12/22/2004 12:00AM

The under a gift in Packers-Vikings


LAS VEGAS - NFL fans and bettors get a nice present this year with games on four consecutive days over the holiday weekend, Friday through Monday.

It's also a gift to bookmakers, who love stand-alone games on national television. With only one game available Friday, betting is sure to be heavier than usual.

Friday's Christmas Eve game between the Packers and Vikings is one of the marquee games of the weekend. Both teams are 8-6 and tied for the lead in the NFC North. The division winner will get to play a home game in the first round of the NFC playoffs while the runner-up will likely have to spend the entire playoffs on the road.

With a win, the Packers would wrap up the division by virtue of a season sweep, which includes a 34-31 victory over the Vikes on Nov. 4 in Green Bay. The Packers have clinched at least a wild-card spot. But the Vikings could miss the postseason if they lose their final two games. So they need to win this game to secure a wild-card spot, then they could win the division with a win in the season finale versus the Redskins, or if the Packers lose next week at Chicago.

So, there's a lot riding on the game. I already have a wager on the Vikings -3, made back in the summer. (See Daily Racing Form issue of Aug. 7.) The line hasn't budged since, as the spread is still Vikings -3. But I don't think that's the best way to bet this game because it could go either way. I much prefer taking the game to go under the total of 56 points.

I haven't made a bankroll play all season on a total, but I have to fire away here. This line is inflated because both teams have explosive offenses and defenses that have been lit up more than, well, a Christmas tree.

With so much on the line, the game should be played much closer to the vest than their previous meeting. In addition, both teams should be able to run the ball effectively on each other and that should help keep the clock running. I'm not saying it's going to be a 10-7 slugfest or bring back the old black-and-blue division days - and I certainly wouldn't be touching this total if it was in the 40's - but 56 points seems at least a touchdown too high.

PLAY: Packers-Vikings under 56 points.

Broncos at Titans (+4)

Out of the two Saturday games on Christmas Day, I'm not going to touch the Raiders-Chiefs game, which should be a shootout with both teams not having much to play for besides individual stats. The game might resemble the Chiefs' 34-27 win over the Raiders three weeks ago, the Chiefs' 49-38 win over the Titans the following Monday night, or the Raiders' 40-35 win over the Titans last week. It's a toss-up and the point sum will be right around the posted total of 59.

In the nightcap, however, the Broncos are playing for their playoff lives against the Titans, who will revel in the role of spoiler. Despite a failed season, the Titans gave the Colts a scare three weeks ago and put up big numbers with backup quarterback Billy Volek in the losses to the Chiefs and Raiders. With running back Chris Brown out for the year, Volek figures to wing it against a Denver defense that has been burned much more than anyone expected. The Broncos slide is likely to continue, and I'll gladly take the points with the home dog.

PLAY: Titans for 1 unit.

Last week: 3-2 for a net profit of 0.8 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 34-38-3 for a net loss of 7.6 units.

Big Al's big win

Professional handicapper Big Al McMordie (bigal.com), a featured handicapper on many websites, and regular guest on the "Winning Edge" handicappers' show on Spike TV with Wayne Root, went 5-2 last weekend to win $10,000 in the Stardust Invitational. He defeated Brent Carter, who went 2-4-1 in the championship match.

Carter used plays on six unders and was done in during a week when the over went 10-6 in the NFL. His push came with the Falcons -3 over the Panthers last Saturday. Carter was in trouble as his best bet was under 42 points in that game, and the Falcons won 34-31 in overtime.

McMordie wrapped up the championship when he won his best bet, the Raiders -2 1/2 over the Titans on Sunday afternoon. In his four appearances in the contest, McMordie went a combined 17-11 (63 percent). Carter had been hitting at 68 percent before the final matchup, but he dropped to 15-10-2 overall (60 percent). All told, the 16 contestants in the Stardust Invitational went a very respectable 128-101-9 (56 percent) during the 15 weeks of the promotion.

Six-digit contest prizes still on the line

A handicapper playing under the alias "Tiger Wilson" went 5-0 to move into sole possession of first place in the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest with a record of 49-25-1 (66 percent), good for 49.5 points since pushes count for a half-point. He is two games ahead of "TNT" in second place at 47.5 points.

The championship in this year's SuperContest, with a record 411 entrants putting up $1,500 apiece, is worth $246,600.

"Tiger Wilson" picked the perfect time to go 5-0, as last week was the first week of the $10,000 mini-contest over the final three weeks of the season. Ten other contestants also went 5-0. In addition, "Tiger Wilson" is trying to become only the second champion to collect a $10,000 bonus for winning at a 67 percent rate. He would have to go 8-2 or 7-2-1 in the next two weeks to accomplish the feat.

* In the Golden Nugget's Ultimate Football Challenge, with a first prize of $250,000 to the top finisher among 95 entrants who put up a whopping $5,000 apiece, "JRBuck" went 3-2 with a best-bet winner (worth two points) on the Raiders to hold onto first place with 61 points (based on a record of 50-25, counting an 11-4 record on best bets), two ahead of "El Loco IS" with 59 points.

* In the Station Casinos' Gambler's Challenge, two contestants tied heading down the stretch - "4 Aces" and "Sdsoda + LV Moosh" each with 48.5 points. "The Untouchables" is a half-point behind with 48.