Banged-up Bills battle unbeaten Chiefs
(SportsNetwork.com) - Uneasy is the head that wears the undefeated crown.
Though they're the NFL's last team without a loss, the Kansas City Chiefs have endured more than an unbeaten team's share of doubt amid their best season- starting run in a decade.
In fact, a good deal of expert analysis about the Chiefs concedes the fact that they haven't lost a game yet, but follows up with a contention that their opposition has been less than elite.
That won't change this week when they visit the 3-5 Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon, but don't expect wide receiver Dexter McCluster to lose a lot of sleep about it.
"We're not trying to be the beauty queens. A win is a win," he said, after catching seven balls for 67 yards and a touchdown in a six-point defeat of the three-win Cleveland Browns last week. "We know we're going to have to fight. This is the NFL."
In the Bills, the resistance may be dictated as much by health as talent.
Buffalo has won five of its last six games with the Chiefs and routed them, 35-17, in Kansas City last season, but the hosts enter Week 9 this year with a plethora of injuries, including yet another to the latest in a series of starting quarterbacks.
Practice squad reclamation project Thaddeus Lewis was dinged up in last week's loss to New Orleans and was held out of Wednesday's practice with sore ribs while understudies Jeff Tuel and Matt Flynn shared the first-team reps.
Coach Doug Marrone labeled Lewis as "50-50" for Sunday, which, if he's unable to go, means either Tuel or Flynn would become the third QB to start a game this season. Rookie E.J. Manuel is likely out for a few more weeks after injuring a knee in Week 6 at Cleveland, and Lewis was plucked from his deep reserve status after Tuel failed to impress in the final stages of that 37-24 loss.
Lewis was 1-2 in his initial three starts with the Bills, losing to Cincinnati in overtime and beating Miami before an 18-point defeat at New Orleans last week in which he completed 22-of-39 passes for 234 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Also at less than full health are running back C.J. Spiller, questionable with an ankle injury after missing last week; and wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who's questionable with a hip problem, though he caught seven passes for 72 yards from Lewis against the Saints.
Running back Fred Jackson caught two passes and ran 15 times last week, and is also questionable with a knee injury, but he expects to suit up.
"It probably is happening to every other team, but we're talking about it now and we've got to just get over it," he said. "There's nothing we can really control. We're out there and playing football and this is what happens when you play in this league."
Neither the injuries nor the fact that they're closer to the bottom of the league than the top in scoring defense -- 25th among 32 teams, allowing 26.6 points per game -- have tempered Buffalo optimism.
"Guys are still confident," Jackson said. "We've got a good opponent coming in this weekend that gives us an opportunity to go out and win against a team that's 8-0, give them the first loss of the season and try and build on that."
Kansas City started 9-0 in 2003 en route to 13 wins and this year became the first team in league history to start 8-0 after compiling the league's worst record -- 2-14 -- a season prior.
Ironically, while the Bills would surely trade record, it's the Chiefs who are playing modest.
"We've always been humble," safety Eric Berry said. "We're going to keep working because we know how hard these wins are to come by. We don't take these for granted."
Nine of the 15 teams to sweep the first eight games of a 16-game schedule have ultimately reached the Super Bowl, and all but one -- the 16-0 New England Patriots -- has won it.
Nonetheless, the gaudy expectations remain a non-factor, according to Tamba Hali. Instead, it's a determination to keep building on what's been accomplished.
"We love what's going on around here as far as winning," Hali said. "None of us have been in this position where this team is 8-0. To keep winning, to go 1-0 every week, we have a sense of urgency to keep getting wins."
Hali and his colleagues have helped Kansas City to league-leading status in scoring defense (12.3 points per game) and sacks (36). Not to mention, the 98 points surrendered thus far are second-fewest in Chiefs history for the first half of a 16-game season.
Cleveland matched Kansas City's most prolific foe by posting 17 points last week, but the Chiefs won a close one for the third straight week -- all decided by six points or fewer.
On offense, running back Jamaal Charles is probable with a knee injury after rushing for 74 yards and catching five passes for 46 yards against the Browns.
He leads the league with an average of 127.3 yards from scrimmage and is second with 635 rush yards.
"It's a long season," Charles said, "and I'll get banged up every week."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Pursue the Weak Impala.
Even at full strength, Buffalo's Lewis is still a practice squad refugee facing an unbeaten team in his fifth NFL start. With the hits he's taken over the last several weeks, even that level has been compromised. Expect him to be harassed mightily by a Kansas City defense that's been particularly stingy and especially aggressive through eight games.
Variety is the Spice.
The Bills are 25th in scoring defense, 26th in total yards allowed, 24th in passing yardage and 26th in rushing yardage. Given those numbers, expect Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith to attack with equal parts Charles, McCluster and Bowe while seeing what combination yields the best results.
The Bills are a popular pick thanks to their competitiveness in three of five losses and the lingering skepticism about the quality of the teams that the Chiefs have beaten.
It's a logical argument, but it's also offset by the fact that -- regardless of who they've played -- this week's visitors simply have more healthy talent available to them. It may be close, but it won't be an upset.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Chiefs 24, Bills 17
11/01 09:10:58 ET