Which AFC North rival irks Browns fans the most?
The Ravens, the new version of the old Browns? Or the Steelers, the Browns’ longest and oldest rival?
“Steelers,” rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield said Wednesday after pondering the question. “Steelers, but I don’t know. We have a lot of Steelers fans becoming Browns fans this weekend.”
It’s true. Pittsburgh needs the Browns to win Sunday if it’s going to make the playoffs. The Browns could play the role of spoiler and savior to their division rivals this week.
For one of the first times since the AFC North’s creation, fans will wave Terrible Towels in favor of the Browns.
“It’s the NFL, man,” offensive lineman Joel Bitonio said. “It’s crazy. If it was any other week, people would be like, what are you talking about? But that’s how the NFL works. They need us to win and it’s a cool story for the fans to get excited about.”
While Bitonio and Mayfield both mentioned spoiling the Ravens’ playoff hopes as motivation, they made sure to add it’s not their main focus. And they’re certainly not playing to keep the Steelers alive in the playoffs. They’re playing to finish with a winning record and carry some momentum into next season.
For Bitonio, though, it’s just nice to play in a Week 17 game with implications, regardless of the motivating factors.
“It’s fun to be a part of these (games),” Bitonio said. “We haven’t had too many of these.”
— Bitonio was voted as the PFWA Dino Lucarelli ‘Good Guy Award’ winner by the local Cleveland media for the second straight year this week.
The award is given yearly to the player the media deems as the most accommodating player in media settings, and Bitonio joins Joe Thomas as the only Browns player to win the award twice.
Bitonio said he partially learned his media manners by watching Thomas and Alex Mack conduct their interviews. But above all, Bitonio’s relationship with reporters is maintained through a baseline respect.
“You respect people for the job they have to do, the job that you have to do,” Bitonio said to reporters Wednesday. “You guys are just trying to do your job. It is not hard to give you a day of the week or a couple of times a week to talk to you guys.”
—Sunday marks the first time Mayfield will compete against Lamar Jackson on the field.
To this point, Mayfield and Jackson have only competed in suits. When Jackson won the Heisman Trophy in 2016, Mayfield finished third. When Mayfield won it the following season, Jackson finished third.
Even this Sunday, it’s hard to call Mayfield vs. Jackson a “matchup.” They won’t share the field besides pregame warmups and postgame pleasantries.
But that won’t stop Mayfield’s competitive juices from churning.
“The extra motivation, the stuff on the side, is who you are playing,” Mayfield said. “That is what makes it fun.”
— DT Larry Ogunjobi (biceps), C JC Tretter (ankle), LB Tanner Vallejo (hamstring) and DB Denzel Ward (concussion) missed Wednesday’s practice.