12/30/2003 12:00AM

For trends, a tale of two seasons


LAS VEGAS - It was a topsy-turvy season for anyone following betting trends in the NFL.

Through the first four weeks, favorites went 28-15 (65 percent) against the spread. Road teams were also on fire, as they were 59-40 (nearly 60 percent) through seven weeks, and road favorites were an astounding 21-7 (75 percent) through seven weeks.

All three trends reversed by the end of the season, however, and underdogs wound up edging favorites, 129-122 (51 percent), home teams claimed a 125-119 (51 percent) advantage, and home dogs wound up 36-32 (53 percent).

That shows that as much as you want to be on top of current trends, you have to realize the oddsmakers are aware of them, too, and will be doing their best to take away any edges. The key is to get on a trend before the oddsmakers can make their adjustments, and then beat the public to the punch when the oddsmakers provide value on the other side.

A wrapup on other NFL betting trends I've been tracking this season:

* Double-digit underdogs, traditionally a very profitable situation, finished the year at a break-even 11-10 when the Lions beat the Rams as a 12-point home dog.

* Over/unders were pretty much a 50-50 proposition all season, but with some bad weather the last two weeks, the under went 20-11 to close the season at 132-118 (53 percent).

* The AFC won the interconference battle, going 30-26 (54 percent) against the spread. Of course, this trend won't be relevant until the Super Bowl, in which the Imperial Palace has the AFC as a 3-point favorite.

Tracking the team trends

With the Patriots having the league's best record at 14-2 and not being favored by more than a touchdown until the last game of the season, it's not surprising that they were also the runaway winner with a 13-2-1 record against the spread. The Eagles were next at 11-5. The Chiefs and Packers were 10-6, with the Rams, Colts, Ravens, and Cowboys at 9-6-1, along with the non-playoff-bound Bengals.

* The Giants and Raiders were both a league-worst 3-12-1 against the spread. Among playoff teams, the Panthers had the worst mark, at 6-10. The last three playoff teams were in the middle of the pack: Broncos (8-8), Titans (8-7-1), Seahawks (8-7-1).

* The Bills had a horrible season, but they did great for total bettors, as they went 14-2 with the under. The Seahawks were the best with the under among playoff teams, at 10-5-1, while the Cowboys and Broncos were each 9-7.

* The Rams led the league at 10-5-1 with the over. Other over teams in the playoffs are the Chiefs at 10-6, the Titans at 9-6-1, and the Packers and Ravens at 9-7. Based on that, over the total of 39 might be worth a look in the Titans-Ravens game this weekend.

Bowl games

I remember when the only New Year's Eve game was the Bluebonnet Bowl, and New Year's Day was nirvana for college football fans. There would be multiple games going at once, and TV remotes would be worn out from coast to coast.

Nowadays, there are as many games on New Year's Eve as there are on New Year's Day (five apiece). Here are two bankroll plays to hopefully get the new year off to a winning start (selections on all bowl games are at www.drf.com linked to the helmet logo):

Gator Bowl

Maryland (-3 1/2) vs. West Virginia

These teams are meeting for the second time this season. Maryland won 34-7 on Sept. 20. Granted, West Virginia was in the midst of losing four of its first five games and, just two weeks later, nearly upset No. 1 Miami before going on a seven-game winning streak to end the season. However, the two "quality" wins in that stretch were over Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh, teams that have already lost in minor bowls. Meanwhile, Maryland's four-game win streak to close the season looks more impressive now that two teams the Terps beat - North Carolina St. and Virginia - have won their bowl games. Also, Virginia's bowl win was over the aforementioned Pitt team that WVU beat during the regular season. So, we have a team that obviously matched up well with the other and blew them out earlier this season, and also has been playing better against better competition. I like West Virginia's running game with Quincy Wilson, but the Maryland defense (allowing only 127 rushing yards per game) should be able to shut him down, and the WVU passing game isn't much to speak of. West Virginia's defense gives up a lot of yards with a bend-but-don't-break style, but Maryland should be able to break it with the running attack of Bruce Perry and Josh Allen and the efficient ball-control passing game of Scott O'Brien. Laying just over a field goal looks like a bargain.

PLAY: Maryland for 1 unit.

Rose Bowl

Michigan (+7) vs. USC

The Rose Bowl, "granddaddy of them all," is the highlight of the day, with No. 1 USC taking on Michigan. All the talk surrounding this game has been about how the BCS computer snubbed USC, how the Trojans deserve to be in the Sugar Bowl, and how they don't get any respect, yada, yada, yada. While everyone has been telling the Trojan players how great they are, Michigan has quietly been preparing for a football game. The Wolverines can't help but be motivated by how everyone is overlooking them. USC allows only 61 rushing yards per game, but that's mostly a result of teams abandoning the run when they get way behind. That won't be a problem for Michigan, as running back Chris Perry will get his yards. USC can also be passed against, and Michigan QB John Navarre has some talented targets in Braylon Edwards and Jason Avant, and Perry. The Wolverines will be able to score with the Trojans, who will be facing the toughest defense they've seen all year. If USC is held under 30 points, Michigan easily gets the cover and, very possibly, the outright upset.

PLAY: Michigan for 1 unit.

Bowl record: 2-4 for a net loss of 2.4 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1) after Nebraska's win in Monday's Alamo Bowl. College season record: 34-35 for a net loss of 4.5 units.