Updated on 09/16/2011 6:41AM

Take Ravens-plus, and snatch Rams before line expands


LAS VEGAS - To the novice football bettor, a half-point may not seem like much, but over the course of the season those half-points can add up to a lot.

Every time you get the best odds available, it increases your chances of showing a long-term profit in this tough game. A mere half-point can often turn a losing bet into a push or a push into a winner.

For instance, if you bet between five and six NFL games a week, you would have about 100 plays for the year counting the playoffs. Let's say your record is 52-48-6, playing whatever lines are available. A $110 bettor would be showing a small loss ($80) after figuring in the 10 percent vig. But if by shopping around he had turned two of those losses into pushes and two of those pushes into wins (a conservative amount over 100-plus games), the $110 bettor would improve to 54-46-6 and be up $340 for the season. That's a $420 swing.

Earlier in the week, I bet the Ravens +6 and the Rams -10 (I missed out on 9 and 9 1/2). Today on Friday, when making my selections below, I can't use the Rams -10 because it's no longer available. That illustrates that you have to shop around to jump on the opportunities when they present themselves.

By noon Friday, most Las Vegas sports books had the Steelers -6, but there were still some 5 1/2's out there. The Rams were at -10 1/2, so if you like the Rams try to snatch up the bet before the line goes to 11. That line is expected to go higher as the tourists come into town for the weekend.

Ravens (+6) at Steelers

The Steelers surpassed even my lofty expectations this season. (I mentioned them as a value play in the AFC Central in my NFL preview, but I didn't think they would be this dominant). But Cinderella story might get an unhappy early ending here. Of the four games this weekend, this one is the most likely to come down to a late field goal. That alone is reason enough to take the dog and the points.

These teams split the season series, each team winning at the other's home, though it must be mentioned that the Ravens' win was helped by Steeler Kris Brown's four missed field goals. While some experts are saying that's a reason to back the Steelers, I see it the other way. There's no reason to assume Brown won't have problems again in the swirling winds of Heinz Field. I would rather have Ravens kicker Matt Stover.

The Ravens' defense has given up only six combined points in its last two games (vs. the Vikings and the Dolphins) and now faces a rusty Bus in Jerome Bettis, who can't possibly be in peak game shape. A lot of pressure will fall on Steeler QB Kordell Stewart, and I have to side with the Ravens' defense in that matchup. Elvis Grbac is doing a decent Trent Dilfer imitation lately, and the running game has picked up steam. The Ravens won't run through the Steelers' defense like they did against Miami, but they should do enough to keep themselves in the game.

The Steelers dominated both previous meetings, but it's not wise to underestimate the Ravens. They're in familiar territory. They were 6-point underdogs at Tennessee and Oakland last year in the playoffs and won games both outright. They know what it takes in this situation. Play: Ravens for 22 units.

Packers at Rams (-10 1/2)

Now that QB Kurt Warner seems to be over his ailments, the Rams are coming into this matchup healthy and rested. That gives them a big edge, as does the fact the game is on AstroTurf, as does the fact that the Packers survived a hard-fought game against the 49ers last Sunday.

Not only does the Rams' offense excel on the fast track, but also Packers QB Brett Favre - for whatever reason - fares poorly on turf and even worse in domes. Again this year, the Packers were 0-2 against the spread in domes, getting blown out by the overrated Vikings and getting back-doored by the Lions on Thanksgiving Day.

But that Packers trend isn't the only reason to take the Rams. The Rams sprint out of the gate and don't have a tendency to get conservative like a lot of other teams. They go for the jugular and don't let up. I like that when laying this many points.

The Rams' defense has done better than expected this season and seems to feed off the offense. While other teams go into a prevent when ahead, the Rams' defense attacks and can score points of its own. Favre is a magician, but his assistants don't have enough to keep up with the Rams' bag of tricks. Play: Rams for 11 units.

Starting bankroll: 1,000 units.

Bankroll entering weekend: 807 units.

Saturday's plays: Bears-Eagles over 32 1/2 for 22 units and Raiders +3 for 11 units.