01/16/2007 12:00AM

Trend favors Saints on road


Looking at the lines for this Sunday's NFL conference championship games, it stands out that both are right around a field goal.

The Bears opened -3 vs. the Saints in the NFC title game and have been bet to 2 1/2 with early money on the Saints, and the Colts opened -3 vs. the Patriots and early action on the Colts looked to be moving it toward 3o1/2. Since most oddsmakers will tell you they give approximately 3 points for home-field advantage in the NFL, these two matchups are seen as pretty even with the home teams given the slight edge.

But it's important to point out that home field hasn't meant much in conference title games over the past 14 years as home teams have won 15 of the 28 games but the road team is 16-12 (57 percent) against the spread.

Before automatically looking to the road teams, keep in mind that the exact opposite was true in the divisional round of the playoffs, as home teams had been 27-19-2 (59 percent) against the spread the previous 12 years before going 0-4 this past weekend.

But there are more trends that point to live road underdogs this week. Road teams were 129-120-7 against the spread during the regular season and are 6-2 during the playoffs, while underdogs were 140-106-7 (57 percent) against the spread during the regular season and also 6-2 in the playoffs.

Of course, all the above point-spread stats are from the entire league, so let's look at betting trends that apply specifically to the four remaining teams.

Saints at Bears: Using the accompanying chart as a starting point, both teams are 10-7 against the spread this season after both won but failed to cover last week in their divisional playoff victories. But there is a distinct trend regarding each team's home/away performance.

The Bears are 7-2 straight up this season at Soldier Field but only 5-4 against the spread. Their home-field edge has deteriorated over the course of the season, as they started 4-0 both straight up and against the spread and have failed to cover their last three home games and are 1-4 in their last five. Meanwhile, the Saints have played better on the road this year than they did at home. They were 6-2 straight up on the road and a very impressive 7-1 against the spread. You can see why the betting public has been on the Saints.

As for totals wagering, the Saints are 9-8 with the over and an even 4-4 on the road. The Bears have been one of the top over teams all season long at 12-4-1, and they're even better at home, with an over record of 8-1 with the only under being the regular-season finale vs. the Packers.

Patriots at Colts: The Patriots hold a slight edge with a 10-7-1 spread record over the Colts' 9-8-1, but note that the Patriots have covered five games in a row. The Colts are 9-0 straight up at home this season, but just 6-3 against the spread. The Patriots' road record is even more impressive as they are 8-1 both straight up and against the spread on the road.

The Colts have won the last two regular-season meetings between the two teams, but the Patriots have won the last two times they have met in the playoffs. As for totals wagering, the Patriots were a dead-solid under team earlier in the season before the offense started to click, and they're now 11-7 with the under, including 5-4 in road games. The Colts, despite their reputation for being a high-scoring team, are 10-8 with the under, including 5-4 with the under at home.

Bankroll shows tidy profit

With all four underdogs covering, I probably should have had a bigger winning weekend, but as it was I went 2-2 with my bankroll selections, losing with the Ravens -4 vs. the Colts (when will I learn to pass when I like a favorite?) and the Eagles-Saints under (at least I won my Saints Super Bowl future hedge bet with the Eagles plus the points while still keeping the future bet alive). I won with the Seahawks +8o1/2 vs. the Bears and a 2-unit best bet on the Patriots +4 1/2 vs. the Chargers. That gave the bankroll a net profit of 0.8 units (based on risking 1.1 units for every 1 that I was trying to win). For the NFL season, my bankroll plays stand at 53-41-2, including 2-2 on 2-unit plays, for a net profit of 7.7 units.

Last call for Orleans tourney

The Horseplayer World Series takes place Thursday through Saturday in the Mardi Gras Ballroom at the Orleans. This is a culmination of qualifying tournaments that were held last year at the Coast Casinos properties here in Las Vegas as well as sponsoring tourneys at racetracks, OTBs, and casinos across the country, plus websites on the world wide web.

Those who didn't earn an automatic berth must pay $1,000 to enter. Entries will be taken until noon on Thursday.

The winner will receive 50 percent of the prize pool, which last year was $367,500 from the field of 735.

There is one entry per person with no partners allowed. Contestants make 11 mythical $20 win and place wagers each day at designated tracks - which are scheduled to be Aqueduct, Laurel, Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn, Tampa Bay, Santa Anita, and Golden Gate.

Points are earned by the mutuel prices of each horse, with the first $2 credited at track odds and the remaining $18 capped at 19-1 to win and 9-1 to place. For those looking for a total to shoot for, Michael Ray of Las Vegas won the World Series two years ago with a score of 3,278.60 while Mark Clement of Williamsville, N.Y., needed just 2,691 to take the top prize last year.