11/20/2001 12:00AM

Turkey Day picks: Packers, Broncos


Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday because it combines food and football. I don't know how football became such a big part of the tradition, but who are we to argue?

NFL trends

Despite the Vikings' 28-16 win over the Giants on Monday night, underdogs were 9-6 against the spread this past weekend.

The over also was 9-6. It will be interesting to see if scoring stays up as more games start to be played in colder weather.

The Seahawks are on a string of seven consecutive overs. They are at Kansas City on Sunday and the total is 41 points.

After starting the season 3-0 against the spread, the Chargers have dropped six of their last seven, thanks to a last-second field goal by the Raiders to win 34-24 as an 8 1/2-point favorite.

The teams with the three worst records against the spread entering last week - the Titans, Bills, and Vikings - all covered. The team with the best record, the Dolphins, did not cover. Parity is alive and well.

The NFC won all three interconference games this past weekend with the Saints, Redskins, and Rams knocking off the Colts, Broncos, and Patriots. The AFC still leads the season series 17-14, but the NFC has a 16-14-1 edge against the spread. This week's interconference games are the Broncos-Cowboys (Thursday), 49ers-Colts, Saints-Patriots, Cardinals-Chargers, and Raiders-Giants. The AFC team is favored in each game, with the possible exception of the Patriots, who are pick-em at some books and either a 1-point favorite or dog at other books.

Season-long football contests

The "official" sign hadn't been posted as of Tuesday morning, but it looks like Bill Fast is the winner of $20,000 in the College 101 contest, the biggest college handicapping event in Nevada, at the Park Place Entertainment properties.

Unofficial results, which need to withstand a two-day period in case anyone wants to claim foul, were posted Monday, and Fast finished with a record of 70-40 (63.6 percent and four wins short of a $5,000 bonus that would have gone to anyone picking 67 percent winners).

Four contestants tied for second with records of 69-41, including yours truly. Sports book director Chuck Esposito, based at the PPE hub at Caesars Palace, was waiting for the results to be declared official, but he said that if the results stand the second-place finishers will win $4,375 each.

This contest was perhaps the biggest overlay of the season as there were only 357 entries at $50 apiece, yet the casino company guaranteed a prize pool of $50,000.

* Author Patrick Forsythe went 5-2 with a best-bet winner to defeat Tim Trushel (4-3 with a best-bet loser) in the first quarterfinal match in the Stardust Invitational. Friday's match pits defending champion Dave Cokin versus Las Vegas Sports Consultant's Pete Korner. Other quarterfinal matches are: Reno-based handicapper Bob Donahue versus author Mike Orkin on Nov. 30, and Coast Resorts sports book director Bert Osborne versus gaming writer Stephen Nover on Dec. 7.

* Donahue went 4-2 in the Sunset Station All-Star Handicappers Invitational to maintain his lead with 87 points. Contestants make six plays a week and get two points for each win, three points for a best-bet win, and one point for any push. Bryan Leonard is a distant second with 75 points.

* James Pronovich went 5-0 to advance into a first-place tie with The Bud Man in the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest. Both have records of 34-13-3 for 35 1/2 contest points (pushes count for half a point) and have a three-game lead over Tony Salinas.

Bankrolls continue see-saw

My college and pro bankrolls continue to go up and down in opposite directions.

Last week, I went 3-1 in college football, winning with California, USC, and Utah and losing with Florida State. The bankroll, which started the season at 1,000 units and was at 981 entering last week, made a net profit of 19 units to pull to exactly even at 1,000 units.

The NFL bankroll didn't fare as well. I went 1-5, including best-bet losers with the Dolphins and Jaguars. The net loss of 67 units drops the bankroll from 990 units last week to 923.

I don't like either of the college games offered on Thanksgiving Day. I'd lean toward Illinois against Northwestern, but the underdog in this series has a tendency of ruining the other team's season, and 18 points might be too many for the Illini to cover. Instead, we'll look to the pros.

Packers (-6 1/2) at Lions

I know all about the risks of betting against the Lions on Thanksgiving - they've won their last four Turkey Bowls and six of the last seven - and about how the Packers struggle on artificial turf (they're 2-9 in their last 11 games on turf) and in domes (2-7 against the spread in their last nine games in domes). But none of those games were against teams playing as badly as the Lions have played this year. The Packers will run through the Lions' defense like a hot knife through buttered yams, and the Packers' defense will eat the Lions for lunch. I'm getting hungry already.

Play: Packers for 22 units (to win 20).

Broncos (-6 1/2) at Cowboys

I know it's also dangerous to play both road teams, but it's too tempting to pass up laying less than a touchdown with the far superior team in either game. The Broncos have covered their last six games on turf, and their offense should get back on track, even if WR Rod Smith is out (he's listed as doubtful). Look for an emphasis on the ground game. On the other side of the ball, Ryan Leaf isn't faring any better than his predecessors at the helm of the Cowboys' offense.

Play: Broncos for 11 units (to win 10).