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Start of AFC North play adds 'a little bit more' to Browns' intensity

Because of a quirky 2015 schedule, half of the Browns' remaining regular season games are against AFC North opponents.

It all gets started Sunday in Baltimore, and Browns coach Mike Pettine doesn't see a reason to downplay its significance as Cleveland, 1-3 after last week's loss to San Diego, eyes a game it'd love to win against a similarly disappointed 1-3 Ravens team.

"A little bit more added into this week just because it is the first one in the division," Pettine said. "Always an exciting week. We all look forward to it, knowing how important the games are."

When the 2015 schedule was released in April, Pettine zeroed his focus on the division, an area where the Browns didn't meet their standards in 2014 but took encouragement and confidence from as they eyed the upcoming season.

Cleveland went 2-4 against the three teams from the AFC North, all of whom made the playoffs. Its two wins came in convincing fashion at home against Pittsburgh and on the road at Cincinnati, and all but one of the losses were decided late in the fourth quarter. The best path toward reaching the team's ultimate goals, Pettine said before the start of training camp, is through the division, which once again appears to be one of the best in the NFL through the first quarter of the season.

"It is always a big emphasis," Pettine said. "I thought we made strides last year and closed the gap on some of the teams in the division. We will see where we stand with Baltimore on Sunday. Success in the division is a big priority."

To emphasize that point, Pettine said he would spend a little more time discussing the importance of it in Wednesday's meetings. For the younger players unfamiliar with the history between the Ravens and Browns, Pettine made sure to provide them with the necessary bullet points.

"Those guys have a good understanding of why these fan bases aren't necessarily on each other's Christmas card list," Pettine said. "This is a big challenge for us. They are coming off a big win with a couple extra days rest. We certainly look at it as a big challenge."

Taking care of business in the division has been a theme ever since Pettine arrived.

As he described it Wednesday, the recent lopsided history between the Browns and their division rivals was "right in front of us" at the beginning when the Browns opened 2014 with a narrow loss to the Steelers. Wins over Pittsburgh and Cincinnati helped accomplish part of the goal, but an empty feeling remained with Baltimore, which won both games late in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens have won 13 of the last 14 against Cleveland since the Browns swept the 2007 series.

"Despite being very competitive in both games, we were 0-2 against them," Pettine said. "I think based on that the guys that were a part of it last year are not going to be in any way – we're not starting the game in a hole. I think our guys realize that if we play well that we can be successful."

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