02/02/2006 1:00AM

Trends to guide you to right Super Bowl plays


LAS VEGAS - In 1972, Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas was asked what it was like to play in the Super Bowl, the ultimate game.

His reply was, "If it's the ultimate game, why are they playing it again next year?"

He had a point, but despite his cynicism before Super Bowl VI, the game has grown in stature. This year marks the 40th time the Super Bowl will be played, so the game has a history all its own and a big enough sample to look at historical trends.

Of course, as is usually the case with trends, for every one you find to support one side, you can find another to support the other. So, sift through the following and go with the ones that support your position. In a lot of cases, the historical trends support the favored Steelers from the AFC, whereas the recent angles favor the underdog Seahawks from the NFC.

* The NFC had an incredible run from 1985-97, a span in which it won 13 straight Super Bowls and was 10-2-1 against the spread. Overall, the NFC is 21-18 straight up and 19-17-3 against the spread. The AFC actually had the against-the-spread edge as recently as three years ago, but the Buccaneers beat the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, and although the Patriots won the past two years, they were 7-point favorites in each and beat the Panthers and Eagles by just a field goal in each.

* Despite several competitive Super Bowls in recent years, many people still think of Super Bowls as games in which the favorites score blowout wins. In reality, favorites are only 19-17-3 against the spread and 2-6-2 the past 10 years.

* Those back-to-back non-covers by the Patriots are also the exception to the norm. The outright winner of the Super Bowl usually also covers the spread. Before the last two years, the winner was 30-4-3 against the spread.

* When there is a two-week gap between the conference championships and the Super Bowl - like there is this year - favorites are 16-11-2 against the spread, though they are 0-2 the past two years.

* When teams with a human mascot take on teams with an animal mascot, the teams with a human mascot are 18-7 straight up and 15-9-1 against the spread. Hey, I'm trying to cover all bases here.

* Nevada sports books didn't start taking over/under bets on the Super Bowl until 1982, when they posted a total on the 49ers-Bengals game at 47. That game ended up in a push, with the 49ers winning, 26-21. Since then, the over holds a 15-8 edge. The trend improves to 13-4 if you just use the games with the two-week gap, though last year's game did go under.

Trends involving the Steelers

The Steelers are 4-1 straight up in Super Bowls and 3-1-1 against the spread. In their most recent appearance, in 1996, the Steelers lost to the Cowboys, 27-17, but covered the 13 1/2-point spread. The game in which the Steelers pushed was the infamous "Black Sunday" game of 1979, when the Steelers' 35-31 victory over the Cowboys landed on the 4-point spread. (The game was also available at 3 1/2 and 4 1/2 during that week, causing the books to get middled.) Since their first four Super Bowl appearances came before totals were posted, the Steelers are 1-0 with the under.

* As for this year's team, the Steelers are 14-5 overall and 12-7 against the spread.

* When looking at a neutral-site game such as the Super Bowl, it's usually a good idea to look at how the teams performed in road games during the regular season. That certainly favors the Steelers, who were 6-2 against the spread on the road during the regular season and 3-0 on the road in the playoffs. They are also 5-1 as favorites on the road, including their wild-card win over the Bengals.

* In totals wagering, the Steelers are 10-8-1 with the over, though they are 8-3 with the under when they play on the road.

Trends involving the Seahawks

This is the Seahawks' first Super Bowl appearance.

* The Seahawks are 15-3 straight up this season and 10-6-2 against the spread.

* They were 4-3-1 on the road, 1-2 as road underdogs, and didn't have to go on the road during the playoffs.

* The Seahawks are 11-7 with the over and, unlike the Steelers' under trend on the road, were 7-1 with the over on the road.

NFL continues crackdown on parties

Super Bowl parties in Las Vegas aren't what they used to be. Major casinos up and down the Strip used to open up huge ballrooms and show the game on movie-size screens.

Two years ago, the league, citing copyright law, started cracking down on such mass showings. There are no more advertisements for mass showings of the game, and invite-only VIP parties, where casinos might be able to escape the eyes of the NFL's spies, are kept much more hush-hush than in the past.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello passed along in an e-mail that the same rules apply this year. No admission may be charged to profit from the NFL's copyrighted telecast, and TV screens larger than 55 inches diagonal are only allowed when they are part of a company's every-day business, such as sports books that always have big screens or bars that show games all the time.