12/15/2006 12:00AM

Why fight it? Week 15 is the one


Some football betting trends defy explanation.

According to Marc Lawrence's Playbook preseason magazine, entering this season, the Bengals had gone 2-16 against the spread in the fourth game of the last 18 seasons. In their fourth game this season, they lost 38-13 to the Patriots as 5 1/2-point favorites.

The Dolphins had gone 8-2 against the spread in the 10th game of the last 10 seasons. In their 10th game this season, they beat the Vikings 24-20 as 3-point favorites.

The Eagles had gone 8-1 against the spread in the 12th game of the last nine seasons. In their 12th game this season, they beat the Panthers 27-24 as 3-point underdogs.

The Steelers had gone 1-6 against the spread in the 11th game of the last seven seasons. In their seventh game this season, they lost 27-0 to the Ravens as 3-point underdogs.

There's no real reason for any of the above, but those team trends continue to hit at a high rate and it's kind of hard to buck that kind of trend.

Why do I mention all this? Well, the past couple of NFL seasons, I seemed to struggle early in the year before making a late run, so I decided to check my records for each week. In the past five Week 15's of the NFL season, all five years that I've had my plays documented in Daily Racing Form, my published bankroll plays are a combined 25-7 (78 percent), including 19-4 (83 percent) the last four years.

Coincidence or statistical anomaly? Perhaps. There's certainly no logical reason why Week 15 has been so successful for me. And there's certainly no guarantee that this will continue this year. But I'm not going to fight it. I have six underdog plays for lucky Weeko15.

Buccaneers (+13 1/2) at Bears

Double-digit dogs are 15-12-2 against the spread this year, so this game catches my eye as the biggest number on the board this week (and wait to see if it goes to a full two touchdowns). The Bucs have regressed since earlier upsets over the Bengals and Eagles, losing six of their last seven, but this is more of a play against the inconsistent Bears. Granted, the Bears are tops in the league at 10-3 against the spread, but it's my feeling that that's leading to an inflation in this line. As great as they've looked in their dominating victories, the Bears have certainly looked suspect in their two wins over the Vikings (a team very similar in style to this Bucs squad) and their wins over the Cardinals and Jets, plus their losses to the Dolphins and Patriots. Still, the Bears should prevail at home, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend a money-line play, but all the value is on the Bucs.

PLAY: Buccaneers for 1 unit.

Browns (+11 1/2) at Ravens

This is another case of an inflated line. The Ravens have overachieved this season, but as physical as this team is, opponents who have stood up to them have done well. For example, the Browns lost to the favored Ravens by 15-14 in their first meeting, the Titans battled the Ravens before losing 27-26, and the Bengals beat the Ravens 13-7 two weeks ago. I'd feel much more confident if Charlie Frye were back under center for the Browns, but I'll take my chances with Derek Anderson. And never forget the history of this rivalry - the Ravens are the original Cleveland Browns.

PLAY: Browns for 1 unit.

Jaguars at Titans (+3 1/2)

I've been riding the Titans during their four-game winning streak and I'm not about to abandon them as a home underdog. The Jaguars certainly were impressive last week upsetting the Colts - and it wasn't even as close as the 44-17 final score would indicate - but the Titans are playing with just as much confidence with rookie quarterback Vince Young and should stay in the game to the end. I for one would love to see a fifth straight outright upset at 8-5 or better.

PLAY: Titans for 1 unit.

Eagles (+5 1/2) at Giants

After Donovan McNabb's season-ending injury, the Eagles were discounted by a lot of people, but coach Andy Reid has shown again that he can win with backup quarterbacks and Jeff Garcia has performed better than expected. The Giants are another inconsistent team that can't be trusted to lay this many points in a game that could very well come down to a late field goal like a lot of these NFC East battles seem to. This is another game with a very good chance of an outright upset, which was 9-5 as of this writing.

PLAY: Eagles for 1 unit.

Chiefs (+8 1/2) at Chargers

This game didn't make my top five plays for the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest, but I'm including it here for several reasons. First off, underdogs of more than a touchdown are 27-22-2 against the spread this season. Secondly, the Chiefs dealt the Chargers one of their two losses on the season, 30-27 in Kansas City eight weeks ago, so they can match them score for score. Thirdly, this is a rivalry game, and I always look to take the points when getting more than a touchdown in such heated matchups. And the last factor can best be called the Wellington Mara angle. If you remember last year, the longtime Giants owner died the week of the team's game vs. the Redskins. The Giants then went out and won 36-0 in his honor. With K.C. owner Lamar Hunt's passing on Wednesday, an inspired performance could be in the offing.

PLAY: Chiefs for 1 unit.

Bengals (+3 1/2) at Colts

The Bengals, winners of their last four games, are getting hot at the right time heading toward the playoffs. The Colts, despite their 10-3 record, are 6-6-1 against the spread and have been a good go-against team this year, especially against teams that can take advantage of their NFL-worst run defense. You know running back Rudi Johnson and the Cincinnati offensive line have to be licking their chops. The Bengals also have the aerial attack if the Colts try to stack against the run, which hasn't helped them stop anybody yet anyway.

PLAY: Bengals for 1 unit.

Last week: 4-1 for a net profit of 2.9 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 39-36-2 for a net loss of 0.4 units.