By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Power rankings are, by their very nature, stupid. They're a way to have a discussion about the league at large, while sparking some debates and disagreements. In that sense, they're fine. We like to talk about the sports, you know?
But in the sense that they're useful or that they matter or that they mean anything? That's a big, A.C. Slater in an oversized football jersey bounding down the stairs level of STUPID.
Even with that established, I found it rather noteworthy that unanimously, the power rankers with their power rankings all have the Patriots as a top-five team in the NFL. Seriously -- across the board, the evaluators see the Pats as part of the cream of the crop. Bleacher Report had the Patriots at No. 3 -- number three! -- while all the other big dogs had them at No. 4 or No. 5. In some cases they were the best team in the AFC. In others they were behind either the Chiefs or the Ravens -- but never both.
Somehow, the Patriots have become little darlings of the national media. What a world.
Obviously, they've earned this respect. Winning six straight games in the NFL is no joke. No matter the opponent, no matter the circumstances, no matter the opponent's injuries, a six-game winning streak is a six-game winning streak. And after knocking off the AFC-leading Titans on Sunday, the winning streak has the Patriots breathing down the neck of the Ravens for the top spot in the AFC.
It's all fascinating stuff. But of course, they don't hang banners for being a top-five team in the power rankings heading in to Week 13. (OK, they might do that it Indianapolis, land of the Bummer Banners. But nowhere else.)
That's why this week is so fascinating with regard to where the Patriots actually are in terms of the league and the conference. Again, this isn't to take away from the winning streak, but they have faced some underwhelming and/or shorthanded teams during the streak. The Browns didn't have Chubb. The Falcons didn't have Ridley or Patterson. The Titans didn't have Henry. The Panthers did have Sam Darnold, which was a detriment. The Chargers aren't as good as everybody wanted them to be. And so on.
They haven't played in a raucous road environment by any stretch. There were likely more Patriots fans than Chargers fans in the building in L.A., and there may have been more football players than fans in the stadium in Atlanta. The road win in Carolina was real, but it was also the Panthers' third straight loss at home.
All that changes this week. Well, almost all of that changes.
The Tre'Davious White injury is significant, and does leave Buffalo without one of its best defensive players. That's a big one.
But Josh Allen is healthy, as are Stefon Diggs, Emmanuel Sanders, Devin Singletary, Cole Beasley, Dawson Knox and Matt Breida. They're also extra rested, having last played on Thanksgiving night.
And do you know who else will be healthy -- in terms of having bellies full of beverages and buffalo wings? Bills fans! They're going to be going absolutely nuts, creating by far the wildest environment the Patriots -- and rookie Mac Jones -- will have dealt with all year.
Home-field advantage can often be overstated. But not this week. Bills fans waited a decade to host a Monday Night Football game before the Patriots visited a couple of nights before Halloween in 2018. It was supposed to be the night that the Bills knock the Patriots down a peg in the AFC East, announcing the arrival of the Josh Allen era. Instead, Derek Anderson had to start the game at QB. He stunk. (It wasn't funny.) The Bills lost by 19 points.
This week's game figures to be a redo for Bills fans who didn't even get to attend last year's win over the Patriots, which came when the Bills actually did unseat the Patriots in the division. How sad is that?
These people are going to enter the stadium going nuts.
These folks love their Buffalo Bills. And they hate the New England Patriots and all things Bill Belichick. This environment is going to be insane.
Beyond the crowd noise, there's the fact that ... the Bills are every bit as good as the Patriots.
While they may not be as impressive to the power rankers, the Bills rank fifth in yards gained and third in points scored. The Patriots rank 14th in both categories.
Defensively, the Bills rank first in yards allowed and second in points allowed. New England ranks fourth and first, respectively.
Of course, you can play the same quality of competition game with the Bills as you can with the Patriots. Buffalo's strength of victory is .405, lowest among current AFC playoff teams. Second-lowest? That would be the Patriots, at .418.
So, in a way, both teams have beaten up on some not-so-great football teams. Now, we'll get to see them try to beat up on each other.
It should be great.
Alas! We must wait until Monday. In the meantime, we've got a nearly full slate of games to get to. Let's get to it!
(Wednesday lines; Home team in CAPS)
Dallas (-4.5) over NEW ORLEANS
This one is SO TOUGH because last week I realized that the Cowboys' entire strength was their talent, which could overcome the coaching of Mike McCarthy. But when they were short on talent due to injuries and COVID absences, that no longer applied. So I picked against them on Thanksgiving. I was right. Huzzah! I had cracked the code.
But this week, they're getting the talent back in CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper, but they're without McCarthy, who won't be coaching due to a positive COVID test.
