09/27/2004 11:00PM

In touts' world, everyone's a winner

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LAS VEGAS - During last week's ESPN series on sports gambling, the network took a look at handicappers and tout services.

One of the central topics was the advertising of outlandish winning percentages by touts to lure customers into paying for selections. Handicapper Wayne Root defended the industry in his own way.

"I'm an entertainer and a salesman," said Root, who has also unashamedly described himself as P.T. Barnum. "Everyone in this business, and all sales businesses, is guilty of putting their best foot forward, so I can tell you up front that if Wayne Root was 8-1 last week but he was 1-8 the week before, you might find a salesperson that says, 'Wayne Root was 8-1 last week; that's over 80 percent winners.' "

Love him or hate him, and there are many in both camps, Root is right. Salespeople accentuate the positive and downplay the negative.

I bring this up because I'm mired in a 4-11 slump in the NFL. That's a pitiful 27 percent, and I even had to round up from 26.66 to get that number.

Every handicapper has similar losing streaks at some point. But, as we all know, statistics can be used to prove anything, so I'll use myself as an example of what a spin doctor could do with my record.

First off, during the last three weeks of last year's NFL season, I went 12-3 (80 percent), with 5-0 records in two of those weeks. So, without lying, I could say I'm 16-14 over the last six weeks of regular-season NFL football.

Am I as good as the 12-3 record last year? No. Am I as bad as the 4-11 record this year? No. As with everything in life, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Each Friday on the Race Day Las Vegas radio show I give out one college and one pro play. As hard as it may be to believe, considering my overall record (a combined 12-16-1 including my college bankroll plays), I'm 5-2 (71 percent) in my radio releases. Now that's something to advertise, and then hope people don't realize that all my other plays are 7-14-1.

So, keep that in mind when you hear or see an ad for a handicapper with an out-of-this-world record. They're probably not revealing the whole picture.

College bankroll showing profit

The news was better last Saturday, when I went 2-1-1 on my college picks. The wins were on North Carolina St. +9 vs. Virginia Tech and Arizona St. -7 1/2 vs. Oregon St., and the loss was on New Mexico St. vs. New Mexico.

Anyone who bet my pick of Iowa +13 vs. Michigan should have cashed, since the line had risen to 13 1/2 and even 14 on Saturday morning, but I have to take the push for my published record.

For the year, the college bankroll stands at 8-5 (62 percent), with 1 push, for a net profit of 2.5 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).

NFL betting trends

Through three weeks of the NFL, the battle between favorites and underdogs is dead even at 22-22-2 against the closing point spreads at the Stardust, which is what I use as the sports book of record.

Home-field advantage hasn't meant much in the NFL so far. Throwing out the pushes, road teams hold a 27-17 (61 percent) advantage.

That trend has really hurt home underdogs - normally betting on them is a highly successful strategy in the NFL - who went 0-2 last week, with the Bengals and Lions getting blown out by the Ravens and Eagles. Home dogs are now only 4-8 (33 percent) against the spread.

If you think the trend will reverse, and I do, there are several home dogs this week: the Bears +9 vs. the Eagles, the Bills +5 1/2 vs. the Patriots, the Texans +1 1/2 vs. the Raiders, the Jaguars +4 vs. the Colts, the Cardinals +3 1/2 vs. the Saints, the Dolphins +5 1/2 vs. the Jets, the Buccaneers +3 vs. the Broncos, and the 49ers +4 vs. the Rams. That's eight of the 14 scheduled games, and two games that were off the betting boards as of Tuesday morning - the Chargers hosting the Titans and Browns hosting the Redskins - could also have home dogs.

Double-digit dogs, another positive-expectation bet over the years, is faring much better. Even though those teams are 0-5 straight up, they are 3-1-1 against the spread. There are no double-digit dogs this week.

The NFC holds a slight 4-3 edge over the AFC. The only interconference games this week are the Redskins-Browns and the Broncos-Bucs.

The increased scrutiny of defensive holding beyond five yards hasn't led to more overs. In totals wagering, the under is hitting at a 28-18 (61 percent) clip.

Who's hot, who's not

Through three weeks of the season, there are six undefeated teams and six winless teams. The Eagles, Seahawks, Falcons, and Jaguars are 3-0, and the Patriots and Jets, who both had byes last week, are 2-0. The Buccaneers, 49ers, Cardinals, Chiefs, and Dolphins are 0-3, and the Bills are 0-2.

There are also six undefeated teams by the spread. The Eagles, Seahawks, and Jaguars are 3-0; the Jets are 2-0; the Colts are 2-0-1; and the Patriots are 1-0-1. There are four winless teams with the spread, all at 0-3: the Buccaneers, Rams, Bengals, and Chiefs.

In totals wagering, the Colts are 3-0 with the over, and the Jets are 2-0. With the low scoring in the league, it's not surprising that there are more teams undefeated with the under: the Jaguars, Browns, Dolphins, Seahawks, and Cardinals are all 0-3, and the Bills and Panthers are 0-2.

There is a contrast in styles this week, with the high-scoring Colts taking on the low-scoring Jaguars with a total of 42, and the high-scoring Jets facing the low-scoring Dolphins with a total of 36. The saying is, "It takes two teams to make an over," so the under might be the way to look in both games.