BEREA, Ohio (AP) — The Browns aren’t just battling Baker Mayfield, their former teammate and Carolina’s new quarterback in Sunday’s season opener.

Cleveland’s also up against history. One-sided history.

Amid a multitude of missteps, blown draft picks, coaching changes and enough drama and controversy to fill a rack of supermarket tabloids, there’s one statistic that perhaps underscores the Browns’ misery since their expansion reboot in 1999 better than any other.

They’re 1-21-1 in openers.

Talk about debut duds.

Starting with a 43-0 drubbing by the rival Pittsburgh Steelers in ’99, the Browns have been mostly awful in season openers. Their lone win came in 2004, when quarterback Jeff Garcia led them to a 20-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

It’s been downhill ever since, a pathetic 0-16-1 mark with the lone bright spot a 21-21 tie with the Steelers four years ago.

Making matters worse, the Browns haven’t won a road opener since 1994, when Bill Belichick was their coach.

As he begins his ninth season in the NFL, All-Pro left guard Joel Bitonio couldn’t help but smile when asked where winning an opener is on his bucket list.

“Right now, it’s huge,” said Bitonio, drafted by the Browns in the second round in 2014. “It’s our next game. So it would be great to win this game. I know I haven’t won one since I’ve been here. So it would be huge.”

Every opener is important, bringing a fresh start for every team from the Super Bowl champion to those who followed failure with firings. A clean slate.

This opener is particularly noteworthy for the Browns because it pits them against Mayfield, who insists he’s not seeking revenge against the team that drafted him first in 2018 and then kicked him to the curb after four seasons. He was traded to the Panthers in July.

The Mayfield factor puts more pressure on the Browns and added anxiety for their fans, who can’t fathom the idea of having to endure watching the cocky QB get revenge and parade around in triumph.

Coach Kevin Stefanski has downplayed the Browns’ weak Week 1 efforts.

“I really don’t worry about that,” he said. “I don’t. I worry about trying to go 1-0 versus a good football team on the road. I can promise you there are a lot of guys in here who are brand new to this organization and new players.

“They do not really concern themselves about the past.”

Maybe not. But the team’s futility in openers has been a topic of conversation inside the team’s facility this week.

Bitonio mimicked his coach while saying there’s no added emphasis or motivation needed to win.

“To be cliche, coach Stefanski always talks about going 1-0 and that’s our next opponent right now is the Panthers and we’re trying to win this game,” he said. “But I think afterward you can think back and look at it but right now, it’s like let’s just get this Week 1 win.”

The Browns’ sad history in openers has ranged from slim losses to lopsided ones.

Twenty years ago, Cleveland was beaten 40-39 by Kansas City, which won on a last-second field goal set up by Browns linebacker Dwayne Rudd being penalized for taking off his helmet while celebrating what he thought was a game-ending sack.

Bitonio can’t find a common thread in the losses.

“I mean, there was a few years when we were really bad,” he said. “So that’s part of it. But I feel like last year we came out and we played pretty well. It didn’t work out for us, but there’s definitely been some moments.”

Bitonio recalled his rookie season, when the Browns fell behind the Steelers 27-3 at halftime and rallied before losing on another late field goal.

“We’ve been in ones and then we’ve laid some eggs too,” he said. “So it’s part of it, but I don’t think any of that really matters anymore. It’s a new team, it’s new players and we’re exited for the challenge this week.”

NOTES: DE Jadeveon Clowney returned to practice after missing one day with an unspecified illness. CB Greedy Williams (hamstring) was not on the field during the portion open to reporters. … Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said Demetric Felton will return punts and kickoffs. The Browns had to adapt after losing Pro Bowler Jakeem Grant Sr., who was signed as a free agent, to a season-ending knee injury in camp. Priefer feels Felton has improved after handling those duties as a rookie last season.

CLEVELAND (8-9) at CAROLINA (5-12)

Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT, CBS

OPENING LINE: Panthers by 2 1/2, according to FanDuel SportsBook.

AGAINST THE SPREAD: Cleveland 7-10, Carolina 5-12.

SERIES RECORD: Panthers lead 4-2.

