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Pittsburgh Steelers (11-4) at Cleveland Browns (5-10)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
PREDICTION: Steelers 27-13
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Browns witnessed for the first time the worst of rookie QB Colt McCoy last week (three interceptions). It's paramount to get RB Peyton Hillis rolling -- he had 12 carries for 41 yards in an Oct. 17 loss at Pittsburgh -- to take some of the pyrotechnic capability away from the blitzing Steelers. McCoy held his own but was outdueled by Ben Roethlisberger in the first meeting. TE Heath Miller (two catches, 50 yards) and WR Mike Wallace (three catches, 90 yards) both caught touchdown passes and are difficult matchups for the Cleveland secondary.
FAST FACTS: The Browns are 1-13 in the past 14 meetings. ... The Steelers could go 7-1 on the road for the first time since 2004.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu received plenty of good news this week when he was chosen to start in another Pro Bowl and his teammates elected him the Steelers most valuable player. Now he's hoping to give them a bit of good news -- that he can return to play against the Browns Sunday in Cleveland.
"I am hoping to play this week, whatever is coach (Mike) Tomlin's decision," Polamalu said Thursday.
Tomlin said Polamalu will practice on Friday for the first time since he injured his Achilles Dec. 12 returning an interception for a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals. It was a new injury but in the same area of a previous injury that had bothered him for a month. Polamalu has not played in the past two games.
"We need him," Hines Ward said. "You got plenty of time to rest. We win this game, you can rest all next week. He doesn't have to practice until the following Friday for all we care."
The Steelers will lock up the No. 2 seed in the AFC and a bye in the playoffs should they win in Cleveland. If they lose and Baltimore beats Cincinnati, the Steelers will enter the playoffs as the sixth seed and open the playoffs the following weekend on the road.
"He's one of those players who is special, who makes the plays that no one else can make on the football field," said defensive end Brett Keisel. "We'll be happy to get him healthy and back out there with us."
Phil Dawson is not under contract for next season and, barring something unforeseen in the offseason, will kick for the Browns for the final time Sunday in a home game against the Steelers.
The first of Dawson's 14 game-winning kicks was made against the Steelers on Nov. 14, 1999, so there is some irony in him possibly ending his Browns' career against the same team.
"Every week has challenges; it doesn't change my job responsibility," Dawson said. "I've always approached it that way. I have a job to do. I signed my name on the dotted line and until that's no longer the case, I'm going to continue doing my job.
"So the challenge this week is to embrace the rivalry, what that entails, and block out whatever distractions may be, and in this case possibly being my last game."
Dawson has been the Browns' only kicker since returning to the NFL, save for the final three games in 2003 when he suffered a fractured left arm and five games last season when he was out with a calf injury.
Fourteen game-winning kicks over 182 games might not seem like many, but it is difficult to kick a game-winning field goal when the opponent is winning, 41-0, with a minute to play.
"It's weird to even think about," long snapper Ryan Pontbriand said when asked about someone else kicking for the Browns next season. "His game-winning field goals, for the amount of games we've won, is like 20 percent. It's crazy.
"He's done it for over a decade in one of the hardest cities to kick in. He's a professional I've modeled myself after. It would be like when (Adam) Vinatieri left New England. Phil isn't as well-known nationally, but in our city it would be a big deal."
Dawson is actually responsible for 21.8 percent of the 64 games the Browns have won. He kicked two game-winners this season.
Dawson is 22 of 27 on field-goal tries. One miss was from 62 yards and two were from 51. He has made 83.1 percent of his kicks over a rock-steady career. He is 35 and has no plans to retire any time soon. Matt Stover was 42 last February when he kicked for the Colts in the Super Bowl.
"They're going to have to kick me out the door," Dawson said. "I still feel like I'm getting better. People keep asking, 'Aare you slowing down?' I'm like, 'No.' I'd tell you if I really sensed it.
"I've worked really hard to get better. Each year I've learned a little bit more about what I need to improve on and how to get that done. I still feel like I'm in that mode. I know one of these years I'm going to have to make the transition to just kind of maintaining, but I really don't feel that yet."
Dawson had to think a while to recall his favorite kick. The game-winner against the Steelers in '99 was up there. So were the two in Baltimore in 2007. One hit the support and bounced back over the crossbar on the final play of regulation. The kick was originally ruled no good and then the call was overturned. He followed that by nailing the game-winner in overtime.
Dawson kicked two field goals in a blizzard to beat the Bills in Cleveland in 2007. He said some of his most satisfying don't jump from his memory, but the one he said he cherishes most was a 56-yarder with 1:36 left to beat the Bills, 29-27, on a Monday night in Orchard Park two years ago. It was the longest of his career.
--DE Brett Keisel, who has never made a Pro Bowl in his previous eight seasons, was named the first alternate at defensive end for the AFC.
--LB LaMarr Woodley put in a full practice on Thursday and will start Sunday in Cleveland. Woodley was limited on Wednesday with swelling in a knee.
--WR Mike Wallace has six 100-yard games receiving this season and can tie John Stallworth's team record if he picks up a seventh Sunday. Wallace has five in the past eight games.
--RB Mewelde Moore (knee) did not practice again on Thursday. If he cannot go, rookie Jonathan Dwyer would suit up for the first time.
--TE Heath Miller had his most productive game of the season last week after he missed the previous two games with a concussion. Miller caught five passes for 73 yards.
--RB Peyton Hillis missed practice for a second straight day because of a rib injury.
--A knee injury kept OG Floyd Womack out of practice Thursday.
--DE Kenyon Coleman missed practice to rest his knee.
--DL Brian Schaefering was limited with a shoulder injury.
--FB Lawrence Vickers participated fully in practice Thursday. Illness prevented him from practicing Wednesday.