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LINE SHOWS NFL HAS GONE TO THE DOGS

This is a historic week in the National Football League. But that's no reason to celebrate.

In a sure sign that these are not the best of times for the NFL, the lines on the 12 games this weekend show nine home teams as underdogs. I can't recall ever seeing that number so high; three or four home underdogs are a lot in any week.

To make matters worse, the three home teams that are favored all look suspect, and I'm going with the visiting underdogs in those games.

As I am sure I have said before, it's getting harder and harder to find games worth watching or writing about. There are only two games this week matching teams with winning records. One of them is the Giants at Detroit. Both teams are 4-3, and I just can't get excited about either of them.

So that leaves New England at the Jets, and it looks a lot more interesting. It also looks to me like one of the few games this week in which the home underdog is a pretty good choice. I know the Patriots blew away the Bills last week and stand atop the AFC East at 5-1. And I know the Jets lost at home last week to Miami by 11 points and fell to 4-3.

The important thing in this game is that the Jets are the underdogs. They have yet to cover the spread as favorites at home this season and are usually not a good choice when favored. However, they are 3-0 against the spread as underdogs this season.

Even more important is the way the Jets played the Patriots at Foxboro earlier this year. The Patriots pulled that one out in overtime, 27-24, as 9 1/2 -point favorites.

Last year, the Patriots won as visitors, 31-27. But we all know the Jets are vastly improved. And they proved in that first game against the Pats that Bill Parcells makes a difference. Take the Jets and the points. Remember, every underdog has its day.

Best bet

As long as the San Francisco 49ers keep playing the patsies, there is no reason to think they can't keep rolling along. In fact, this week a somewhat smaller point spread than last makes the 49ers an even more attractive choice.

They have been consistent since Steve Young returned from a one-game absence, scoring 33, 34, 34 and 30 points in their last four games while holding three of their last four opponents to a touchdown, including a 34-7 win at home against the Falcons as 13 1/2 -point favorites. In last year's game at Atlanta, the 49ers won, 34-10.

The 49ers are the top defensive team in the NFC and are the best in the NFL against the run. The Falcons are the NFC's worst offensive team. That adds up to another big win by the 49ers and explains why the Falcons are one of those home underdogs.

Best of the rest

Jacksonville and Dallas meet for the first time, and the Cowboys are in for a big surprise. The Jaguars, at 5-1, are a valid power in the AFC. They certainly are better than the Cowboys and are a great pick as underdogs. . . . What do Cincinnati and Green Bay have in common? Both are 0-6 against the point spread. But that will change this week even though the Packers have the week off, because the Bengals will give Pittsburgh a battle. The Steelers are short of receivers. . . . Forgive me while I take a long stretch and pick Oakland with the points against Denver. After all, Jeff George is the top-rated quarterback in the AFC and has 14 touchdowns with only three interceptions. I know the Raiders don't play defense, but this is an old rivalry, and the Broncos might be caught napping. . . . Washington would be a best bet against Tennessee if the Redskins didn't have so many key injuries on offense. But even with their backups, they should handle the Oilers. . . . As for the Bills and Indianapolis, revenge is sweet in the NFL, and I expect the Colts to be ready to pay the Bills back. Be prepared for another defeat.

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