12/03/2002 12:00AM

Wagers more important to 'fans'


LAS VEGAS - Bryan Jensen considers himself a pretty big football fan. However, the 23-year-old Los Angeles native - making his first visit to Las Vegas - felt he was in a foreign land Sunday morning while watching the NFL games in the Imperial Palace showroom.

Four games in particular had the crowd going crazy in ways that were confusing to someone like Jensen with no previous knowledge of the vagaries of football betting.

Titans-Giants: The Giants led 29-21 late in the game, but Titans bettors knew their team still had a chance. The cheers were frequent as the Titans moved down the field and reached a fever pitch when Steve McNair hit Frank Wycheck to make it 29-27 with nine seconds left in regulation. Jensen had to ask for an explanation, however, when the same people who were so vocal in their support of the Titans (including yours truly) were suddenly rooting for them to miss the two-point conversion. What he didn't understand was that the Titans were three-point underdogs and a two-point loss was just as good as a straight-up win in the minds of bettors. The Titans made the two-point conversion and then won 32-29 in overtime, so all's well that ends well.

Steelers-Jaguars: A similar thing happened in this game as the Steelers, a three-point favorite, led 25-17. A late Jaguars touchdown made the score 25-23 and the Jacksonville "faithful" cheered when their team failed to convert the two-point conversion while the Steelers bettors (including several in Kordell Stewart and Jerome Bettis jerseys) were hoping for overtime to at least get a chance to push on their bets.

Bears-Packers: Laying 9 1/2 points, Packer backers were bummed when their team led only 23-14 late in the fourth quarter, but the crowd erupted when the Pack scored what Jensen considered a meaningless touchdown (until he was told otherwise) with 1:10 to play to go up 30-14. That touchdown also put the game over the total. The Bears scored with 10 seconds left, however, to make it 30-20, and a hush fell over the Imperial Palace crowd. The Bears went for two and failed, drawing a huge cheer from the crowd that was full of heavy chalk supporters - as usual.

Falcons-Vikings: The biggest cheer was reserved for the end of this game. The Falcons, as a 3 1/2-point favorite, led 24-21 late and it looked like the Vikings would cover. Vikings bettors were hoping it would stay that way, but the Vikings drove down the field and Falcons bettors were cheering for them to tie the score with a field goal, which they did. In overtime, a three-point non-covering win for the Falcons still looked likely until Michael Vick broke loose for an electrifying game-winning 46-yard run to win 30-24, cover the number, and send the chalk players into a frenzy.

Just another day in the foreign world known as the sports books.

NFL betting trends

Underdogs continued covering at a nearly 60 percent clip, going 9-7 against the spread in Week 13 to bring the season ledger to 111-76 (59 percent) with five pushes.

Home dogs were again the way to bet, going 6-3 against the spread and winning five of those games straight up. For the season, home dogs improved to 41-26 (61 percent) with two pushes. This week, only four (and possibly five) home teams will be underdogs. The Cowboys are +4 1/2 vs. the 49ers, the Seahawks are +3 vs. the Eagles, the Jets are +1 vs. the Broncos, and the Chargers are +3 vs. the Raiders. The fifth possible game is the Ravens vs. the Saints, which was off the board Tuesday because of the injury status of Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks.

The AFC has regained dominance over the NFC, covering 10 of the last 14 interconference games, including winning and covering three of the four match-ups last weekend. For the season, the AFC has a 27-21 (56 percent) edge. This week's interconference games are Bengals-Panthers, Rams-Chiefs, Eagles-Seahawks, Saints-Ravens, and Bears-Dolphins on Monday night.

With the calendar turning to December, you would think unders would be prevalent. You would be wrong. The over went 11-5 last weekend, including most of the games in cold-weather locales (Buffalo, Green Bay, Cincinnati, and New York). The over holds a slight 95-93-1 edge for the season.

Tackling the team trends

The last seven times the Bills have played the Patriots, the game has gone under the total. In addition, the Pats are 8-1 with the under in their last nine games and the Bills had five unders in a row before Sunday's 38-21 win over the Dolphins. But don't jump on the under of 44 quite so fast. In their last meeting on Nov. 3, the Bills scored only one touchdown in a 38-7 loss to the Patriots that barely kept the score under the closing total of 47 1/2. Don't expect that to happen again. Besides, both teams have the ability to move the ball in inclement weather.

It's tempting to take the Chiefs (the league's best spread record at 8-3-1) vs. the Rams (tied for the worst at 3-9), but this game should be a toss-up and the Chiefs are being asked to lay 4 1/2 points to their in-state rival.

The Falcons are the hottest team in football (7-0-1 straight up and 7-0 vs. the spread in their last eight games), so a lot of people will be jumping on them +3 1/2 at Tampa Bay. But keep in mind that the Falcons' last loss was vs. the Buccaneers, 20-6, back on Oct. 6 in Atlanta. Besides, the Bucs were 8-2 in their 10 games prior to losing to the Saints on Sunday night. I would recommend passing this game.

College bankroll down, NFL up

The college bankroll went 0 for 3 last weekend with 2-unit wagers on Florida (+4 vs. Florida State in a 31-14 loss) and Virginia (+7 vs. Virginia Tech in a 21-9 loss), and a 1-unit bet on Alabama (-13 in a non-covering 21-16 win over Hawaii) for a net loss of 5.5 units. That drops the college bankroll to 27-28 on the season and a net loss of 4 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).

Things were slightly better with the NFL bankroll despite an embarrassing 2-unit loss on the Cardinals +10 vs. the Chiefs as the Cards got blown out 49-0. A late rally saved my 2-unit play on the Titans +3 vs. the Giants, and the Colts covered a 1-unit play at -11 in a 19-3 win over the Texans. The weekend ended with the Raiders pushing as a 6-point favorite over the Jets on Monday night. So, the bankroll went 2-1-1 on Sunday and Monday for a net win of 0.8 units, bringing the season record to 48-55-4 and a net loss of 10 units.