CLEVELAND -- The matchups were memorable, not for their seriousness but for the fun.
After the 2014 and 2016 seasons, cornerback Aqib Talib played against star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the Pro Bowl, the NFL's annual exhibition that is heavy on camaraderie and light on real competition.
"That's playing around," Talib said last week. "Backyard football."
The stakes will be higher Sunday night when Talib and the Rams play the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Rams are 2-0 and regarded as a contender to win the NFC and make a return trip to the Super Bowl. The Browns, after going 1-31 the previous two seasons, seemed to turn a corner last season when they finished 7-8-1. They are 1-1 under first-year coach Freddie Kitchens and appear on their way to respectability in the AFC, if not more.
Beckham, acquired from the New York Giants in an offseason trade, is part of a Browns offense led by quarterback Baker Mayfield -- the first pick in the 2018 draft -- and that also features receiver Jarvis Landry. Running back Kareem Hunt, another potential star, will not play Sunday because he is serving an NFL-imposed eight-game suspension. Nick Chubb is the current starter.
Beckham, 26, caused a stir this season by wearing an expensive watch in the season opener against the Tennessee Titans and an even pricier timepiece during warmups before a "Monday Night Football" victory over the New York Jets.
But he also showed once again that he is a game-breaker.
"There's not many players in this league that can catch short, intermediate, down the field and can literally score on any single moment, any play," Rams coach Sean McVay said. "He's an explosive play waiting to happen."
Beckham's talent was so intriguing to the Rams, after the 2017 season they expressed interest about acquiring him from the Giants, the team that selected him 12th overall in the 2014 draft. Instead, the Rams traded for Brandin Cooks, who teams with Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp to give quarterback Jared Goff one of the NFL's most productive receiver corps.