LAST MEETING: Browns beat Panthers 26-20 on Dec. 9, 2018, in Cleveland.





TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Browns minus-3; Panthers minus-13.

BROWNS PLAYER TO WATCH: QB Jacoby Brissett moved into the starting spot when Deshaun Watson was suspended 11 games by the NFL for alleged sexual misconduct. This is nothing new to the 29-year-old Brissett, who made 37 starts with New England, Indianapolis and Miami. The Browns don’t need him to be a hero, but more of a game manager while relying on their strong running game.

PANTHERS PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Christian McCaffrey is back in the starting lineup after missing 23 of the last 33 games because of various injuries. McCaffrey looks to be in a great shape and is quietly motivated to prove he’s not injury prone and still one of the league’s best players.

KEY MATCHUP: QB Baker Mayfield vs. Browns. Welcome to the “Baker Bowl.” This game is all about the fiery Mayfield facing his former team, which traded him away after pursuing and eventually landing QB Deshaun Watson. Cleveland agreed to pay $10.5 million of Mayfield’s salary this season as part of a deal to trade him to Carolina. Mayfield took a $3.5 million pay cut to help facilitate the move and get out of Cleveland. Now the former No. 1 overall pick in 2018 has a new start with plenty of quality playmakers such as McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Robbie Anderson. The big question will be how Mayfield handles himself emotionally during the game.

KEY INJURIES: Browns All-Pro RT Jack Conklin has hit every checkpoint in his return from extensive knee surgery in December. Conklin has been practicing with the starters for the past couple of weeks and seems poised to face the Panthers. If not, look for veteran tackle Chris Hubbard to fill in. … The Panthers are monitoring the health of FB Gio Ricci, who is dealing with a hip issue.

SERIES NOTES: Teams have only met six times, the fewest for the Browns against any opponent. … Cleveland has lost both visits to Carolina, 20-12 in 2006 and 17-13 in 2014.

STATS AND STUFF: The Browns are 1-21-1 since 1999 in season openers. They haven’t won on the road in Week 1 since 1994, when then-coach Bill Belichick guided them to a 28-20 win at Cincinnati. … Brissett is one of 20 new players on Cleveland’s roster in 2022. … The Browns are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 8-9 season filled with injuries and drama. … Mayfield suffered a shoulder injury in Week 2 and struggled throughout the season, which ended with him being sacked nine times by Pittsburgh and then sitting out the finale. … Browns Pro Bowl RB Nick Chubb rushed for 1,259 yards last season despite missing three games with injuries. He joined Hall of Famers Jim Brown (7) and Leroy Kelly (2) as the only Browns to rush for more than 1,200 yards in multiple seasons. … WR Amari Cooper, acquired in an offseason trade from Dallas, is expected to be Brissett’s top target. He’s averaged 73 catches, 973 yards and 7 TDs over the past four seasons. … Myles Garrett is second on Cleveland’s sacks list with 58 1/2. He’ll soon pass Clay Matthews (62) for first. … Rookie K Cade York was the star of the preseason, showing off his range on a daily basis in training camp. Coach Kevin Stefanski said the team has re-calibrated its metrics for third and fourth down because of York’s big leg. … This marks the fifth consecutive season the Panthers have opened the season at home. Carolina is 2-2 in its previous four Week 1 matchups and has not made the playoffs in any of those seasons. … The Panthers were 2-6 at home last season. … Coach Matt Rhule is 10-23 in two seasons with Carolina. … Panthers safeties Xavier Woods and Jeremy Chinn combined for 215 tackles last season — Woods while playing for the Vikings and Chinn for the Panthers. … The Panthers feature four different starters on this year’s offensive line. … Rookie LT Ickey Ekwonu will make his first NFL start against Browns All-Pro DE Garrett, who had 16 sacks last season.

FANTASY TIP: Panthers WR D.J. Moore has looked exceptional during training camp and appears to have developed good chemistry with Mayfield. But can he find the end zone? Despite three straight seasons with at least 1,150 yards receiving, the fifth-year pro has never caught more than 4 TD passes in a season.