11/06/2008 1:00AM

Titans unbeaten in more ways than one


LAS VEGAS - As we're past the halfway point of the NFL season, with every team having played eight games except for the four teams on a bye this weekend having nine in the books, it's a good time to look at the best and worst teams so far this season from a betting perspective along with the overall betting trends.

The Titans are the top story in the NFL - the only undefeated team at 8-0. They're also the only unbeaten team against the spread, though that distinction comes with an asterisk. Last week, the Titans were a 5 1/2-point favorite over the Packers and the money steadily came in on the Packers and drove it down to 3 1/2. On Sunday morning, the Las Vegas Hilton moved the line to 3 (with -120 attached for those looking to back the Titans at that price) and that's where it closed. At every other book in Vegas, the line closed at 3 1/2, but since I've used the Hilton closing numbers in my stats since the Stardust closed in 2006, I'm grading it as a push even though the vast majority of bettors who backed the Titans were tearing up their tickets after they won 19-16 in overtime.

(A word of warning: Whenever anyone quotes point-spread records, it's wise to take them with a grain of salt, especially if that someone is trying to sell you a pick. There are many cases where games fall around the point spread or total and records can be misleading.)

Even if that game were counted as a loss, however, the Titans still would be in sole possession atop the NFL ATS Standings at 7-1. The next-best record is shared by the Giants, Eagles, Cardinals, and Ravens at 6-2 (the only record in dispute there would be the Cardinals as they were a 4 1/2-point dog vs. the Cardinals in Week 8 and lost 27-23 while half the books in Vegas closed the line at 4, which would have made it a push and the Cardinals a still respectable 5-2-1 against the spread.

The worst team against the spread, despite a 4-4 record in the regular standings, is the Broncos at 1-6-1. They haven't covered since their opening-week rout of the Raiders. The Jaguars and 49ers are also underperforming versus the spread at 2-6, with the Texans at 2-5-1.

Those same Texans have shown a tendency to get in shootouts as they are 7-1 with the over in totals wagering. Their only under was in Week 8 when they scored 35 points against the Bengals but allowed only six when the total closed at 45. The Cowboys are 6-3 with the over, but they're idle this week.

Another idle team, the Redskins, is the top under team at 6-2-1, though the Panthers and Patriots are 5-2-1.

League-wide betting trends

In league-wide wagering stats, favorites are 62-58-4 against the spread through the first nine week on all games that didn't close at pick-em. Favorites got off to a big lead in Week 1 by going 11-5 ATS. Underdogs have won the last four weeks, including going 8-5-1 last week, to close the gap.

Home field advantage hasn't mattered much as road teams actually hold a 66-59-4 ATS edge. Home dogs, usually a profitable subset, have struggled as a result, standing at just 14-21.

But another of my favorite plays, double-digit underdogs, has thrived as they are 13-1 against the spread so far this season. The only loss was in Week 7 when the 49ers closed as a 10-point dog vs. the Giants and trailed 27-17 late in the game only to give up a safety and give the Giants a spread-covering 29-17 victory.

Coming into the season, the AFC was considered the much stronger conference (and was a six-point favorite in the Super Bowl prior to Tom Brady's injury), but now the NFC is 18-12-1 ATS in interconference games and 1 1/2-point Super Bowl favorite at the Hilton.

Let's try to put all this information to use with my top three plays from Sunday's NFL card and hope to get the record here more in line with my 29-16 record that has me tied for fifth in the Leroy's Pro Challenge.

Chiefs +15 vs. Chargers

As stated above, double-digit dogs are 13-1 ATS, so there's reason to get off this trend until it stops. But more than that, who are the Chargers to be laying more than two touchdowns to anyone? They are one of the biggest underachieving teams so far this year. Plus, the Chiefs, despite their 1-7 record in the standings, are a respectable 4-4 ATS and are coming off back-to-back spread covering losses to the Jets and Buccaneers and will give another solid effort against a divisional rival.

PLAY: Chiefs for 1 unit.

Ravens pick-em vs. Texans

This game opened with the Texans favored and - after Houston QB Matt Schaub was announced as out - has seen the Ravens as high as -1 before looking like the line's going to settle right at pick-em. Some people think the Texans are better with Sage Rosenfels, but if the Colts could spin him around, imagine what the Ravens' defense can do. As stated above, the Ravens have exceeded expectations and are 6-2 ATS while the Texans are 2-5-1 and haven't stopped anybody except for the Bengals.

PLAY: Ravens for 1 unit.

Seahawks + 8 1/2 vs. Dolphins

This pick has nothing to do with the above trends (since it doesn't look like it's going to steam to 10). This is a case of a Dolphins team that has been playing well (and I was on them versus the Broncos last week in their outright upset), but they're not this good to be laying more than a touchdown to anyone. This totally looks like a letdown spot for them.

PLAY: Seahawks for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-1 for a net profit of 0.9 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). Season DRF record: 9-8-2, including 1-2-1 on 2-unit plays, for a net loss of 1 unit.