keep the Bengals close, too.

PLAY: Bengals for 1 unit.

Raiders at Cardinals (+8)

At about the same time last year, the Raiders were 8-2. The Cardinals were struggling as usual and were 4-6. The Raiders were made 12-point favorites. Final score: Cardinals 34, Raiders 31 - and that was in Oakland. This Sunday, I can see the same thing happening. The Raiders are back on the winning track and becoming media darlings again, while the Cardinals are slipping off most bettors' radar screens. I'm only getting 8 points, but the game is in Tempe, Ariz. The Cardinals are not a good team and always play poorly against the teams they should beat, but they usually get up for quality competition and should be a live home dog here.

PLAY: Cardinals for 1 unit.

Over/under plays

As we get later in the season, you start seeing totals dropping just like the temperatures in most parts of the country. I think some of the totals this week might be shaded a little too low, however, so I'll make 1-unit plays on the over in three games: Lions-Bears (38), Chargers-Dolphins (36 1/2), and Chiefs-Seahawks (44).

Season record: 42-48-3 for a net loss of 8.4 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).