10/02/2003 11:00PM

You can go home again - just don't win


LAS VEGAS - This is reunion week in the NFL, with three coaches going against their former teams: Mike Holmgren and the Seahawks visit the Packers, Steve Mariucci and the Lions visit the 49ers, and Tony Dungy and the Colts visit the Buccaneers.

It makes you wonder why the schedule-makers didn't include Bill Parcells's Cowboys at the Patriots or Mike Shanahan's Broncos at the Raiders. Of course, both of those coaches have already beaten their former employers this season (twice in Parcells's case).

Even though I backed Bill Parcells when he faced his former teams, I'm going against all three revenge-minded coaches this week. It wasn't planned that way, and is just a coincidence. Let's hope revenge isn't sweet this week.

Seahawks at Packers (-2 1/2)

The Seahawks are off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 1998, the year before Holmgren arrived, and have looked impressive in the process with routs of the Saints and Cardinals and a come-from-behind victory over the Rams. But now they must head to Lambeau Field.

The Packers received a wake-up call two weeks ago with their embarrassing 20-13 loss to the Cardinals. They bounced back with an easy win over the Bears last Monday night and should carry that momentum into this week.

Ahman Green (a former Seahawk, by the way) ran for 176 yards last week against the Bears to make it easier for quarterback Brett Favre, who spread the ball around to six different receivers, including Donald Driver, who is back from his scary neck injury in the season opener. Favre should have success against a young Seattle secondary that is still without cornerback Shawn Springs. With Seattle's balanced offense, featuring the running of Shaun Alexander and the passing of Matt Hasselbeck (a former Packer), this could be a high-scoring affair, but we just need the home team to win by at least a field goal.

PLAY: Packers for 1 unit.

Bengals at Bills (-7 1/2)

Let's take a quick break with two games with no former-team implications. The question here is: Will the real Buffalo Bills please step forward? The Bills started the season with dominating wins over the Patriots (31-0) and Jaguars (38-17) before looking overmatched the past two weeks with losses to the Dolphins (17-7) and Eagles (23-13). In both losses, the high-powered Bills offense was held scoreless until the fourth quarter, but that should change against the Bengals.

Now, don't get me wrong, the Bengals are a team on the improve and will be a great underdog play most of the year (in fact, they upset the Browns last week as a 4 1/2-point dog), but they don't have much of a chance to slow down Drew Bledsoe and the Bills' attack. In addition, the Bengals' offense will be without running back Corey Dillon, and that won't help keep the Bills' pass rush off inconsistent QB Jon Kitna. The Bills should win by at least two touchdowns and get back on the winning track.

PLAY: Bills for 1 unit.

Saints (+7) at Panthers

Yes, the 3-0 Panthers have played well in wins over the Jaguars, Buccaneers, and Falcons. Yes, the 1-3 Saints have looked pretty bad in lopsided losses to the Seahawks, Titans, and Colts. But I still don't buy the Panthers as a 7-point favorite in this matchup. If the line was 3 or 4, I'd be inclined to pass, but getting a full touchdown is too hard to resist. The Saints, despite looking terrible in last Sunday night's 55-21 loss vs. the Colts, still have the weapons to put points on the board (after all, it's basically the same group that led the NFC in scoring last season).

The Saints' defense is another matter, with much more room for improvement, but the Panthers' offense isn't the kind to put a ton of points on the board. This is really just a case of teams in the NFL being not as good as they look in victory nor as bad as they look in defeat. The Saints should be able keep this close and are quite likely to pull the outright upset.

PLAY: Saints for 1 unit.

Lions at 49ers (-7)

As stated in Thursday's column, I'm going to ignore the fact that the 49ers have failed to cover the spread in 13 of their last 14 games. Ten of those losses are from the end of Mariucci's career in San Francisco.

The 49ers have had a wild week after star receiver Terrell Owens launched a sideline tirade against offensive coordinator Greg Knapp during the 35-7 loss at Minnesota and later suggested that maybe quarterback Jeff Garcia needs to be replaced.

Owens should have a big day vs. the Lions, as Garcia and the coaching staff will feel compelled to throw to him as much as possible. As out of line as Owens was, the fact is that the squeaky receiver gets the ball. And even if the Lions devote extra players to defend the pass, the 49ers' running game should be able to take control. The Lions' offense has shown improvement under Mariucci, but they won't be able to keep up.

PLAY: 49ers for 1 unit.

Colts at Buccaneers (-4 1/2)

Just like in the Saints-Panthers game, this line appears to be an overadjustment to recent games (especially the Colts' blowout of the Saints). Last week, before that game, the Imperial Palace had this line at Bucs -6 1/2. With the defending world champions playing at home on Monday night, that seemed about right. But after that Colts blowout, in which everything went right for them, the line has been adjusted down to 4 1/2, offering some value on the Bucs.

Remember, the Colts have struggled vs. the Browns (three field goals in a 9-6 win) and the Jaguars (scoreless in the first half before winning 23-13), and those defenses are nowhere near the caliber of the Buccaneers'. The champs, as they showed in a rout of the Eagles in the season opener, aren't going to give up their crown easily, and Gruden has had the added benefit of an extra week to prepare for this showdown.

PLAY: Buccaneers for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-2-1 for net loss of 0.2 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). Season record: 10-7-3 for net profit of 2.3 units.