What's a fella to do?
I'll go with the talent, though I could totally see Taysom Hill having a dandy of a game against a bad Dallas defense and getting everyone all excited, only to never replicate it again.
Tampa Bay (-10.5) over ATLANTA
I'm not in love with the pick, because the Bucs should be winning every week by 20, but they're just not. And Atlanta did hang with the Bucs in Tampa for 50 minutes earlier this season. (Things went poorly in the final 10 minutes for the Falcons.)
But ... when the Bucs beat bad teams, they generally win big. Outside of their six-point win over the Eagles, they've had some blowouts: they beat the Giants by 20, the Bears by 35, the Dolphins by 28, and the Falcons by 23 in the aforementioned fourth-quarter burst.
Plus, after beating the freaking Jaguars, Matt Ryan said the Falcons are "right in the mix." They've beaten the Giants, Jets, Dolphins, Saints and Jaguars. They are not in the mix for anything.
Indianapolis (-8.5) over HOUSTON
I picked the Texans last week. Can you believe that? I'm still sickened.
This line seems to be about 8 points too low. I'll take it.
NEW YORK JETS (+6.5) over Philadelphia
The Jets are 3-8 against the spread, so this is terrifying. But Jalen Hurts has an ankle issue and the Eagles are wildly inconsistent and disappointing even when he's fully healthy. I don't know. I do not know. Nobody knows. Goodness gracious this game is giving me heartburn. Going to move on.
MIAMI (-4) over New York Giants
Here is one headline from this week: "Giants expect Mike Glennon to start Sunday as Daniel Jones recovers from neck injury."
I am going to pick the Miami Dolphins.
DETROIT (+7) over Minnesota
The Lions are cursed. Even by Lions standards. That's a hefty curse, man.
But they are 7-4 against the spread.
Look out, they may just sneak in to the Against The Spread playoffs!
The Vikings are also dreadful as favorites. They're 1-3 against the spread as favorites this year. They failed to cover in their final five games as favorites last year. They just lost Dalvin Cook.
I smell another heartbreaking, two-point Lions loss. Because they're cursed ... but clutch. (At covering.)
Los Angeles Chargers (+3) over CINCINNATI
People are high on the Bengals right now. Do you know what happened the last time everyone got high on the Bengals following two straight wins? They lost to the Jets. I see a lot of public money on the Bengals right now for this one. Buyer beware. They are still the Bengals. They were created just to let you down.
Arizona (-7.5) over CHICAGO
The Bears might not score a point. Seriously.
LAS VEGAS (-2.5) over Washington
Sometimes I wonder if I make spite picks. Like, I wasted my life watching Washington and Seattle, and now I'm mad at those two teams, so I pick against them out of spite?
Surely, I'm not that dumb. At the same time ... who can say for sure?
LOS ANGELES RAMS (-13) over Jacksonville
Speaking of power rankings, I feel as though the Rams were at the top of all of them a month ago. They've done nothing but lose ever since. This is why power rankings are dumb.
Anyways, with Urban Meyer spending all week thinking about that sweet, sweet Notre Dame job, we'll just have to see how it translates on the field after a cross-country trip. My bet is that it ends up not being very good!!
(Update: So maybe he didn't get to spend all week thinking about Notre Dame. Still bet his team is bad on Sunday.)
Baltimore (-4.5) over PITTSBURGH
It's kind of sad watching the Steelers trudge along these days. It's like, they kind of look the same. They've got their helmets. Those pants. All of that. Mike Tomlin's there. Ben Roethlisberger is still present. But it's really just a sad facsimile of the team that used to be the Steelers.
They've given up 41 points in back-to-back weeks. After tying the Lions. Woof.
Is now a good time to mention that the Steelers rank 31st in yards allowed per rushing attempt?
San Francisco (-3.5) over SEATTLE
The Seahawks' season ended weeks ago. Still, seeing it really go up in flames with a Russell Wilson goal-line pick was almost too much to bear.
KANSAS CITY (-9.5) over Denver
The Broncos have won some games this year. A surprising number to some, including myself.
I'll just be honest with you, though: I don't love them in this spot, going to Kansas City, on Sunday Night Football, with the Chiefs really feeling themselves in a certain state of resurgence. Don't love 'em. Big spread but still. Don't love 'em.
New England (+3) over BUFFALO
You saw in the intro how close this matchup is. It's as close as close can be. So I like the Bills to win by two on a last-second field goal around 11:23 p.m. in ice-cold Buffalo. That would make for some juicy drama, and it'd set up for a dynamite final stretch of the season in both the AFC East and the AFC at large.
Last week: 8-7
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