10/17/2002 11:00PM

In Vegas, World Series takes a back seat


LAS VEGAS - There isn't an NFL night game this Sunday, as the World Series gets to run unopposed on television, but the Giants-Angels game will be anticlimactic in the sports books of Nevada.

The Panthers-Falcons game will probably have the lowest handle of all the NFL games on Sunday, but it will still attract more action than the World Series game. Bettors here have shown time and again that they would much rather watch (and wager on) a regular-season NFL game than a baseball playoff game.

Last year, the three-time defending champion Yankees were facing elimination in game 5 of the divisional playoffs vs. the A's. The Monday night game was between a pair of very bad teams (the Redskins and Cowboys were both 0-4 entering the game). Joe Lupo, the Stardust's race and sports book director, thought the baseball game was more important and put it on the main big-screen television with sound. As soon as the football game kicked off, he received a flood of complaints to put the football game on the featured screen instead.

Lupo complied. Majority ruled. With that in mind, it's probably good for baseball that it doesn't have any competition Sunday night.

So, let's look instead at the really important games on Sunday:

Broncos (-3) at Chiefs

The Broncos lost 22-20 to the Dolphins last Sunday night, but they should have won in a runaway. They moved the ball at will, gaining 410 yards to the Fish's 259, but stalled in the red zone and settled for three first-half field goals (and five over all by Jason Elam) to allow the Dolphins to stick around. That won't happen this week as they face the Chiefs, which have the 32nd-ranked defense in the league. On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs' Priest Holmes leads the NFL in rushing with 653 yards, but the Broncos are allowing only 47.3 yards per game, so they should be able to contain him. Keep an eye on this line as kickoff approaches. If Kansas City QB Trent Green (who is listed as probable, and coach Dick Vermeil said he's 60-40) is named fit to play, this line could drop below a field goal.

PLAY: Broncos for 2 units.

Buccaneers (+3 1/2) at Eagles

Speaking of field goals, any time I can find a game that looks like it will come down to a late field goal and it has a line of 3 and a hook (the common term for a half-point), it's usually a play on the underdog. The Buccaneers are playing better defense - ranked No. 1 in the league at 250.7 yards per game - than when Tony Dungy was the coach. The Eagles are solid, also, as their defense is ranked third and Donovan McNabb can do it all on offense. This has all the makings of a 17-14 or 20-17 final. It's a coin flip on the straight-up winner, which makes it a bargain to get more than a field goal.

PLAY: Buccaneers for 2 units, and under 37 points for 1 unit.

Seahawks at Rams (-5 1/2)

The Rams came through for us big last week, whipping the Raiders 28-13. Third-string QB Marc Bulger gets his second NFL start and has the added advantage of making it at home. Marshall Faulk makes the Rams' offense go (158 yards rushing vs. Oakland, four catches for 22 yards or more), and the Seahawks' 28th-ranked defense will be hard pressed to slow him down. The Seahawks' 27th-ranked offense won't be able to score enough to keep up with the Rams. I'm surprised this line is less than a touchdown, so grab it as soon as possible because it's sure to rise as kickoff approaches.

PLAY: Rams for 2 units.

Bears (-3) at Lions

The Bears, hit hard by injuries this season and off to a 2-3 start, needed their bye week and coach Dick Jauron will have them prepared to get back on the winning track against the Lions this Sunday and the Vikings next week. The Bears' defense got shredded by Brett Favre two weeks ago, but it should bounce back against Joey Harrington and the Lions. Don't get me wrong: Harrington has a great future, but he figures to be overmatched here against a Bears' defense built on speed. Besides, Harrington doesn't have a running game to help slow down the pass rush. The Bears' offense (ranked 23rd in the NFL) has struggled so far this season, but the passing game is ranked 13th, and that ranking should improve against a Lions defense (ranked 27th against the pass) that has an unhealthy mix of inexperienced youngsters and aging veterans in the secondary.

PLAY: Bears for 1 unit.

Colts (+4 1/2) at Steelers

This could be a Monday night shootout. Neither team's defense has lived up to expectations: the Steelers were supposed to be dominant once again while the Colts were supposed to be improved under Dungy. The Steelers are playing better offensively with Tommy Maddox at the controls, and the Colts are always dangerous with Peyton Manning running the offense. The last team with the ball could win. There's no way to predict that, but by taking the 4 1/2 points, that improves our chances of cashing.

PLAY: Colts for 1 unit, and over 46 for 1 unit.

More over/under plays

In addition to the two totals plays (Bucs-Eagles under 37 and Colts-Steelers over 46), I also like the 49ers-Saints under 50, Vikings-Jets over 48 and the Jaguars-Ravens under 40 for 1 unit each.

Season record: 26-31, including 4-5 on best bets (1-0 on 3-unit plays), for a net loss of 7.5 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).