10/24/2003 12:00AM

Undefeated no more after this week


LAS VEGAS - With the Breeders' Cup behind us, it's back to the football betting boards.

Strangely, with 55 college games on the betting boards this past week, I was able to settle on only three college bankroll plays. Nevertheless, I'm confident enough to fire away with six of the 14 NFL games on Sunday and Monday. There aren't any blockbuster matchups this week but there is an intriguing mix of four underdogs and two 3 1/2-point road favorites.

Rams (+1 1/2) at Steelers

Starting with the early games, we have the red-hot Rams, who have won three straight games, visiting the Steelers, who have lost three straight and are coming off a bye. Granted, the Rams have won all three of those games at home and they haven't fared as well on the road in recent years (especially on natural grass), but they should still be able to keep Pittsburgh on the skids. The Steelers, who will be playing the 1,000th game in team history and honoring past stars Sunday, no longer have a Steel Curtain defense, and Rams QB Marc Bulger & Co. should hit for some big plays. On offense, the Steelers don't have much of a running game (another Pittsburgh tradition) and the offensive line is getting shuffled around. That doesn't bode well for QB Tommy Maddox vs. an opportunistic Rams' defense. The short pointspread tells us the Rams are the better team on a neutral field and they should get the job done.

PLAY: Rams for 1 unit.

Giants (+6) at Vikings

My only losing NFL selection last week was on the Broncos vs. the Vikings, and I'm going against the undefeated Vikes again. They benefited from the Randy Moss to Moe Williams lateral at the end of the half and still almost allowed a backdoor cover from Denver backup QB Danny Kanell. The Giants have been inconsistent, but this is the type of game for which coach Jim Fassell rallies the troops. This kind of reminds me of the NFC Championship Game three seasons ago, when the Vikings were thought to be the superior team and the Giants went into the Metrodome and whipped them, 41-0. The Vikings' defense is improved but can still be manhandled by a physical team like the Giants. Minnesota's offense is very potent, but it faces a solid defense with a lot of pride. The Giants are not as bad as their 2-4 record (special teams cost them the game vs. the Cowboys and the Eagles), and they should be out to prove that Sunday.

PLAY: Giants for 1 unit.

Titans (-3 1/2) at Jaguars

While a lot of people are oohing and aahing about the 7-0 starts by the Vikings and Chiefs and the impressive 5-1 records of the Colts, Cowboys, Panthers, and Seahawks, the Titans have quietly gotten off to a 5-2 start, with their only really bad outing being a blowout loss to the Colts. QB Steve McNair is putting up MVP-type numbers (league-leading 1,791 passing yards, plus 12 TDs and only two interceptions), leading the offense to 30 or more points in each of the past four weeks. The one concern is with the injuries to the Titans' secondary, but expect coach Jeff Fisher to have some different looks for Jaguars rookie QB Byron Leftwich, who, despite his great arm, has shown a tendency to turn the ball over. You can't do that against a fundamentally sound team like the Titans and expect to win.

PLAY: Titans for 1 unit.

49ers at Cardinals (+7)

The 49ers certainly looked impressive last week, whipping the Buccaneers, 24-7. But they've been inconsistent all year and have lost all three of their games on the road (at St. Louis, Minnesota, and Seattle). The Cardinals are one of the worst teams in the league, which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for this selection, but their one win this year was in a similar spot - as a 7-point underdog at home to the Packers. The 49ers are saying all the right things this week about not taking the Cardinals lightly, but it's hard to believe that when they're coming off a win over the defending world champions and have the Rams coming up next week. This is the definition of a "sandwich" game, or a soft spot on the schedule. In addition, the Cardinals have traditionally been strong off a bye week (9-4 against the spread, including 3-1 as a home dog) and the players and coach David McGinnis are already fighting for their jobs. Last year, when the 49ers were considered a better team and the Cardinals were just as bad, San Francisco won only 17-14 at Arizona. I expect a similar score this Sunday.

PLAY: Cardinals for 1 unit.

Bills (+6 1/2) at Chiefs

Yep, I'm going against both 7-0 teams this week. With so much parity in the NFL, I think we're seeing inflated lines with these teams and their bandwagon bettors. The Chiefs have been squeaking by in a lot of their wins, including last Monday night's 17-10 win in which the Raiders came up one yard short of forcing overtime. The Bills' defense should be able to contain the Chiefs' offense enough to keep their own offense in it. The Bills revived their running game last week - a key to keeping the Chiefs' offense off the field - with Travis Henry running for a career-high 167 yards against the Redskins. Success on the ground would also open up the passing game for QB Drew Bledsoe, who may be getting back the services of wide receiver Eric Moulds. This should be a Sunday night shootout. With the Bills having the edge on defense, they should keep it within a touchdown if they don't pull the outright upset.

PLAY: Bills for 1 unit.

Dolphins (-3 1/2) at Chargers

This line seems a little short. The Dolphins lost last Sunday vs. the Patriots when Olindo Mare missed two field goals kicking off the dirt. They should bounce back vs. a Chargers team that picked up its first win of the season last week, but that was against the Browns. Miami's defense is allowing only 69 rushing yards a game and should contain LaDainian Tomlinson and shut down the Chargers' offense. Dolphins QB Jay Fiedler has a sprained left knee and Brian Griese took most of the snaps this week in practice. They're pretty much interchangeable, anyway, and the running attack of Ricky Williams will be the key against a sieve-like San Diego defense (28th against the run and 28th in points allowed, at 28 points a game). If the Dolphins come anywhere near that 28 points, they should have no problem covering the number.

PLAY: Dolphins for 1 unit.

Last week: 4-1 for a net profit of 2.9 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).

Season record: 19-13-4 for net profit of 4.7 units.