01/06/2006 1:00AM

Some preseason odds look juicy now


LAS VEGAS - Some people do spring cleaning; I do post-regular-season-football cleaning.

During the season, my office is littered with odds sheets that I grab every time I walk into a sports book. Most should probably go into the garbage, but I always fear I'll need to look something up and not be able to find it.

So with the bowl season concluded and the NFL down to its playoff schedule, I've actually had time to do some cleaning. Way down at the bottom of the pile(s), I found some interesting odds from before the season, and thought I would share them - if, for no other reason than to remind everyone that there are plenty of betting opportunities away from the usual sides and totals or even standard future book bets.

* Back in August, the Colts were 1-4 at the Plaza to win the AFC South, the Seahawks were 6-5 to win the NFC West, and the Patriots were 2-5 in the AFC East. All three won with such ease they made even those short prices look generous.

The Broncos were 11-5 at the Palms to win the AFC West as the third choice behind the Chargers and Chiefs, so it's hard to see that as an overlay. However, check out the other divisions: the Bengals were 4-1, the third choice behind the Steelers and Ravens, in the AFC North at the Plaza; the Giants were the longest shot in the NFC East at 15-2 at the Palms; the Bears were 10-1 in the NFC North at the Plaza; and the Buccaneers were 8-1 in the NFC South at the Plaza.

* Peyton Manning was between 2-1 and 5-2 to lead the NFL in passing yards this year, but he was blown away by Tom Brady, who was as high as 25-1 at Station Casinos and mostly available between 14-1 and 18-1 at Caesars, the Palms, and Club Cal Neva.

* Shaun Alexander wasn't too much of a surprise as the league's top rusher, especially since he lost the title by one yard to Curtis Martin last year, but he still could have been bet at 8-1 at Stations or Club Cal Neva.

* Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers led the league in receiving yards, which also should not have been too difficult to predict since the Panthers' Muhsin Muhammad led the league a year ago and then left for the Bears. Smith was 30-1 at Stations, 18-1 at Caesars, and 15-1 at Club Cal Neva. The Palms didn't have him listed, meaning he would have been part of the field at 4-1.

* Caesars was the only book I found with futures on the sack leader. Was it Dwight Freeney at 7-2? Michael Strahan at 8-1? Nope. The sacks winner is the Raiders' Derrick Burgess, who was not listed and was part of the field at 9-2.

Well, all those are ancient history. Let's take a look at Sunday's NFL wild-card card.

Most parlay bettors look either to go with the favorite and the over or the underdog and the under. Conventional wisdom says that if the favorite is going to cover the spread, there will be a lot of scoring and the game will tend to go over. Conversely, many people believe if the underdog is going to have a chance, it'll probably be a tight, low-scoring game.

I guess I really am a contrarian because in Saturday's games I went with the Redskins +2 1/2 vs. the Buccaneers and over the total of 36 1/2, plus the Jaguars +8 vs. the Patriots and over the total of 37. And on Sunday, I'm going with favorites and the under.

Panthers at Giants (-2 1/2)

With three wild-card games lined at a field goal or less, it's clear that oddsmakers think the games are pretty much toss-ups. This looks like the biggest coin-flip of all. Both teams have been inconsistent down the stretch and arguments can be made for or against either team. I give the edge to the Giants because of the running games - DeShaun Foster can break big runs, but he is nowhere near as consistent as the Giants' Tiki Barber - and also because of the Giants' strong home-field advantage. If you count the "away" game vs. the Saints at The Meadowlands as a home game, the Giants were 8-1 straight up and 7-2 against the spread at home. This game could very well come down to a late field goal, so I'll lay the short price with the Giants and also look to the under in a low-scoring battle.

PLAY: Giants for 1 unit and under 43 points for 1 unit.

Steelers (-3) at Bengals

This game opened with the Bengals favored by between 2 1/2 and 3 points here in Vegas and the Steelers quickly got bet to favoritism. I think the money is on the right side and just wish I had been quicker on my feet to get the Steelers plus the points. The Steelers and Bengals split the season series with each team winning on the other team's field. The first game, a victory by the Steelers in Cincinnati, was viewed by many people as proving that the Bengals were not-ready-for-prime-time players. Then the Bengals went into Pittsburgh and turned the tables and it was seen as a big victory. However, since that win, the Bengals have played well only once (in a rout of the Lions) in their last four games, losing their last two, while the Steelers have won four straight. The Steelers definitely have the momentum, but more importantly they have their swagger back and I think they'll take it to the Bengals like they did in the first meeting with a strong running game. That leads me to look strongly toward the under because I don't see a shootout this time around. In addition, the Steelers were 7-1 with the under on the road while the Bengals were 5-3 with the under at home.

PLAY: Steelers for 1 unit and under 46 points for 2 units.

Last week: 0-5, including a 2-unit loss on the Bills -1 1/2 vs. the Jets, for a net loss of 6.6 units. NFL season record: 33-50-6 for a net loss of 25.1 units.