It was a little eerie watching the final minutes of the key games the past two weeks: Dallas at Philadelphia and Atlanta at San Francisco. The Eagles were favored by 3, the Falcons by 2. The endings were so similar; the scores identical, 17-14.

I was backing the favorites. Each trailed with less than two minutes left, but each had the ball inside the opponent's 20-yard line with plenty of time and timeouts left to (1) kick a field goal from reasonable range and send the game into overtime or (2) win the game outright -- and cover the spread -- with a touchdown (and extra point).

Neither pick was able to do either. Tony Franklin missed his field goal attempt for Philadelphia. Atlanta never got that far; Steve Bartkowski's pass toward the end zone on first down was intercepted by San Francisco's Dwight Hicks.

It would have been easy to go around complaining about how "unlucky" the results had been. This is an all-too-common habit among bettors. Occasionally, luck is the deciding factor in a selection's winning or losing. And, yes, had I been uncommonly lucky, the Eagles would have covered against the Cowboys and the Falcons would have covered against the 49ers.

But neither team deserved to win. Both were outplayed, by wide margins.

A bettor must be honest enough with himself, after such an experience, to admit he made a mistake. And, hopefully, to learn from that experience. Did he win or lose for the right or wrong reason? Was the game played the way he thought it would be? Much more often than not, it's not a matter of luck.

Five imaginary $500 picks and one at $250 promise to make this a busy weekend.

Atlanta attracts $500 giving 4 1/2 points at home against Pittsburgh. The Steelers are still struggling. The Falcon defense has played well the past two Sundays and needs only to repeat those efforts to complement what is usually a potent attack. I still believe Atlanta will get to the playoffs.

Cincinnati continues to impress. All those high draft choices of the past five years are suddenly living up to expectation, and Kenny Anderson seems to be reborn at quarterback. The Bengals are a very physical bunch who can stand up to the Rams. The risk is $500, with Cincinanti favored by 3 1/2.

Dallas also gets $500, favored by 3 1/2 at Detroit, Billy Sims and the Lions are never shut down, but how is the home team going to keep the Cowboy offense from busting loose? Dallas is on the verge of becoming the best team in the NFL, if only the secondary will shape up a little faster.

Denver should shut down the Tampa Bay offense, so I'll take $500 on the Broncos giving 2 in Florida. The Buccaneers' running game has just about vanished. This means the Randy Gradishar group will be coming at Doug Williams from the start. Love that Denver defense, the best in the business.

New England also gets $500, at home, as a 2 1/2-point favorite over the New York Jets. Sure, the Jets are much improved, but I never trust them to put their best shown on the road.

Monday night in Seattle, the pick is the Seahawks -- for $250. San Diego appears to be fading as the season wears on and the defense fails to improve. I look for the Hawks to go for broke in a wide-open display of offense. They have absolutely nothing to lose. The Chargers are favored by 5.