10/08/2004 12:00AM

Winless Bills solid play vs. Jets


LAS VEGAS - In betting football, it's just as important to find cold teams to bet against as it is to find hot teams to back.

The Dolphins, off to an 0-4 start, are one such terrible team in the NFL. However, the problem is that unless you were clairvoyant enough to bet the Dolphins at under nine wins before the season started, it's much harder to bet against them now because the oddsmakers make you pay a premium.

This week you would have to lay 13 points with the Patriots vs. the Dolphins, or if you want to bet the Dolphins will just lose the game, you'd have to bet the money line at -650 or -700, and that's if you can find a book that puts up money lines on point spreads over 10 points.

Well, the Aladdin sports book has another way to bet against a bad team. Sports book director Brad Bryant posted a proposition wager this past week that asks, "Which NFL team will be the last to earn a victory?" Of the four winless teams remaining in the league, the Dolphins are the favorite at 3-2, followed by the Bills at 4-1, the Buccaneers at 8-1, and the 49ers at 12-1. There's a fifth betting option at 20-1 that "a team doesn't earn a victory," which is a winner only if some team goes 0-16.

But enough talk about losers. I'll try to pick some winners, including using two of those winless teams, the Bills +7 vs. the Jets and the 49ers -1 vs. the Cardinals, plus three others.

Lions (+7) at Falcons

Of the five undefeated teams remaining in the NFL, the Falcons are the most likely to be wearing the label of "fraud" in a few weeks. Despite having Michael Vick at quarterback, the Falcons are winning mostly because of their defense and they are only 2-2 against the spread. The Lions come into this game at 2-1 off their bye week, and they're determined to show their fast start is not a fluke. Coach Steve Mariucci has had two weeks to prepare for this matchup and should have the proper game plan in place. The key on defense, obviously, is to contain Vick. On offense, the line needs to give quarterback Joey Harrington time versus the Falcons' potent pass rush, which is averaging four sacks per game. If they succeed in that area, Harrington should be able to continue hooking up with rookie Roy Williams for big plays and possibly pull the weekend's biggest upset.

PLAY: Lions for 1 unit.

Vikings at Texans (+4)

The Texans are in the midst of the first two-game winning streak in team history, so why not make it three? They are coming off of impressive wins over the Chiefs and Raiders. The win over the Chiefs shows they can contain a high-powered offense, and the Vikings are hurting in the running back department. The Texans also have big-play potential with David Carr flinging the ball to Andre Johnson and Corey Bradford, so this could be a Texas shootout. With the home-field advantage factored in, I had this game at pick-em, so I'll gladly take the 4 points.

PLAY: Texans for 1 unit.

Bills (+7) at Jets

The difference in records is why we're seeing this line as high as 7, but I don't think it reflects the quality of the teams. The Jets are off to a 3-0 start thanks to the schedule-makers, as they've beaten the Bengals, Chargers, and Dolphins. Their biggest margin of victory has been 8 points, last week at Miami. The Bills, meanwhile, are 0-3 after losing 13-10 to both the Jaguars and Raiders, and then 31-17 to the Patriots. However, they were playing toe-to-toe with the defending champ Patriots until the final quarter. The Bills should be able to stay close to the Jets. The Bills' defense is as good as any that the Jets have faced, and the offense played much better last week (vs. the Patriots, no less) than they did in the first two weeks. I see the Bills having another shot in the fourth quarter to get their first win.

PLAY: Bills for 1 unit.

Jaguars at Chargers (+3)

Both these teams have exceeded expectations. The Jaguars, led by their defense and the clutch play of quarterback Byron Leftwich, started 3-0 before falling to the Colts 24-17 in a tight game last Sunday. The Chargers are a surprising 2-2 after upsetting the Titans (albeit without Steve McNair) last week. The Chargers are again a home underdog this week. The Jaguars don't put too many points on the board, so it won't take much for the San Diego offense to keep pace. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson might not be able to run wild vs. the Jacksonville defense, but expect to see him used more in the passing game to get him room to make his moves. Quarterback Drew Brees has played very well so far this year as he fights to retain his job, and has found favorite targets in Reche Caldwell and tight end Antonio Gates. I see the Chargers coming back to earth in the coming weeks, but they have a great shot to get over .500 here.

PLAY: Chargers for 1 unit.

Cardinals at 49ers (-1)

The Cardinals got their first win of the season last week in a rout of the Saints, and now it's the 49ers' turn. It's hard to back the 49ers with any confidence, especially after watching them get shut out by the Seahawks and then struggle versus the Rams, but they've played above their talent level in spread-covering losses to the Falcons and Saints and in the second half vs. the Rams. They get a much easier task versus the Cardinals and should be able to move the ball with Kevan Barlow on the ground and Tim Rattay through the air. Rattay is getting more in tune with his receiving corps, including Curtis Conway. The Cardinals have been playing above their heads so far this season and are due to "bounce" after their big win.

PLAY: 49ers for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-2-1 for a net loss of 0.2 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). Season NFL record: 6-13-1 for a net loss of 8.3 units.