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The Steelers won't have an easy time against the Browns

Unlike the Browns teams from previous years, the 2014 version appears to be one that has the fight and determination to give Pittsburgh everything it's got this Sunday and much, much more.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers travel to FirstEnergy Stadium this Sunday to take on a Cleveland team that has traditionally been very charitable to their win column. Since the Browns returned to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999, Pittsburgh has a 27-5 record in the series, only losing back-to-back games once.

According to Wikipedia, the Steelers went 18-3 against Cleveland in the previous decade and are currently 8-1 so far in the 2010s.

With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger under center, Pittsburgh hasn't lost to the Browns since way back in December of 2009, and his personal dominance over them throughout his career (19-1 in games he has started) is just mind-boggling.

Of course, the Browns' overall performance as a franchise, with only two of the past 15 seasons ending with more wins than losses, is probably why Pittsburgh (and just about everyone else) has had such great success against them.

But this year feels different when it comes to the Brownies.

It's true that, statistically, these Browns appear to be about as underwhelming as their predecessors, with no meaningful top-10 team rankings. But Brian Hoyer, their starting quarterback  who was projected to give way to Johnny Manziel by now, is actually having a fairly respectable year. Through four weeks, he has thrown six touchdown passes to only one interception and is averaging 252 yards per game, with a very decent 97.7 passer rating.

The Browns might be 2-2, but they've already defeated New Orleans (26-24) and nearly defeated Baltimore (21-23). And this past Sunday, Cleveland overcame a 28-3 deficit against the Titans on the road to win, 29-28 (the largest deficit overcome by a road team in NFL history).

If the 25-point margin the Browns vanquished in Week 5 looks familiar to you, it's because they did almost the exact same thing to Pittsburgh in Week 1. If you remember that game, the Steelers looked unstoppable in the first half as they jumped out to a 27-3 lead at the intermission. But in the second half, Cleveland came storming back and actually tied the game at 27 with 11 minutes and change still remaining in the fourth quarter, before eventually falling, 30-27, on a last-second field goal by Shaun Suisham.

Say what you will about the Browns, but the 2014 model hasn't looked like the afterthought it has been for most of the past 15 years.

If I know my fellow Steelers fans like I do, many no doubt have marked this Sunday's game in the win column (never mind that Cleveland is actually favored by two and a half points), but that would be a very foolish state of mind.

You might say a team that has found itself down by three touchdowns or more twice already in just four games isn't one to be feared, but there is definitely something to fear about a squad that can look such deficits squarely in the eye, get up off the mat and come fighting back with everything it has.

Remember in Rocky II when Duke tried to warn Apollo Creed about challenging Rocky Balboa to a second fight? "I saw you beat that man like I never saw no man get beat before, and the man kept coming after you."

Our 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers might be a lot of things, but I think it's safe to say they're not the NFL's version of Apollo Creed.

But these new Browns, while they might still be susceptible to upper-cuts and body blows, like the cinematic underdog referenced above, they appear to have a collective heart and soul, and the determination to never give up.

The Steelers better protect themselves in the clenches on Sunday. If they don't, well, we all know how Rocky II ended.

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