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Sizing up the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns' Week 11 and 17 foe


One by one, is breaking down each of the Browns' 2016 regular season opponents as the dog days of the offseason unfold.*

Today's preview pits the Browns against an all-too-familiar AFC North foe two hours southeast of the shores of Lake Erie.

Who: Pittsburgh Steelers

When: Week 11 (Nov. 20, FirstEnergy Stadium) and Week 17 (Jan. 1, 2017 at Heinz Field)

Series History (last meeting): 58-68 (Steelers 28, Browns 12 in 2015 at FirstEnergy Stadium)

The coach: Mike Tomlin — 10th season

The stakes:In their second to last game before the bye week, the Browns welcome Pittsburgh to FirstEnergy Stadium in late November and will travel to the Steel City on New Year's Day for both teams' regular-season finale. After sweeping Cleveland in 2015 and winning six of the last eight games against the Browns, the Steelers should enter this AFC North bout with plenty of confidence considering past outcomes. Meanwhile, for Hue Jackson and Co., this is a chance to measure themselves against one of the league's most consistent teams and potentially nothch a signature win in the division.

Offseason storyline: After falling to eventual-Super Bowl champion Denver in the second round of the playoffs, the Steelers enter 2016 poised to, again, compete for an AFC North championship and postseason berth behind veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, dynamo wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell, who's expected to be healthy following knee surgery in November. While Pittsburgh's run defense -- anchored by DL Cameron Heyward, LB Lawrence Timmons and LB Ryan Shazier -- was ferocious in 2015, the pass defense struggled to limit opposing air attacks. To address that concern, the Steelers drafted Miami CB Artie Burns in the first round, but it's unclear what kind of impact he'll have.

Matchup to watch: Brown vs. the Browns pass defense — As you've probably learned over the past few seasons, it seems to take an entire defense — not just one defender — to slow down Brown, who's short area quickness, breakaway speed and uncanny ability to catch a football make him arguably the league's best wide receiver. As such, a relatively young Browns secondary will have to keep him in check if Cleveland wants a chance at winning. 

Biggest addition: Burns — The rookie should find himself competing for playing time on a defense looking for depth at corner in addition to veteran William Gay and third-year CB Ross Cockrell. Burns, who was drafted 25th overall (something that surprised some analysts), made 36 tackles, six interceptions and five pass breakups in his final season with the Hurricanes.

Biggest loss: TE Heath Miller and WR Martavis Bryant — After finishing only second to Brown in receptions, yards and TD catches last season. Bryant was suspended for one year after violating the league's substance abuse policy. Miller — a Pro Bowl selection and two-time Super Bowl champion — retired after 11 seasons in Pittsburgh.

The star: Brown — Sure, Roethlisberger makes the Steelers offense go, but Brown seems worthy of this honor, especially considering the ridiculous numbers he put up in 2015. He caught 136 passes for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and there's little reason to think he won't have similar success in 2016.  

The X-Factor: Bell — Considered one of the best all-around backs in the league, Bell enters training camp coming off after surgery in November to repair a torn MCL and PCL. By most accounts, he's expected to participate in training camp and be ready for Pittsburgh's season opener. And he gives the Steelers pass attack another steady option outside of Brown. 

What makes this game tough: It's the Steelers! In all seriousness, the Browns have struggled against Pittsburgh, dropping six of the last eight contests and 10 of 12 since 2010. Roethlisberger remains one of the NFL's top quarterbacks, Brown is the kind of receiver you don't stop but slow down, and the run game behind Bell and veteran D'Angelo Williams figures to be steady.   What makes them beatable:The Steelers pass defense, which finished 30th last season. That's the biggest thing that stands out. On offense, it should be interesting to see who steps up besides Brown when it comes to Pittsburgh's pass offense. Last season, Browns had 35 percent of the team's receptions, a figure that could increase on an offense without Bryant and Miller.

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