02/01/2002 1:00AM

Super bets: Rams to cover, and under

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After a week of media coverage of every aspect of the game, the Super Bowl is finally here, and everyone hopes that it is a close, entertaining game that lives up to the hype.

Actually, that's not exactly true. A lot of people who are laying two touchdowns with the Rams would be quite content with another super blowout.

Rams (-14) vs. Patriots

It's never an easy decision to lay this many points in an NFL game, especially when everyone knows the Super Bowl line is inflated because a lot of public money is bound to come in on a popular, high-scoring favorite.

We have one particularly strong handicapping tool: these teams met Nov. 18 in Foxboro, Mass. The Rams won 24-17 (it was the Patriots' last loss), so the early inclination would be that the Pats could cover the 14-point spread Sunday.

However, there's a few key points on that game:

o That game was on the Patriots' home field and on natural grass. The Rams' team speed becomes more of a factor on artificial turf.

o The Rams outgained the Pats 482-230 in yards and had 26 first downs to 13 for the Pats. The Patriots' only TD through the first three quarters was an interception return after two Rams receivers ran into each other.

o The Rams were up 24-10 before the Patriots finally scored an offensive touchdown with 7:46 left in the game.

o The Rams ran out the clock with a 15-play drive that got as far as the Patriots' 12-yard line before three kneel-downs.

The Rams dominated that game and could have at least matched this game's 14-point spread despite the game being on the road and on grass.

I also feel the Rams will benefit from having seeing New England coach Bill Belichick's defensive schemes. On the other side of the ball, the Rams' defense pretty much shut down the Pats that day and the Pats have less room for improvement. I don't think they will benefit much from having already faced the Rams.

All of this makes laying the two TDs less risky than you might think. But I would avoid betting the Rams if the line moves to 14 1/2.

Play 1: Rams for 11 units.

Rams-Patriots under 53 1/2

This line is also inflated, so I have to look to the under.

We're helped by the fact the Patriots will be trying to control the clock and keep the ball out of Rams QB Kurt Warner's hands. In addition, the Patriots throw a lot of short passes and that keeps the clock running.

The Patriots defense has a tendency to bend but not break. This could help lead to a few more field goals than the Rams are used to kicking, and that always helps keep scoring down.

Another strategic factor that makes the under appealing is that the Patriots won't be stacking the line to stop the run like they did last Sunday against Pittsburgh. They have to respect the Rams' passing game, and that will give Marshall Faulk a lot of running room. Last week in the win over the Eagles, who also have a solid defense, Rams coach Mike Martz showed he was content to move the ball down the field with Faulk. Again, that strategy would help keep the clock moving.

Most people picking the Rams are siding with the over, but I think the total is inflated enough that the game can stay under with the Rams still able to cover the spread. Predicted score: Rams 33, Patriots 16.

Play: Rams-Patriots under for 22 units (The play is based on the total of 53 1/ 2 widely available as of noon Friday, but it's sure to climb to at least 54 at some books by kickoff).

Starting bankroll: 1,000 units.
Bankroll entering playoffs: 810 units.
Playoff record: 6-4-1 for a net profit of 49 units.
Current bankroll: 859 units.

Propositions

These odds are from the Imperial Palace. Most books have similar propositions.

o Patriots to score first (+190): Even though I'm on the Rams, it's quite possible the Pats can score first (as they did in a 46-10 loss to the Bears in Super Bowl XX) and the Rams can still blow them out. This is too much of an overlay to pass up.

o Patriots' first pass will be incomplete (+130): Nerves can play a role in big games as quarterbacks throw their first pass, plus it can get tipped, or thrown out of bounds. It's pretty much a 50-50 proposition and we're getting plus-money.

o Rams first pass will be incomplete (+150): Ditto.

o Patriots to make longest field goal (+145): This is another toss-up, and we're getting plus-money. If placekicker Adam Viniateri can make a 45-yarder in the snow, he can kick a long one Sunday in the Superdome.

o Warner's longest completion, over 42 1/2 (-115): Warner throws the long ball well, so we'll have plenty of opportunities that way, plus all his receivers can run after the catch, so a shorter throw can also go for big yardage.

o Totals number of Rams to have rushing attempt, over 3 1/2 (+115): Faulk and Warner are gimmes, especially with a late kneel-down or two for Warner. Trung Canidate and Ernie Conwell get occasional carries, and the Rams are likely to run a reverse with Torry Holt or Isaac Bruce.

o Michael Jordan's points vs. Pacers +5 1/2 points against the Rams' points vs. the Patriots (-115): Jordan is playing the Pacers at home after a Friday night home game vs. the Hawks, so he should be well-rested. I'm looking for 30+ from MJ and that should be enough with the 5 1/2 points we're getting.

o Isaac Bruce receiving yards vs. Tiger Woods' fourth-round score at Pebble Beach (-115): Woods will more than likely shoot between 65 and 75, and Bruce should be able to top that. Warner spreads the ball around, but Bruce is still who he looks for in the clutch.

Super Wagers

Dave Tuley's action on Super Bowl XXXVI

AmountWagerOdds

$110Rams -14-110

$220Rams-Patriots under 53 1/2-110

$20Patriots to score first+190

$20Patriots 1st pass incomplete+130

$20Rams 1st pass incomplete+150

$20Patriots to make longest field goal+145

$23Warner longest completion over 42 1/2 yards-115

$20Rams to have rushing attempt over 3 1/2+115

$23Jordan's points +5 1/2 vs. Rams' points-115

$23Bruce's receiving yards vs. Woods's 4th-round score-115