ORCHARD PARK — The first clue was the point spread.
How does an undefeated NFL team visit the stadium of a sub-.500 opponent and be favored by a mere field goal?
Welcome to the world of the Chiefs.
That’s the dynamic when Kansas City comes into “The Ralph” this afternoon.
After the unbeaten starts of Denver, New Orleans and Seattle were terminated, the Chiefs, at 8-0, are the only team standing.
Trouble is, not many outside of Missouri are buying it.
In fact, records aside, Kansas City isn’t even the best team in its own division. The 7-1 Broncos, averaging an otherworldly 43 points a game, have that honor.
FOR THE Chiefs, their biggest flaw is a lack of quality in the opposition over the season’s first half.
None of their current victims has won over half its game, the closest being 4-4 Dallas.
KC has also beaten Jacksonville (0-8), the Giants (2-6), Houston (2-5), Philadelphia and Cleveland (both 3-5) and Tennessee and Oakland (both 3-4).
But there’s more.
Not only is there no member of the NFL elite on that list, the Chiefs haven’t exactly been dominating.
They beat both the Cowboys and Texans, 17-6, were down at Tennessee with 6 1/2 minutes to play and barely held off the Browns, 23-17, last Sunday.
However, wide receiver Dexter McCluster counters, “We’re not trying to be the beauty queens. A win is a win. We know we’re going to have to
fight ... this is the NFL. All we worry about is that win.”
And Kansas City fans could reasonably us the adage, “It’s not how ... it’s how many.”
As linebacker Derrick Johnson points out, “The best you can be right now is 8-0 and that’s where we’re at.”
But for those who aren’t members of the Chiefs’ faithful, there’s a high degree of skepticism especially about the final seven games, five of them against winning teams, including Denver twice and Indianapolis (5-2).
Still, even the cynics admit KC coach Andy Reid, an acknowledged offensive guru, has found a winning formula ... outstanding defense and great special teams.
Start with points surrendered.
The Chiefs are giving up just over 12 points per game, and no opponent has scored more 17 over the first eight. Since the merger with the AFL in 1970, only three teams have accomplished that feat: the ‘70 Vikings, ‘71 Dolphins and ‘77 Falcons (nine games). And those were accomplished in the pre-West Coast offense days when scoring wasn’t what it is now.
And, opposition aside, Kansas City tops the NFL in sacks with 36 — 4 1/2 per game — nine more than second-place Buffalo. Two Chiefs’ linebackers, Justin Houston (11) and Tamba Hali (9) are among the league’s Top 4 sackers.
Oh, yeah, KC is tops in the NFL in third-down defense, letting opponents succeed only 25 percent of the time and logging 17 sacks on that critical snap.
Equally significant, the Chiefs have forced 20 turnovers, one fewer than Seattle, but KC’s +12 takeaway/giveaway statistic leads the league by three.
“We take pride in playing defense,” Johnson maintained. “We don’t really look at historically what we can do. Record-wise, at the end of the year, everything will add up to what it adds up to.
“But right now, we’re holding teams the best we can.”
THE EFFORT on that side of the ball has helped create one of the most dramatic turnarounds in pro football history.
Last season the Chiefs went 2-14, the worst record in the league.
Now, they’re a win today from tying the franchise’s fastest-ever start.
KC’s 2003 squad opened 9-0 and finished 13-3.
According to the NFL, since the 16-game schedule began in 1978, 15 teams have opened 8-0 and nine of them made the Super Bowl, eight winning it.
The one that didn’t?
Indianapolis lost to New Orleans in Super Bowl XLIV after both teams started the 2009 season 8-0.
AND WHILE Reid is metered in talking about his team’s unbeaten start, some members of his roster, which includes six Pro Bowlers from last year, are a bit more forthcoming.
“We’re not doing what prototypical offenses and defenses are doing,” Hali admitted. “We’re just going out there and having fun and winning games ... if it’s by one point or 20, whatever the case may be, we’re winning the games.
“Whether we get respect or not ... we like it how it is. We love what’s going on around here as far as winning.”
He added, “None of us have been in this position where this team is 8-0. To keep winning, go 1-0 every week, I think we have a sense of urgency to keep getting wins.”
To which safety Eric Berry concluded, “We’re going to keep working because we know how hard these wins are to come by ... we don’t take them for granted.”
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)