10/20/2006 12:00AM

Steelers key four-team parlay


With just 16 games played in a 17-week span, every week is pivotal in the NFL. Teams are either trying to maintain momentum and gain an upper hand in divisional and wild-card races, or trying to get back on track.

This week has several matchups between teams trying to get into playoff position, highlighted by the Panthers-Bengals on Sunday and the Giants-Cowboys on Monday night.

On a personal note, this week also seems pivotal for my bankroll plays as I started the season 2-8 (ouch!) and have battled back over the .500 mark at 15-14-2, including a combined 9-1-1 the past two weeks. That's great, but it's not worth much if I don't keep the momentum, so the pressure is on.

I usually go with five NFL bankroll plays, but with the shortened card it was really hard coming up with a fifth. For the Hilton SuperContest, which requires five picks a week, I went with the Chiefs +5 1/2 vs. the Chargers because I felt they were the home underdog with the best chance to pull an upset, but I don't feel confident enough to recommend it here. Now, for other bets I've either already made or are planning to make by kickoff.

Sides I've already bet: As highlighted in Wednesday's column, I bet the Steelers at -2 1/2 at the Hilton and then again at -1 when I saw it at the Stratosphere. The first bet was a mistake as I didn't expect the line to go any lower. I also made a mistake by betting the Broncos -6 vs. the Browns. I was expecting the Broncos to blow out the Raiders on Sunday night and have the line increase to 7. The Broncos won just 13-3 and now the line is 4 1/2. I will just let that ride. I also bet the Panthers +4 vs. the Bengals and the Vikings +7 vs. the Seahawks.

Totals: I'm looking to go under 40o1/2 in the Jaguars-Texans game, under 43 in the Eagles-Buccaneers game, over 31 in the Broncos-Browns game, and over 40 in the Cardinals-Raiders game.

Teasers and parlays: I'm probably not going to have teasers as part of my betting portfolio this Sunday as the two optimum teasers - which grab the key numbers of 3 and 7 - would be the Falcons +8 1/2 and the Seahawks -1, but I'm squarely on the other teams and don't want to give back the bulk of my profits if both teams cover easily. I will go with a four-team parlay with the plays below, and a small five-teamer adding in the Chiefs' play.

Steelers (-2 1/2) at Falcons

After a 1-3 start, the Steelers put their bye week to good use and came back and blew out the Chiefs, 45-7, last Sunday. The offense, which had been struggling, looks back in sync, which is bad new for the Falcons, who have a banged-up defense, including linemen John Abraham and Patrick Kerney. When the Falcons have the ball, the Steelers have a tough enough defense to stand up to Atlanta's No. 1 ranked rushing offense. And it's not a happy Falcons camp with quarterback Michael Vick complaining about the play-calling and starting guard Matt Lehr being suspended for violation of the league's drug policy. This looks like a perfect spot for the Steelers to keep their momentum while the Falcons continue to lose theirs.

PLAY: Steelers for 2 units.

Panthers (+3 1/2) at Bengals

The way these two teams have been playing, it wouldn't have raised too many eyebrows if this game was pick-em or even the Panthers as a small favorite. But I guess the Bengals have to be favored at home, so I will gladly take the points. The Panthers are 4-0 since Steve Smith returned to the starting lineup and the defense has even played better since his return. The Bengals were routed by the Patriots, then took a bye week and came back just as bad last week in a 14-13 loss to the Buccaneers. It doesn't get any easier for the Bengals here. Both teams are needing a win to keep pace in their divisional races, so this could come down to the wire and the points could come into play.

PLAY: Panthers for 1 unit.

Redskins at Colts (-9)

For those who follow my plays, this might come as a shock because I can't remember the last time I took a favorite of more than a touchdown, but it's warranted in this spot. Strangely, this line has been coming down and was even at -8 at the Leroy's books here in Vegas on Friday morning, so I will take the best price I can. The Redskins are reeling after their loss to the Titans, at home no less, and have to go on the road and expect to be competitive against a Colts team that's undefeated and rested. The Redskins might be able to run on the Colts, like most teams have, but it will be hard for them to keep up in a shootout. Besides, a struggling Washington secondary has gotten weaker with injuries to Shawn Spring and Carlos Rogers. That's welcome news for Peyton Manning and his receivers.

PLAY: Colts for 1 unit.

Vikings (+7) at Seahawks

This line has wavered between 6o1/2 and 7 most of the week. It's advisable to find a +7, even if it means laying a little more juice for insurance. Basically, I just don't see how the line is this high. Granted, Seattle plays better at home, but the Seahawks haven't been overly impressive this year and they lost 37-6 loss to the Bears. And the Vikings haven't done too much wrong, including nearly beating those same Bears before losing 19-16, and they haven't gotten much respect despite having the No. 2-ranked defense in the NFC (behind the Bears). This should be closer than most people expect and could be worth a play on the money line at 5-2 or higher.

PLAY: Vikings for 1 unit.

Last week: 4-1 for a net profit of 2.9 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 15-14-2 for a net loss of 0.4 units.