The Browns don't need any reminders about who the Panthers' opposing QB will be on Sunday in Charlotte.
Ever since the Browns traded Baker Mayfield to the Panthers in July, the top storylines leading to Week 1 have been all about the matchup of the Browns vs. Baker. Will the defense be able shut Cleveland's former QB down? Will either side have any advantage against one another after spending four years together? Are there any "hard feelings" about the offseason breakup?
The Browns will allow their performance on Sunday do the talking, but they want to make it clear they're viewing the matchup as one team against another. Not 53 players in brown and orange versus one player in black and blue.
"It's Browns versus Panthers," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "It's pretty simple. We have to prepare for their offense, their defense, their special teams, so that's where our focus is."
Check out photos of players and coaches working to prepare for the teams first regular season game against the Carolina Panthers Sunday
The Browns will carry a different look on offense compared to the one they utilized with Mayfield a year ago.
Jacoby Brissett is QB1. Amari Cooper is the top wide receiver. The playbook is different, too, although it might carry some similarities from the last two years of the Stefanski-Mayfield era — like the frequency of play-action plays and the reliance on the run. The Browns are hoping the adjustments keep them afloat in the playoff race until Deshaun Watson, the QB of the future, returns from an 11-game suspension.
To have a chance at winning Sunday — and throughout Watson's suspension — the Browns will need to be at their best on defense. It's a group that obviously knows Mayfield well and, unlike the offense, is mostly unchanged from a year ago.
The Browns retained nine of its 11 defensive starters from last season. They know from practicing against Mayfield every week and watching him from the sidelines what his strengths and weaknesses are. Sure, they're eager to face their former QB in an actual game, but Mayfield is also in a different offensive system and working with a few talented weapons with a do-it-all RB in Christian McCaffrey and proven WRs D.J. Moore and Robbie Anderson.
No one is expecting the matchup to be a walk in the park.
"I caught a few of those (Panthers) preseason games live, actually," safety John Johnson III said. "I've watched a couple of things, just stuff you see on social media, stuff like that. We're going to put together a good plan. Like I said, we have a couple of bonus days so that helps us. I think we will be ready."
Mayfield, conversely, knows some pieces and playcalls of the Browns offense, and Stefanski said he expected some of that knowledge to be relayed to Panthers coaches. Mayfield also knows the defense more than any other QB the Browns will face this season. They'll have to be creative in disguising coverages, efficient in applying pressure to the pocket and using pre-snap movements to keep Mayfield guessing before the play begins.
It'll be a chess match, but the Browns won't allow Mayfield's possible sharing of knowledge to stymie their process in building a game plan.
"You don't want to overthink those types of things," Stefanski said. "You understand that he was in our system for two seasons, so he knows code words, hand signals and those types of things."
For a Week 1 matchup, the stakes are still undoubtedly high, and playing Mayfield is certainly a part of that — but maybe not in the way most people believe.
The Browns aren't using the idea of stopping any sort of "revenge" from Mayfield as an extra motivator. If the defense stops Mayfield, they'll open the year on a good note knowing they defeated a familiar, motivated QB on an offense with several players who often play well on Sundays. It'll also potentially mean the offense performed well enough to win in its first game with Brissett at the helm.
"The motivation is we are playing a good football team on the road Game 1," Stefanski said. "That is really all you need."
It's about starting 1-0, regardless of the QB.
The Browns just happen to know a lot about the one they're playing against Sunday.
"Baker is going to be Baker," LB Anthony Walker Jr. said. "He's a competitor at the end of the day, and he wants to be great. He's going to compete. It's going to be a great game. It's going to be fun."