The Ravens say they aren't focused on the hype surrounding the Cleveland Browns. The hype doesn't matter. Beating the Browns on Sunday matters.
"It's just talk," Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr said. "I've heard it for 12 years. You guys crown people every offseason, which is pretty cool to see. While you were out there doing your job, I was doing mine, working out, training for this opportunity."
Sunday's Ravens-Browns matchup will be the first AFC North game for both teams, and it's crucial for an early-season encounter. The Browns are off to a 1-2 start and losing Sunday would put them two games behind the Ravens (2-1) and under further pressure.
That's not what the prognosticators expected. Cleveland was widely touted as the team to beat in the division, led by 24-year-old quarterback Baker Mayfield and a bounty of offseason additions.
Mayfield tried his best to keep Baltimore out of the playoffs last season but fell short. The Ravens clinched the AFC North last year with a 26-24 victory over the Browns in Week 17. It took a final-drive interception by former Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley to seal the win, as Mayfield threw for 346 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions, playing aggressively until the end.
Mayfield will bring that gunslinger mentality into Sunday's game, knowing the Browns are on the early-season ropes after their slow start. With the addition of star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in an offseason trade, the Browns have added another big-time weapon for Mayfield, who is often at his best when he's on the move.
Ravens safety Tony Jefferson expects Mayfield to be fiery Sunday, as always.
"I'm sure he's going to have his regular, competitive attitude as he always has," Jefferson said. "Last year, Week 17, they could be using as motivation. Off of last week (losing in Kansas City) we've got motivation, too."
The Browns' talent doesn't stop with Mayfield and Beckham. They have a Pro Bowl defensive end in Myles Garrett, another prolific pass rusher in Olivier Vernon, a wide receiver who would be the No. 1 target on many teams in Jarvis Landry, and a young talented running back in Nick Chubb, who's averaging four yards per carry.
Cleveland hasn't reached the playoffs since 2002, and this team entered the season carrying expectations to end that drought. Baltimore expects to get Cleveland's best punch Sunday, but Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams said the offseason Browns hype won't serve as extra incentive.
"That's just what it is – hype," Williams said. "You really don't know what a team is until you see them on Sunday, once somebody gets hit in the mouth."
Ravens safety Earl Thomas III is looking forward to his first AFC North division rivalry game after nine years with the Seattle Seahawks. And Thomas is one player who noticed the offseason hype surrounding the Browns.
"The media, they're talking about OBJ (Beckham) and that tandem (with Landry), Baker Mayfield, the next savior. He had a hot start," Thomas said. "And then, to add onto that, Coach Harbs talked about it a couple of times in meetings. So, guys kind of got tired of it."
Asked what Head Coach John Harbaugh's message was, Thomas said, "He was just talking about what it looked like on paper. Guys heard that (message). It sounds good, but we'll see."
Carr said it hasn't been difficult to tune out the noise surrounding the Browns. Baltimore has been busy preparing for its first three games, starting the season with two victories before Sunday's hard-fought loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
However, this is the Ravens' first AFC North game of the season, and it comes against the team viewed as Baltimore's biggest threat to repeat as champs. Now the Ravens don't have to avoid thinking about the Browns. Cleveland is coming to their house.
"We knew there was going to come a time this season when we were going to lock in with these guys," Carr said. "It's Week 4 and we're here. All the talk can cease. We can go out there and show up with our pads. Great challenge, great opportunity for us, we get them at home. We've got to defend home turf."