10/27/2005 11:00PM

Why is it must-win? Because they lost


LAS VEGAS - The White Sox wrapped up the franchise's first World Series title by completing a sweep of the Houston Astros on Wednesday night.

It was interesting to watch the betting patterns prior to Tuesday and Wednesday night's games. The Astros, who were trailing two games to none, opened as a -160 favorite (risk $1.60 for every $1 you wanted to profit) for Tuesday night's game. The conventional wisdom was that the Astros were in a "must-win" situation and would fight hard to get back in the series. The betting public steamed the line up to -185 at some books. The Astros sure did fight hard, but the White Sox prevailed 7-5 in the longest game in World Series history.

On Wednesday night, the Astros faced a truly must-win in an elimination game. They then again got their fair share of support as a +120 underdog (though not nearly as much as the night before - and probably were not favored in that spot since it was widely reported that teams trailing 3-0 had been swept in 18 of the previous 21 occurrences), and lost 1-0. It was just a case of the Sox being a better overall team.

So, what is this doing in a football column?

Well, in the coming weeks, you're going to hear a lot of people talking about must-win games in college and pro football - college teams trying to become bowl-eligible, pro teams trying to make the playoffs, etc. The problem is, the reason most teams are in must-win situations is because they aren't that good to begin with. If they had taken care of business earlier in the year, they wouldn't have their backs to the wall, and to ask them to flip on a switch and perform at a high level, even when the stakes are high, is usually asking too much.

And oftentimes, the oddsmakers adjust the lines because they know the public will back teams in those spots, so even if the team ends up winning, they still will be less likely to cover the inflated spread.

Judging by my record with NFL picks this season, one could say I'm in a must-win situation this week as we near the halfway point of the season. Here's hoping I don't have the same fate as the Astros and the others.

Bears (+3) at Lions

This game is for first place in the NFC North, believe it or not. Well, if you've watched the Vikings (2-4) and Packers (1-5) play this year, you'll believe it. Both these teams are 3-3. The Bears dominated the Lions 38-6 in their first meeting in Chicago in the second week of the season, and I don?t see Detroit turning the tables in the rematch. Jeff Garcia replaces Joey Harrington and led the Lions to a 13-10 win over the Browns, but he'll have a much harder time against the Bears' aggressive defense. The Bears don't do too much on offense, but they shouldn't have to as long as Kyle Orton doesn't turn the ball over.

PLAY: Bears for 2 units.

Vikings (+7 1/2) at Panthers

It's fitting that it's Halloween weekend because this is scary that I'm backing the Vikings. However, they showed something last week when they rallied from a 17-0 deficit vs. the Packers to win 23-20 and should carry the momentum forward to this week at Carolina. The Panthers are coming off their bye week, but they showed precedence for flopping when well-rested and facing a distracted team: they lost to the Saints in the season opener (at home) the week after Hurricane Katrina.

PLAY: Vikings for 1 unit.

Browns (+2) at Texans

The Texans are the last winless team in the league and a lot of people are pointing to this game as their best chance to get a win, but I don't think it happens this week either. The Texans are having problems generating offense, which is understandable with quarterback David Carr seemingly spending half of each game on his back. Look for Cleveland running back Reuben Droughns to have his best rushing game of the year, and Trent Dilfer should also put up big numbers after struggling the past few weeks. I just don?t see the Texans being able to keep up.

PLAY: Browns for 1 unit.

Dolphins at Saints (-2)

This could be called the Hurricane Bowl as it's between the two teams that have been most affected this fall. In the spirit of Halloween, these two teams have had Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde seasons as at times they've looked pretty decent and other times they've been horribly bad. Some of that can be attributed to their talent level, but all the professional and personal distractions from the hurricanes and their aftermath certainly haven't helped .The Saints are playing their first game this season in the state of Louisiana (it's being played in Baton Rouge, home of the LSU Tigers) and that alone should have the Saints motivated to put forth their best effort.

PLAY: Saints for 1 unit.

Jaguars at Rams (+3 1/2)

These two teams are kind of hard to figure out, but I have to side with the Rams as a home dog in the friendly confines of the Edward Jones Dome, even with Jamie Martin still filling in for Marc Bulger. For whatever reason, the Jaguars are 1-6 straight-up and 2-5 against the spread in dome stadiums since Jack Del Rio became the head coach in 2003. They just don't bring their A-game indoors, and the fast artificial surface also plays to the Rams' strength.

PLAY: Rams for 1 unit.

Chiefs (+6) at Chargers

This should be your typical AFC West shootout (the total is a league-high 51 points this week) with both teams going up and down the field. The Chiefs, with the two-headed backfield of Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson and quarterback Trent Green spreading the ball around, certainly have the weapons to keep up with LaDainian Tomlinson & Co. The Chiefs are determined to keep their lead in the AFC West and should fire fresh off their bye week.

PLAY: Chiefs for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-3-1 for a net loss of 1.3 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 15-25-2 for a net loss of 16 units