11/19/2009 12:00AM

Underdogs reverse trend


LAS VEGAS - Parity is back in the NFL.

It didn't look like that earlier this year when everyone was talking about the huge gap between the haves and the have-nots. After the first four weeks of the season, favorites were 36-26 against the spread (58.1 percent) and it was looking like it might be Year of the Favorites II like we had in 2005 when chalk covered at a 58 percent clip over the entire season.

I wrote that oddsmakers were being forced to inflate the lines to balance the action and that underdogs would rebound. I just didn't expect it to happen this fast as underdogs have gone 8-5, 10-3, and 9-5-1 against the spread the past three weeks - a combined 27-13-1 (67.5 percent) - and dogs are actually 73-69-2 on the season now.

Double-digit underdogs - a situation that usually occurs when an elite team is facing a poor one - have long been a profitable play in the NFL, but that wasn't the case early this year when the favorites were dominating. After Week 7, double-digit dogs were a woeful 5-11 against the spread but the past three weeks they've gone 7-3-1 (70 percent) to once again be worth a look despite being only 12-14-1 overall.

We've also seen this reversal of fortune with individual teams. The Saints started the season by winning and covering their first six games against the spread, but even though they've mananged to stay undefeated in the NFL standings, the oddsmakers have caught up with them and they've failed to cover each of the past three weeks: a 35-27 win over the Falcons as a 10 1/2 point favorite; a 30-20 win over the Panthers as an 11 1/2-point favorite, and a 28-23 win over the Rams as a 14-point favorite.

The Colts started 5-1 against the spread but even though they're also still unbeaten in the standings, they have lost three straight for their point-spread backers as they only beat the 49ers 18-14 as 12 1/2-point favorites, the Texans 20-17 as 7 1/2-point favorites, and the Patriots 35-34 as 2 1/2-point favorites.

Another team, the Broncos, started 6-0 straight-up and against the spread but have failed to cover the last three weeks and lost all three games outright.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Titans started 1-5 ATS but have bounced back with outright upsets of the Jaguars and 49ers before routing the Bills last week as a favorite. Similarly, the Panthers started 1-5 ATS but have covered their last three games. The Buccaneers were 1-6 ATS after their trip to London in which they got routed by the Patriots, but since their bye week they've beaten the Packers 38-28 as 9 1/2-point underdogs and nearly upset the Dolphins last week as 10-point dogs before losing 25-23.

And those are just the most extreme examples in a season that so far has gone from one extreme to the other.

Bankroll back in black

The run of underdogs has certainly turned my season around as I went 3-0 against the spread here for the second week in a row last week and have gone a combined 14-0-1 ATS with all recommended NFL plays the past two weeks on my ViewFromVegas.com website. In the Hilton SuperContest and Leroy's Pro Challenge, I'm 9-1 the past two weeks to move within striking range of the leaderboard with seven weeks to go. It's impossible to keep those gaudy win percentages, but I'm confident that there's still value in a lot of the lines from the overinflation we saw earlier in the year. While I'm sure I'll use some of the double-digit dogs as some of my contest plays, I'm going to focus here on three games where I'm mostly looking at the matchups and underdogs that I think have a great chance to pull outright upsets and not just cover the inflated lines.

Ravens +1 vs. Colts

I've won by fading the Colts three straight weeks and I see no reason to change with them now going on the road to Baltimore. Ray Rice should have a field day against the Colts' poor rush defense and that should open up the passing game for Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco. Add in the Ravens' physical defense that can disrupt the Colts' offensive attack and this looks like where Indy's undefeated run ends.

PLAY: Ravens for 1 unit.

49ers +6.5 vs. Packers

When facing tough competition lately, these two teams have been involved in tight, low-scoring games - the 49ers' 18-14 loss to the Colts, the 49ers' 10-6 win over the Bears, the Packers' 17-7 win over the Cowboys - so I see this being played in a similar fashion with 6 1/2 points likely coming into play as it could very well come down to a field goal either way. If this were a shootout, I'd side with the Packers, but the 49ers' running game with Frank Gore and bend-but-don't-break defense gives them the edge here.

PLAY: 49ers for 1 unit.

Titans +4.5 vs. Texans

When these teams met in Week 2, the Titans were favored by 7 points at home and the Texans won 34-31. That was when the Titans were playing terrible, but they've reeled off three straight impressive victories yet we're still seeing an 11 1/2-point swing in the line (which is a lot, even with factoring in the switch of home-field advantage). The Titans are the better team right now, in my opinion, with Chris Johnson leading the league in rushing and taking the pressure off Vince Young, plus an improved defense. And don't tell me the Texans have an edge because they are fresh off their bye: teams off byes started 6-0 ATS this year but are only 5-13-2 since (does not include two games where teams off byes faced each other).

PLAY: Titans for 1 unit.

Last week: 3-0, including 1-0 on my 2-unit play of the Bengals +7 vs. the Steelers, for a net profit of 4 units. Season record: 18-14, including 2-1 on 2-unit plays, for a net profit of 3.6 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1 unit).