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Examining Bengals' 2015 AFC North opponents: Steelers

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CINCINNATI -- The start of the 2015 season is still five months away, but that doesn't mean we can't begin breaking down the Cincinnati Bengals' schedule.

The NFL's official schedule hasn't been released yet, so we won't know the Bengals' official kickoff times and dates until sometime later this month. But we do know who they will be playing and where.

We've been examining each of those opponents in this really early series. Up next, the Pittsburgh Steelers:

2014 record: 11-5

2014 finish: Won the AFC North, lost in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs to Baltimore

Key losses: S Troy Polamalu, CB Ike Taylor, DE Brett Keisel, DB Brice McCain, WR Lance Moore, LB Jason Worilds

Key additions: RB DeAngelo Williams

Series history: Bengals trail, 56-34 (including one playoff loss)

Last time vs. Bengals: Pittsburgh won 27-17 at Heinz Field on Dec. 28, 2014.

Really early scouting report: It wasn't free agency that broke up the Steelers this offseason. Age, and a lacking desire to play football any longer, did.

In addition to the recent retirement announcements regarding Taylor and Polamalu, the Steelers last month lost Worilds to the same decision. The 27-year-old decided it was time to hang it up after a six-year career.

The retirements mean the Steelers have three rather large holes on defense entering this season that they'll have to address during training camp. They also will have to replace Keisel and McCain, two other more prominent defensive players. It's worth highlighting these departures because the only external addition the Steelers made via free agency was bringing in Williams, the 31-year-old running back who was cut from the Panthers.

While the Steelers, like the Ravens and Browns, go through an offseason of renewal, the Bengals are a comparable pillar of stability in the division. Only two positions will be filled this season by players who weren't starters last season. Terence Newman's free-agency departure at cornerback means Dre Kirkpatrick ought to come off the bench and start. At right defensive end, Michael Johnson should take over starter's duties after getting signed in free agency. But he comes in after having only spent one year away from the team.

In terms of this year's Bengals-Steelers matchups, Cincinnati's best chance to beat Pittsburgh would appear to involve exploiting the Steelers' defensive backfield. Of course, this depends on how early in the season the games end up getting scheduled. The earlier in the season, the higher the odds Pittsburgh still might be getting its new secondary acclimated with playing together.

There's also the fact that in two games against Pittsburgh last season, Bengals receiver A.J. Green caught 19 passes for 306 yards and a touchdown. He also had a crucial late-game fumble that precipitated Cincinnati's loss in last year's season finale. Regardless, the Bengals would be best served to keep getting the ball in his hands this year when they play the Steelers.