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FAVORITES SPREAD THIN IN SEASON'S FIRST HALF

Here we are, halfway through another National Football League season. The division races are getting tighter, and the games are looking better.

But before we attempt to figure out how everything will turn out, we need to catch our breath and take a look at how things stand.

Yes, it's time for the midseason bookkeeping report:

The home teams have a record of 70-51.

With the point spread, the home teams are 52-64-5.

The home underdogs are 18-15-2 against the point spread.

The favorites are 73-46.

With the point spread, the favorites are 49-65-5.

The AFC is 17-10 against the NFC.

With the point spread, the AFC is 16-9-2 against the NFC.

The AFC team with the best record against the point spread is Tennessee at 6-2.

The AFC team with the worst record against the point spread is Cincinnati at 1-7.

The NFC team with the best record against the point spread is Minnesota at 7-1.

The NFC team with the worst record against the point spread is Green Bay at 1-7.

So much for the past. It's time to squint into the future, where truth is elusive and results can be cruel.

Once again, the weekend lineup looks attractive. Among the best matchups are New England at Minnesota, Dallas at San Francisco and Detroit at Green Bay. But the main event is the Monday night showdown featuring Pittsburgh at Kansas City.

Are you ready for some deja vu? The Steelers and the Chiefs met in Kansas City on Monday Night Football last year. The Steelers won, 17-7, as 4 1/2 -point underdogs. This year, the Steelers are on a five-game winning streak after a rocky start. They are 6-0 against the spread in their last six games against the Chiefs. Kordell Stewart is starting to live up to his own expectations as the Steelers' quarterback.

Elvis Grbac also is settling into his role as the Chiefs' quarterback, and the Chiefs' offense has opened up in the past couple of weeks. But this is Monday night, and I expect Marty Schottenheimer to play it close to the vest -- that is, play not to lose. The Chiefs have lost their last three games on Monday night. They might win this one, but they won't beat the point spread. Take the Steelers, and enjoy deja vu all over again.

Best bet

Tampa Bay started the season 5-0, but the Buccaneers have lost their last three. They need to get back on track and fast. Indianapolis is 0-8 and certainly overdue for a victory. Something has to give this week.

If the Bucs can't get healthy against the Colts, their condition is fatal. This is the Colts' fifth home game. In the previous four, their highest point total was 12. In the others, they scored 6, 3 and 6. The Bucs are 2-0 in domes, defeating Detroit, 24-17, and Minnesota, 28-14.

Don't be tempted by the Colts getting points. They are 0-3 as home underdogs. I'm going with the Bucs to win this one going away.

Best of the rest

I'll make this short and sweet: New England couldn't beat Green Bay at home. There's no way the Patriots can beat the Vikings on the road. . . . Miami swept the Bills last year and is 5-1 against the spread in its last six visits to Rich Stadium. But the Dolphins lost to the Bears, and Alex Van Pelt looked like a winner last week. I'll take the Bills to make it 4-1 against AFC East foes. . . . The Jets are home after a week off. They are sizable favorites over Baltimore. You never pick the Jets as home favorites. That's a rule. . . . San Francisco has won seven straight against teams with a combined record of 9-24. From here on, they will be playing teams that are 40-24. I don't like Dallas, and I think the 49ers will win, but the point spread on this game is way out of whack. I'll take the points.

NEWS STAFF SELECTIONS
Larry Milt Vic Jerry Milt
Felser Northrop Carucci Sullivan Joffe
Miami ( 1) at Bills Bills Miami Bills Miami Bills
N. England ( 1) at MinnesotaMinnesotaMinnesotaNew EnglandNew England*Minnesota
Oakland ( 4) at Carolina Carolina Carolina CarolinaOaklandOakland
Washington at Chicago ( 3 1/2 ) Chicago Chicago Chicago WashingtonWashington
San Diego (pick) at CincinnatiCincinnati Cincinnati San Diego* San Diego San Diego
Baltimore ( 6) at Jets BaltimoreBaltimore* Baltimore Jets Baltimore
St. Louis ( 2 1/2 ) at Atlanta Atlanta Atlanta Atlanta Atlanta Atlanta
Tampa Bay at Indianapolis ( 4) IndianapolisTampa Bay Tampa Bay Tampa Bay Tampa Bay*
Dallas ( 7 1/2 ) at San FranciscoSan FranciscoSan FranciscoSan FranciscoDallas Dallas
Seattle ( 9 1/2 ) at Denver Seattle Seattle Seattle Denver Seattle
Jacksonville at Tennessee ( 1) Tennessee Tennessee Tennessee Jacksonville Tennessee
Philadelphia at Arizona ( 3 1/2 )Arizona* Arizona ArizonaPhiladelphiaPhiladelphia
Detroit ( 9 1/2 ) at Green Bay Detroit Green BayDetroitDetroitDetroit
Pittsburgh ( 3 1/2 ) at Kansas CityKansas CityPittsburghPittsburghPittsburghPittsburgh
Last week 6-8 8-6 10-4 9-5 7-7
Year to date 47-68-5 66-49-5 72-43-5 55-60-5 57-58-5
Best Bet Record 3-5-1 5-3-1 5-3-1 6-2-1 4-5
All picks are made against the point spread. * -- Best Bet.

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