Many football bettors are like most sports fans in that they have a preoccupation with offense. It's the high-scoring teams - the ones with the marquee quarterbacks and the big-play skill players - that often draw heavy wagering.

And if that thinking proves to be a shortcoming, it's understandable; most sports followers are conditioned to be more impressed by teams that light up the scoreboard.

However, bettors need to be more sophisticated in their evaluations and should remind themselves of the old adage that offense sells tickets but defense wins championships - and, it might be added, money.

Two teams that occasionally have struggled this season but otherwise have potentially dominating defenses should have had big neon signs hanging over them this week that flashed: lock!

The New York Jets and the Baltimore Ravens - who have the type of scary defenses that can grab an opponent by the throat - were facing perfect patsies with feeble offenses. Predictably, they crushed both the opposition and the spread.

The Jets forced Tampa Bay into three interceptions, held the Bucs to just 124 yards, and easily covered a three-point spread, 26-3.

Baltimore demolished a 131/2-point spread against Detroit, 48-3, as the Ravens held the Lions to 229 yards and picked off a pair of passes.

There was another important aspect to those two games that bettors in general need to heed in December. The Jets and Ravens (now both 7-6) are desperately clawing to get into the AFC playoffs, while the Bucs and Lions are scheduling their mid-January vacations.

Actually, the St. Louis at Tennessee game also fell into that category, although the Titans, who began the day at 5-7, are playoff long shots. But Tennessee played like a team with a glimmer of postseason hope in smashing the Rams, 47-7, and erasing a 13-point spread.

As the season winds down, there is no angle more important than considering the context of the game.

Obviously, Eagles fans were delighted when NFC East-rival Dallas fell to San Diego, 20-17, yesterday, and the outcome was in keeping with the Chargers' fabulous December record (now 16 straight wins) and the Cowboys' penchant for late-season swoons.

However, recent point-spread performances had pointed to San Diego's upset. Although the Chargers were 31/2-point underdogs on the road, San Diego had been ascending of late, going 4-1 against the spread in its last five entering the game. Conversely, the Cowboys were 1-3 ATS before yesterday's game.