By ARNIE STAPLETON AP Pro Football Writer
DENVER (AP) — Frank Clark brought his second Super Bowl ring and a little secret from Kansas City to Denver when he signed with the Broncos after his release from the Chiefs in a salary dump.
The Chiefs, he said, don’t view their AFC West foe as a rival.
“I wouldn’t call it a rivalry. A rivalry is competitive,” Clark said when asked about switching sides in the one-sided series.
“We didn’t call it a rivalry” in Kansas City, he added.
The only players on the Chiefs roster who were around in 2015 when they last lost to the Broncos are tight end Travis Kelce and long snapper James Winchester.
Not a single player on Denver’s roster has beaten the Chiefs while wearing a Broncos uniform.
This series hasn’t been competitive since Peyton Manning was wrapping up his Hall of Fame career in 2015. The Broncos beat K.C. 31-24 in Week 2 of that season, and the Chiefs won the rematch in Denver on the day Manning broke Brett Favre’s NFL career record for passing yards and tore a ligament in his left foot.
Manning would return to guide the Broncos to a triumph in Super Bowl 50, but the torch had been passed in the AFC West.
The Chiefs have won all seven division titles since then and their 15-game winning streak against Denver is the fourth longest by one team over a single opponent in league history.
Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes have guided the Chiefs to three AFC titles in the past four years and two Super Bowl wins, including last year’s 38-35 thriller over Philadelphia.
The Broncos have churned through six head coaches and seven starting quarterbacks while missing the playoffs each of the past seven seasons.
The other teams in the division haven’t fared much better than Denver: the Las Vegas Raiders are 1-9 against Kansas City over the past five seasons and the Los Angeles Chargers are 3-7, with two wins and overtime defeats coming with Justin Herbert under center.
Despite the lopsided nature of the division, many of the Chiefs’ wins have come in one-score games as they always seem to come up big in crunch time on offense, defense and special teams.
That’s because the Chiefs don’t allow complacency to set in, Mahomes said.
“There’s a lot of parity in this league. Anybody can beat anybody,” Mahomes insisted. “And so we have to have that mentality every single day or we will get beat. Especially in the division and the AFC in general. Every single week, every opponent we play is going to play us to the best of their ability, so we have to make sure we go out there with that mentality.”
The Chiefs overcame the departure of speedster Tyreek Hill last year to win it all. This year they’ll have to deal with star defensive tackle Chris Jones’ protracted holdout and an exodus of talent in free agency, including both starting offensive tackles and two of Mahomes’ top targets.
And Clark, who always came up huge in the playoffs but was let go just a year after signing a two-year, $30 million extension. He signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal to bolster the Broncos’ pass rush.
“What we did in Kansas City was special,” Clark said, “… but at the end of the day all good things come to an end.”
The question again this year is: Will the Chiefs’ division dominance end any time soon?
Job No. 1 for Sean Payton in Denver is resuscitating Russell Wilson’s career after he nosedived under the tutelage of Nathaniel Hackett last season.
Clark said he has no doubt Wilson, whom he played with in Seattle from 2015-18, will bounce back in a big way in 2023.
“He’s still dangerous. Don’t get it twisted,” Clark said. “Don’t think a bad season’s going to shake a guy like Russ. Naw, bro, we start fresh every year. Every summer’s a fresh start.”
Fresh off signing his five-year, $262.5 million contract extension, Justin Herbert is looking to lead the Chargers to consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 2009, and he has plenty of help.
New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore promises to dial up more deep throws with Quentin Johnston joining Keenan Allen and Mike Williams to give these Chargers a modern-day “Air Coryell” vibe.
“To get them the ball,” Herbert said, “I think that’s my main priority.”
Just like Saquon Barkley, Raiders running back Josh Jacobs signed a one-year deal worth a little bit more than the $10.1 million franchise tag tender. Unlike Barkley, Jacobs didn’t sign until training camp was over.
Jacobs, who led the league in rushing last season with 1,653 yards, “meant a lot to our team last year, is going to mean a lot to our team this year,” coach Josh McDaniels said.
McDaniels has said Jacobs likely would receive a similar workload as last season, when he had nearly 400 touches between rushing and receiving, but he might have to be eased into a heavy workload.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
Chiefs, Chargers, Broncos, Raiders.