08/09/2001 12:00AM

Taking the under isn't really such a smart bet


LAS VEGAS - Scoring was underwhelming last weekend in the first four NFL preseason games.

All four games stayed under the total, with the Raiders' 21-14 win over the Cowboys being the highest-scoring of the bunch.

Preseason games are traditionally lower scoring for a number of reasons, including the old "defense is ahead of the offense" theory and the fact that the second- and third-string quarterbacks get the majority of the playing time. For years, one respected handicapping theory was to bet the under in early preseason games.

But that trend has dried up because oddsmakers have adjusted their totals downward. For instance, all 15 of this weekend's games have totals under 40. Only the Vikings-Saints and Seahawks-Colts were as high as 39, and the Seahawks-Colts had been bet down to 38 at most books by noon Thursday.

In fact, over the last six years, the over holds a 64-48 edge in the first week of preseason game.

Saturday's picks

Packers (-2 1/2) at Browns: Brett Favre won't play much, but don't be surprised to see him drive the Pack to a TD on his first drive against the Browns' defense. Favre's backups, Doug Pederson and Billy Joe Tolliver, should do enough to keep a comfortable lead over a weak Cleveland squad. Having to lay less than a field goal is a bonus, so I will put 11 units (to win 10) on the Packers.

Seahawks (+4 1/2) at Colts (over 38): Both these teams have very interesting quarterbacks situations. The Seahawks will start with Matt Hasselbeck (who knows Mike Holmgren's offense from when he backed up Favre in Green Bay) and then will bring in Brock Huard and newly signed Trent Dilfer. All three have something to prove, so the Seattle offense should be dangerous throughout. The Colts counter with Peyton Manning, Billy Joe Hobert, and Mark Rypien. They should also be filling the air with footballs. I will wager 11 units on the Seahawks and another 11 on the game to go over 38 points.

Leans: Among games I considered playing (and still might if I get a favorable line move) are the Bears +3 1/2 at the Titans, the Broncos-Cowboys to go over 37 1/2, and the 49ers +2 1/2 at the Chargers.

The Bears played to win throughout against the Bengals last week, and the Titans are beat-up. The Cowboys played valiantly against the Raiders and should be able to move the ball at home against Denver while the Broncos' offense is sure to score its share with Brian Griese, Steve Beuerlein, and Gus Frerotte at the controls. The 49ers' combo of Jeff Garcia, Tim Rattay, and Rick Mirer is better than Doug Flutie, Drew Brees, Dave Dickenson, and Bart Hendricks.