Steelers vs. Browns 2013 game preview: AFC North foes fight for divisional positioning

Any chance of catching the Bengals is likely over for the loser of Sunday's game.

The Cleveland Browns let a golden opportunity to pull within striking distance of the AFC North lead slip through their hands last Sunday when they allowed the Bengals to charge back for a lopsided win. What's worse for them, thanks to the suddenly-hot Steelers, the Browns find themselves in the division's basement heading into this weekend's showdown in Pittsburgh.

The Browns held a 13-0 lead at one point against Cincinnati, but surrendered 31 unanswered second-quarter points as they fell to the division-leading Bengals and dropped to 4-6 on the season. The Steelers are a much more optimistic 4-6 after winning four of their last six games, including a 37-27 comeback win over the Lions in Week 11.

Meet the Browns

After completing 63 percent of his passes for five touchdowns and no interceptions in his first two games as the Browns' starter, Jason Campbell went 27-of-56 with one touchdown and three picks against Cincinnati. The Bengals secondary played well, but it was Campbell's inaccuracy that was the story of the loss. The running game has been a mixed bag since the trading of Trent Richardson -- they've had five different leading rushers in the games since his departure -- but the trade is looking increasingly solid with Richardson's struggles in Indianapolis. Wideout Josh Gordon continues to be a dangerous deep threat, ranking third in the league with 18.8 yards per reception.

Don't blame the Browns defense for the 41 points the Bengals put up last Sunday. It's not their fault Cincy was gifted four turnovers and two blocked punts. The Browns own the league's No. 4 defense in terms of total yards allowed and are giving up just 207.5 passing yards per game. Shutdown cornerback Joe Haden grabbed his third interception of the year last Sunday, taking it to the house for a 29-yard pick-six.

Meet the Steelers

Overshadowed by reports of discontent and rumored trade requests, Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 12 touchdowns to five picks over the last six games, and he is a major reason the team has gone 4-2 in that span. Four of those scores came in a comeback win over the Lions in Week 11, a game in which the Steelers went to a hurry-up offense to help them pile up 358 yards through the air. The running attack was a different matter, as the team averaged just 1.5 yards per carry in a 40-yard performance. The return of left guard Ramon Foster should help get rookie running back Le'Veon Bell back on track in Week 12.

Pittsburgh's defense has had mixed success this season, a trend exemplified by their bipolar performance against the Lions. After giving up 27 points in the second quarter alone, they buckled down on Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson and held Detroit scoreless in the second half. The aging unit clearly isn't what it once was, but they've nevertheless managed to keep opponents under 19 points in six of their 10 games this season.

Local Takes: Browns

Cleveland had a punt deflected and another blocked and returned for a touchdown against the Bengals, special teams blunders that Chris Pokorny at Dawgs by Nature believes led directly to the loss:

Overall, the punt protection issues cost the Browns the game, as they ended up leading to 14 free points for the Bengals. If the punts had gotten off normally, there is no doubt in my mind that Cleveland wins the game -- Cincinnati's offense could not drive the ball for squat. Heck, here's a stat that may floor you: the Bengals were just 1-of-14 (7%) on third down.

Local Takes: Steelers

The Steelers unveiled a no huddle offensive attack with great success against Detroit, and Neil Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain expects to see its use continue moving forward:

The Steelers have a weapon fans have been clamoring for over the last few years; the no huddle they ran extensively and successfully against Detroit. Stands to reason it will be employed to a higher degree against Cleveland in Week 12 and Baltimore in Week 13.

Perhaps not as much as it was against Detroit, but clearly, they cut through Detroit's defense, making something the team has struggled with in their previous 25 games - scoring points.

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Behind the Steel Curtain and Dawgs by Nature, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@DawgsByNature

@btselcurtain

@MaryKayCabot - Browns beat reporter

@arobinson_Trib - Steelers beat reporter

Prediction

From the Week 12 picks:

Remember when every team in the AFC North could have been a contender? Ok, we never really made that assumption about the Browns, and they seem to be the one team that's actually kind of close to preseason expectations: improved, but still flawed.

The Steelers are playing better than they were. This is a problem because Mike Tomlin thinks it only proves his theory about not having fun.

The Browns beat the Steelers in Cleveland last year, and they haven't lost to an AFC North opponent at home this season, in just two games. I'm picking the Browns here, if only because I want to live in a world where Jason Campbell has a real chance at making the playoffs for the first time ever.

The pick: Browns

Odds

Despite the Browns' blowout loss in Week 11 and the Steelers' two-game win streak, Cleveland comes in as a one-point favorite at home, according to Oddsshark.com.

Next Week

The Steelers draw another division matchup against the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving night, while the Browns host the Jacksonville Jaguars in at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.

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