09/06/2001 11:00PM

Week 1: Go for the Broncos Monday night


LAS VEGAS - Opening day in the NFL lacks the charm of opening day in baseball. Instead of the muffled sound of a baseball hitting a catcher's mitt, the sound is the much more violent noise of pads hitting pads.

And while baseball fans politely applaud the first pitch of the season, football fans roar when the first ball is kicked. That roar will be heard in living rooms and bars throughout the land at 1 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, as well as in the sports books of Nevada.

Bettors here will not necessarily be root, root, rooting for the home team, as there are seven road favorites in Week 1. Most of the betting line movement has been toward the road favorites, notably the Colts (bet from a 1-point dog to a 1 1/2-point favorite), Raiders (bet up from -1 1/2 to -3), Patriots (from pick-em to a 1-point favorite), and Saints (from a 1-point dog to a 1 1/2-point fave).

Jerry Magee, football columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune and Pro Football Weekly, has a theory that because replacement officials are being used, games might be lower-scoring if defensive backs are able to get away with more pass interference.

But none of the over/unders on the 15 NFL games this weekend have moved more than a point, so it doesn't seem that a lot of wise guys are buying that line of thinking. Five of the six over/unders that have moved a full point did move to the under (the Giants-Broncos game is the only exception), though the trend is more likely the result of people relying on the adage that defense is ahead of offense early in the season.

But that's speculation, and so is making football picks. I'll start the season with a bankroll of 1,000 units. My standard wager will be 11 units (to win 10) to reflect the standard 10 percent vigorish on football bets. (I strongly advise bettors to seek out bookmakers with 5 percent vig, but I'll stick with 10 percent to accurately reflect how my selections would fare for the typical bettor).

Seahawks (-4 1/2) at Browns

The Seahawks are coming off a disappointing 6-10 season after making the playoffs in 1999, but coach Mike Holmgren plucked prized pupil Matt Hasselbeck from the Packers, which is a nice upgrade from Jon Kitna (now with Cincinnati). Seattle's defense will miss cornerback Shawn Springs, but Cleveland's offense shouldn't present much of a challenge.

PLAY: Seahawks for 11 units (to win 10)

Raiders at Chiefs (+3)

The Raiders opened as 1 1/2-point favorites and the money has moved the line up. We'll take the extra points in one of Sunday's marquee games. The Chiefs won't have the explosiveness that coach Dick Vermeil was used to with the Rams, but they should be balanced, with Trent Green throwing and Priest Holmes running. The Raiders have lost nine of their last 10 trips to K.C.

PLAY: Chiefs for 11 units

Saints (-1 1/2) at Bills

The Bills opened as a 1-point choice, but now the Saints are favored. The money is on the right side. Coach Jim Haslett has turned around this Saints franchise. The defense is solid, and the offense keeps getting better with a healthy Ricky Williams setting up the passing game. The Bills have too many question marks.

PLAY: Saints for 11 units.

Steelers (+3) at Jaguars

The Steelers missed the playoffs last year after an 0-3 start, and coach Bill Cowher has been stressing the importance of starting the season strong. The Steelers had a solid preseason (3-1 both straight up and against the spread) and now get an important test, as the winner of this game gets the inside track in chasing the Titans and Ravens in the AFC Central. The Steelers come in healthy while the Jaguars have key players hurt, including offensive tackle Tony Boselli and receiver Keenan McCardell. The Steelers' defense should contain Mark Brunell, while Kordell Stewart, Jerome Bettis and Co. should score enough to win the game outright or at least lose by a field goal or less.

PLAY: Steelers for 11 units

Giants at Broncos (-7)

The Giants were blown out in the Super Bowl, and this season doesn't figure to start out any better. The Broncos have everything going for them heading into the season with a healthy Brian Griese, a healthy Terrell Davis (and awesome depth at running back in case he gets hurt again), and an improved defense with Ray Rhodes taking over as defensive coordinator. Throw in the fact that this game is in the Broncos' new stadium and it's a no-brainer.

PLAY: Broncos for 22 units


Bears +10 1/2 vs. Ravens and Vikings -10 vs. Panthers. The last 16 Super Bowl winners are 3-13 against the spread in their opening game the next season. The Bears usually start strong and fade, so getting more than double digits is tough to ignore. But I recommend laying the double digits with the Vikings. Panthers QB Chris Weinke will get his baptism by fire and fail to match the output of the Vikings' big offense.