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Browns-Steelers rivalry 'definitely a different vibe'

After defeating the Steelers in some of the biggest games of 2020, the Browns know their rivalry will have an added edge in 2021

Jarvis Landry has always felt a bit of an extra edge in the Browns locker room in the week leading up to games against the Steelers.

That edge has returned as Cleveland prepares to host Pittsburgh on Sunday for the first time this season — and the first time since the Browns eliminated the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs last season. The Browns beat the Steelers just once from 2013-2019 but have appeared to even the rivalry with their playoff win and Week 17 playoff-clinching win from 2020.

As a result, the rivalry has gained a little bit more importance from both sides. Landry, who's been with the Browns since 2018, has felt the change this week.

"This division has been carried by the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, but now, for the first time in a long time, it's pretty even," Landry said. "Division games for us are always important, but (the competitiveness) makes them that much more important."

Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers

Statements from both Browns and Steelers players this week seem to agree with that sentiment. Whether a player has experienced the rivalry for several seasons or whether Sunday will be their first taste of the rivalry, both teams appear to be placing a bit of an added importance on Sunday, which could be big in determining which side has a leg up in chasing the Bengals and Ravens atop the AFC North. 

Just ask John Johnson III. The safety spent his first four NFL seasons in the NFC with the Los Angeles Rams, but he didn't need much time to realize how important a Steelers matchup means in Cleveland when he started his Week 8 preparations.

"In my DMs, (people are like) 'it's Steelers Week. Get your mind right," Johnson said. "It's definitely a different vibe. It's two tough teams up north. It's cold, and it's going to be fun."

Over in Pittsburgh, the Steelers haven't been afraid to mention the previous result against Cleveland as a reason for added motivation. That game will forever be remembered with the Browns, and not only because they won — their 28-0 lead by the end of the first quarter took everyone by surprise, and it gave them enough cushion to fend off a late Steelers comeback attempt and win 48-37

"They whooped our (butt) at home and they sent us home, so if you can't get motivated for that, you shouldn't be playing football," Steelers tight end Eric Ebron said.

The Browns, meanwhile, are focused on keeping their momentum in the rivalry. They'll have an added boost this week with the possible returns of QB Baker Mayfield, RB Nick Chubb and OT Jack Conklin, all of whom were sidelined with injuries in Week 7 but have ramped up their practice work this week and are hopeful to play Sunday.

On defense, the Browns are hopeful to build off a strong Week 7 performance where they allowed just 14 points at a more consistent pace. The Browns, though, have been eager to see how the group can fare against the high-powered offenses of the division after it was revamped with top free-agent veterans and talented young prospects in the offseason.

After no division games in the first seven weeks, the first AFC North test for the group has finally arrived.

"These are the games that matter the most," Johnson said. "It's never going to be a pleasant game against these guys."

The stakes have always been high between the two sides regardless of the amount of talent on either roster. This year, however, there's no denying the balance — each side has their fair share of stars. 

Couple that with the results from last year, and it's easy to see why the Browns will treat their first reunion with Pittsburgh with a little added importance and intensity.

"That's always something that's just naturally been here," Landry said. "That's something you have to establish in this division — that you're physical. There's a lot of physical teams in this division, and that has to be part of your identity."