Baker Mayfield will know his quarterback opponent Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium better than just about any other one he'll face this season.
He'll be carrying an extra edge as a result, too.
Mayfield is former college teammates, former college roommates and shares the status of being both a Heisman winner and first overall NFL draft pick with Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. Both signal-callers shared a quarterback room and college housing at Oklahoma, where Murray backed up Mayfield in his record-breaking season in 2017 and then became the Sooners' starter once Mayfield became the Browns' first pick of the 2018 draft.
Now, both quarterbacks are leading their teams in a chase to the top of their respective conferences, which is why their matchup Sunday in Cleveland is one of the best in the NFL this weekend.
"We were surrounded by great teammates, a great scheme and a great coach down there at Oklahoma," Mayfield told local reporters Wednesday. "It's a healthy relationship for us. He's a great friend of mine, and we were able to push each other and absolutely get the best out of each other."
Mayfield will have a tall challenge keeping up with his pal, who's leading a Cardinals team that has yet to lose a game. Arizona is the only team with a 5-0 record, and its early season dominance is one reason why Murray is an early frontrunner for MVP. He's sixth in the league with 1,512 passing yards and third with an average of 9.2 yards per pass attempt (minimum of 90 attempts).
Mayfield and Murray are two different styles of quarterbacks. Mayfield is better suited for the play-action, roll-out style of play and has accuracy as his calling card — that was on display last Sunday in Los Angeles when he passed for 305 yards and two touchdowns. Murray, meanwhile, is a speedy, dual-threat player that has flashed an extra gear in his passing game early in 2021.
"He's got all his bases covered," Mayfield said. "He understands the concepts in space a lot better than people give him credit for. He's able to take advantage of space because he's so quick, and he's able to dissect the defense."
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Arizona Cardinals
The two will meet Sunday for the second time in their NFL careers. Mayfield would rather not discuss the first one.
The Browns lost 38-24 as Mayfield threw for 247 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a game the Cardinals controlled from start to finish. Murray passed for 219 yards, one touchdown and one interception and was lifted by the performance of Kenyan Drake, who rushed for 137 yards and four touchdowns.
Mayfield lost on the bragging rights from that game, but the addition by the NFL of a 17th regular-season game meant the four-year wait originally scheduled between the AFC North and NFC West teams was cut to two — both teams finished third in their divisions last season and were aligned to play against each other in the additional game.
The bragging rights are back on, and Mayfield is hungry for them.
"There's always a little bit of trash talk," he said. "We see each other quite a bit in the offseason. He might show it differently, but behind closed doors, he is quite the trash talker. Don't let him fool you."
Beyond the bragging rights for Mayfield, the Browns will need a win to avoid losing two consecutive games for the first time under head coach Kevin Stefanski. The offense, meanwhile, will look to replicate the positives from their 47-42 loss last week in Los Angeles — Mayfield had the offense humming for most of the game and achieved a season-best 122.5 quarterback rating.
Mayfield didn't call the performance the best of his season so far.
"I care about one stat, and that's win and losses," he said. "We didn't win."
Achieving that goal this week means Mayfield will have to outduel a friend, competitor and opponent he knows will want to win as much as he does.