PITTSBURGH STEELERS AT CLEVELAND BROWNS
SERIES HISTORY: 129th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 70-58. The Browns' downfall in this series began in the first game of the expansion era when the Steelers humiliated the Browns 43-0 on Sept. 12, 1999. The Browns have never beaten Ben Roethlisberger at home (0-10).
KEYS TO THE GAME: Ready or not, here comes Browns rookie QB DeShone Kizer to make his NFL debut. Expect the Steelers' defense to try to give the Notre Dame product a rude awakening with consistent pressure up front. Kizer is mobile and has a big arm, but he was far from flawless with the Fighting Irish, and the Steelers could force him into a pass-first strategy if they are able to build an early advantage.
Pittsburgh's offense is experienced and healthy after a long offseason to rest. QB Ben Roethlisberger owns a ridiculous 20-2 career record and 95.8 passer rating against the Browns. Meanwhile, RB Le'Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown are likely to break a big play at any moment. Bell missed all of training camp in a holdout but is expected to get a heavy workload nonetheless.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Steelers LT Alejandro Villanueva vs. Browns DE Myles Garrett. Cleveland made Garrett the No. 1 overall pick out of Texas A&M in large part because of his pass-rush ability, and his first big game could come against Big Ben and Co. Garrett suffered an ankle injury in practice this week, though, and could end up sitting out the opener. Villanueva, a third-year player out of Army, is a behemoth who is listed at 6-foot-9 and 320 pounds.
--Browns WR Kenny Britt vs. Steelers CB Joe Haden. This weekend offers a quick homecoming for Haden, who joined the Steelers after the Browns released him at the end of August. Motivation will not be a problem for the veteran cornerback. Britt led the Rams with 68 catches for 1,002 yards in 2016 before signing with the Browns during the offseason.
STEELERS NOTABLE ROOKIE: Outside linebackjer T.J. Watt. The Steelers installed Watt as the starter at right outside linebacker ahead of veteran James Harrison and expect results. Watt, the No. 30 overall pick in April's draft, has impressed coaches since he arrived. OLB coach Joey Porter considers Harrison a "relief pitcher" with the full expectation that Watt plays until he is tired or unproductive.
BROWNS NOTABLE ROOKIE: Defensive end Myles Garrett. He should not be judged strictly by his sack total. He will force the quarterback to step into the pass rush of teammates simply with his sheer quickness around the right end. Nor is Garrett a one-trick pony. He is strong against the run, which is something the Browns desperately need after finishing 31st against the run last season.
FAST FACTS: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for more career passing yards (5,490) and passing touchdowns (35) against the Browns than any other quarterback. ... Cleveland's 1-15 record in 2016 marked the worst single-season record in franchise history. ... Steelers DE Stephon Tuitt has tallied five sacks in five career games against Cleveland. ... Browns RB Isaiah Crowell needs 32 rushing yards to move into the franchise's top 10 list of all-time rushers. ... Steelers CB William Gay needs one more pick-six to break a tie with Hall of Famer Rod Woodson for the most interception returns in franchise history.
PREDICTION: The Browns seem to have the right idea when it comes to building around young players, but that doesn't mean wins will come right away. Look for the Steelers' dominance in this rivalry to continue as Browns QB DeShone Kizer endures a few growing pains in his first NFL start.
OUR PICK: Steelers, 31-14.