Sweating out final margins When team with lead lets up, all bets are off; On the line

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It's difficult sometimes to know exactly what you've seen after watching an NFL game. Take, for example, Monday night in Philadelphia, where Dallas came from behind to beat the Eagles, 23-19.

I was backing Philly. No sooner had the game ended than a friend called to commiserate. "Too bad [Rodney] Peete got hurt or you'd have won," the friend said. "Once [Ty] Detmer got in, you were dead."

Detmer was ill-prepared, I agreed, and Peete probably would have helped the Eagles put some points on the board over the final 20 minutes. But I'm not so sure it would have made a difference.

Dallas, once Detmer was pressed into service, became very conservative on offense. The Cowboys knew Detmer wasn't going to do much and were comfortably ahead, so they took few chances. If Dallas had to score, the Eagles' defense might not have been so effective.

You see this every week in the NFL. The favored squad opens up a nice lead, then plays right into the opponent's hands by becoming cautious, and the team that's behind becomes more aggressive (often out of desperation) on defense. Then, when the score gets closer, the stronger team goes back to a more open offense.

This tends to make every game close, in terms of the point spread, unless the turnovers are one-sided. And anyone who believes he can consistently predict the number of turnovers a team is going to commit on a given day doesn't need to dabble with mythical money on professional football games -- you can go right to the psychic hot line.

This week's picks

All bets based on mythical dollars:

* Patriots (-2) at Ravens: The Patriots had last week off. They are better than their 2-2 record indicates and would have recorded ++ two straight blowouts had their secondary not gone to sleep against Jacksonville after leading 22-0. The Ravens play spiritedly at home, but how long can old Earnest Byner keep churning along? Take New England for $250.

* Oilers at Bengals (-1): The Oilers have only themselves to blame for four costly turnovers in Pittsburgh. Eddie George never got started at Three Rivers Stadium. Riverfront should be different. The Bengals' offense, which figured to be good, hasn't been. Help is needed up front and from the coaching staff. Take Houston for $250.

* Colts at Bills (-2): It has taken a long time for me to admit that the Colts are as solid as any team in the AFC. They are. They're 4-0 despite numerous injuries on defense and to running back Marshall Faulk. This week they get much healthier, just in time to handle a Bills team that's hurting at quarterback. Take Indianapolis for $250.

* Chargers at Broncos (-3 1/2 ): The Broncos' only disappointing performance was at Mile High Stadium against Tampa Bay. They should be primed for the Chargers, however, inasmuch as the teams are tied at 4-1, along with Kansas City, atop the rugged AFC West. I respect San Diego, but John Elway gets the nod over Stan Humphries. Take Denver for $250.

* Steelers at Chiefs (-4): The Chiefs are at the crossroads of their season early on. With a victory they'd be 5-1 and on pace to repeat as division champions. At 4-2, they might start asking questions about the age of their offense, which is a sometimes thing. Steelers quarterback Mike Tomczak will be severely tested by the Chiefs' pass rush. Take Kansas City for $250.

* Falcons at Lions (-10): The Lions have become an automatic play at home until they show otherwise. They feature a superb offense and a surprisingly stubborn defense. The Falcons were built around Jeff George, not Bobby Hebert. Coach June Jones might not last to November. Take Detroit for $100.

* Packers (-7 1/2 ) at Bears: The thought of the Packers' pass rush going after old Dave Krieg prompts a token play. Green Bay's defense should help generate enough points to cover. Take Green Bay for $100.

Last week

Record: 2-3. Net for week: minus $310. Net for season: minus $410.

Staff selections

Week 6

Patriots (-2) at Ravens

John Eisenberg -- Ravens

Gary Lambrecht -- Ravens

Ken Murray -- Patriots

Mike Preston -- Patriots

Vito Stellino -- Patriots

Falcons at Lions (-10)

John Eisenberg -- Lions

Gary Lambrecht -- Lions

Ken Murray -- Lions

Mike Preston -- Lions

Vito Stellino -- Lions

Panthers at Vikings (-6)

John Eisenberg -- Vikings

Gary Lambrecht -- Panthers

Ken Murray -- Vikings

Mike Preston -- Vikings

Vito Stellino -- Vikings

Packers (-7 1/2 ) at Bears

John Eisenberg -- Packers

Gary Lambrecht -- Packers

Ken Murray -- Bears

Mike Preston -- Packers

Vito Stellino -- Packers

@Raiders (-3 1/2 ) at Jets

John Eisenberg -- Jets

Gary Lambrecht -- Jets

Ken Murray -- Raiders

Mike Preston -- Raiders

Vito Stellino -- Jets

Seahawks at Dolphins (-8)

John Eisenberg -- Dolphins

Gary Lambrecht -- Dolphins

Ken Murray -- Seahawks

Mike Preston -- Dolphins

Vito Stellino -- Dolphins

Colts at Bills (-2)

John Eisenberg -- Bills

Gary Lambrecht -- Bills

Ken Murray -- Colts

Mike Preston -- Colts

Vito Stellino -- Bills

Jaguars at Saints (-2)

John Eisenberg -- Saints

Gary Lambrecht -- Jaguars

Ken Murray -- Saints

Mike Preston -- Jaguars

Vito Stellino -- Jaguars

Chargers at Broncos (-3 1/2 )

John Eisenberg -- Broncos

Gary Lambrecht -- Broncos

Ken Murray -- Chargers

Mike Preston -- Chargers

Vito Stellino -- Chargers

49ers (-10 1/2 ) at Rams

John Eisenberg -- 49ers

Gary Lambrecht -- 49ers

Ken Murray -- 49ers

Mike Preston -- 49ers

Vito Stellino -- 49ers

Oilers at Bengals (-1)

John Eisenberg -- Oilers

Gary Lambrecht -- Bengals

Ken Murray -- Bengals

Mike Preston -- Oilers

Vito Stellino -- Oilers

Steelers at Chiefs (-4)

John Eisenberg -- Chiefs

Gary Lambrecht -- Steelers

Ken Murray -- Chiefs

Mike Preston -- Steelers

Vito Stellino -- Steelers

Last week

John Eisenberg -- 5-7-1

Gary Lambrecht -- 7-5-1

Ken Murray -- 6-6-1

Mike Preston -- 7-5-1

Vito Stellino -- 9-3-1

Season record

John Eisenberg -- 38-30-1

Gary Lambrecht -- 31-37-1

Ken Murray -- 30-38-1

Mike Preston -- 36-32-1

Vito Stellino -- 34-34-1

Note: Selections made against the spread.

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