01/27/2004 12:00AM

Before you bet, consider this. . .


LAS VEGAS - The odds on the Super Bowl look like they're settling on the Patriots as a 7-point favorite over the Panthers, with a total of 38.

When the Panthers were wrapping up their 14-3 victory over the Eagles in the NFC championship game a week ago Sunday, Las Vegas Sports Consultants recommended a point spread of 7 and total of 38 1/2. Most of the books on the Las Vegas Strip put the line at 7 (though shading the total a little lower to 38), whereas the locals outlets run by Coast Casinos and Station Casinos made the Patriots a 6 1/2-point favorite, which was the most common line at offshore operations.

The early money poured in on the underdog Panthers, and by midweek, just about every bet taker in the world was posting Patriots -6 1/2. Speculation ran rampant about whether the line could possibly drop to 6, which would have exposed the books to getting "sided" if the Pats won by exactly 6 or 7, meaning they would refund all wagers on that number and lose a majority of bets that moved it to that number.

Over the weekend, however, money on the Patriots started arriving, and as of Tuesday morning, every sports book in Las Vegas had moved the line up to 7. The total was looking similarly solid at 38, though on Monday the Coast Casinos and Station Casinos lowered it to 37 1/2. If it's going to move off 38 at the other books, it's more likely to drop.

Super Bowl historical trends

During the regular season, we used Thursday's issues to look at betting trends, so this is as good a time as any to look at past Super Bowls and how they fared with pointspreads:

* The Super Bowl favorites are 19-15-3 against the spread but just 2-4-2 the past eight years. Before this recent trend, favorites had covered six in a row and nine of 11.

* The AFC is 5-1-2 against the spread the past eight years, with the only loss being the Raiders last year. The two pushes were the Packers' 35-21 win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI and the Rams' 23-16 win over the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV.

* Showing that these types of trends tend to even out, before this current run, the NFC had covered six in a row and 10 of 11. The NFC holds a slight 18-16-3 spread record in all Super Bowls.

* A saying goes that if you pick the outright winner of the Super Bowl, you'll also have the spread winner. The winner is 31-3-3 against the spread in all Super Bowls. The last time a team won the Super Bowl but did not cover (or at least push) was Super Bowl XXX, where the Cowboys defeated the Steelers, 27-17, as a 13 1/2-point favorite. The other non-covers were 49ers' 20-16 win over the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII and the Steelers' 21-17 victory over the Cowboys in Super Bowl X.

* Super Bowl blowouts have been common. Of the 37 Super Bowls, 21 have been decided by 14 points or more. Only five of those routs have been by the underdog, including the Buccaneers' 49-21 victory last year over the Raiders.

* With the exception of last year's blowout, Super Bowls played the week after the AFC and NFC title games tend to be closer games and give the underdog a better chance - underdogs have gone 4-1-1 against the spread in the only six Super Bowls played with a one-week gap since the NFL went to the standard two-week leadup in 1970. We return to a two-week gap this year. The last two-week gap was the Ravens' 34-7 win over the Giants three years ago. Overall, the favorites are 16-9 (64 percent) with two pushes when there is a two-week gap, including 6-2-1 the last nine times.

* Nevada sports books didn't start taking over/under bets on the Super Bowl until 1982, when they posted a total on the 49ers-Bengals game at 47. That game ended up in a push, as the 49ers won 26-21. Since then, the over holds a 14-7 edge, though it's an even 2-2 the last four years.

More trends for Pats

* Through their 24-14 win over the Colts in the AFC title game, the Patriots are 16-2 straight up and an even more impressive 14-3-1 against the spread.

* Since there is a two-week gap before the Super Bowl, we should probably look at how the Patriots fared after their bye week this year: They dominated the Cowboys in a 12-0 win.

* Some people think the true measure of a good team can be seen in its road record. The Patriots obviously slip from their nearly perfect home record (10-0 straight up, 9-1 against the spread) as they were "only" 6-2 straight up and 4-3-1 against the spread.

* The Patriots are 10-7-1 with the under, including unders in both of their playoff wins. They were actually 4-3-1 with the over when away from Gillette Stadium.

More trends for Cats

* The Panthers were only 6-10 against the spread during the regular season, but they have run off three straight wins to improve to 9-10.

* The Panthers are 6-4 straight up on the road, but they were even better as a road underdog, at 5-1, including their victories the last two games at St. Louis and Philadelphia.

* Just as impressive is their 3-1 record in domes, with wins over the Colts, Saints, and Rams in the divisional playoffs. Their only dome loss was at Atlanta, in Michael Vick's return.

* That loss to the Falcons was also the Panthers' game after their bye week.

* The Panthers were 5-5 with totals on the road. They were, however, 3-1 with the over in their dome games, including all three of their victories.