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Post free agency AFC North power rankings

Not much has changed since free agency started when considering how the AFC North teams rank. The Steelers are the reigning AFC North champions while the Ravens and Bengals are trying to improve via the draft. And, the Browns are typically straggling behind.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Not many big names have joined the AFC North in the free agent market this offseason, and despite the Browns’ best efforts to improve a depleted roster, the pecking order still sees them in the same positioning at the bottom. The Steelers are the team to beat and both the Bengals and the Ravens have a lot of question marks after losing quality veterans to greener pastures.

While Pittsburgh is still loaded with stars on offense, Baltimore and Cincinnati will try to get younger in the draft. All three teams can still be considered contenders for a playoff spot if things break right during the draft later this month, but right now the Bengals and Ravens are a tier lower than the ruling class in the division. Here’s our look at how the division stands heading into the draft.

1) Pittsburgh Steelers

After winning the AFC North for the division-leading 22nd time, the Steelers are still at the top. Despite Ben Roethlisberger talking about possibly retiring and the unknown status of wide receiver Martavis Bryant for the 2017 season, Pittsburgh still boasts one of the most imposing offenses in the NFL. And, their belief is that Bryant will be back very soon. They figure to keep adding young talent to the defense in the upcoming draft in the hopes of making the defense as strong as the offense.

Le’Veon Bell was franchise tagged and his contract could be addressed after the draft. Meanwhile, the Steelers already re-upped Antonio Brown, making him the highest paid wide receiver in the NFL. The Steelers lost Markus Wheaton to the Bears, but they will hope to get a healthy Ladarius Green after he showed some glimpses of his playmaking ability at the tight end position in limited time in 2016. And whoever shows up at wide receiver is always a threat to make some noise in Pittsburgh, like former Bengals receiver Cobi Hamilton last season.

The defense, if lacking a pass rusher other than soon-to-be 39-year-old James Harrison, lost linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Jarvis Jones, but Cameron Heyward leads a unit on the rise with several young players with a lot of upside. With an offense able to score at will, the Steelers can afford to be patient in acquiring talent on defense.

Pittsburgh ranked fifth in Football Outsiders’ total DVOA last year, only behind the Patriots, Cowboys, Falcons and Eagles. They would have finished higher if not for a below-average special teams unit. With all their key pieces in for one more year, the Steelers are still the biggest favorites to repeat as champions of the AFC North.

2) Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals didn’t get better in the offseason, but the Ravens lost a lot of key pieces, too, so, by default, Cincinnati takes over the number two spot.

This is a team that will need to take full advantage of the 11 draft picks they have in April to be able to improve upon the mediocre performance we saw in 2016. A lot can change in a few weeks. The Bengals need to get better at rushing the passer, the running game needs a new face and speed must be added all over the field. Key contributors and hopefuls like Giovani Bernard, Andrew Billings and William Jackson III are coming off serious injuries.

3) Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore has tinkered around the edges of their roster but has even bigger flaws than Cincinnati. The offense was one of the worst in the NFL in 2016 - ranked 24th in DVOA, and lost fan favorite Kyle Juszczyk and right tackle Ryan Wagner. The Ravens believe upgrading an already strong defense will be the key to contend again, and they made their splash in free agency there.

A year after signing safety Eric Weddle from the Chargers, they brought in Tony Jefferson from the Cardinals to join him in the secondary. Despite that solid move, the Ravens are even shorter than the Bengals in the pass rushing category, and Elvis Dumervil, while on the wrong side of 30, was still their main contributor before being released last month. They extended the contract of nose tackle Brandon Williams and also added veteran corner Brandon Carr. But with no quality pass rushers available on the market, the Ravens have to hope they can get pick up two in the draft who will be ready to produce on day one, which is easier said than done.

The offensive line not only lost Wagner, but also saw Pro Bowl center Jeremy Zuttah being dealt to the 49ers in order to move up in the sixth round of the incoming draft. That can hurt them in 2017.

4) Cleveland Browns

The Browns will be better, they can only go up from their dreadful 2016 season that saw them finish 1-15. Head coach Hue Jackson is a heck of an offensive mind and the team is building the smart way, beefing up in the trenches. The roster is still full of unproven young players and some reclamation projects and not enough to, at least for now, unsettle one of the other three teams.

Cleveland is thinking long-term and their quarterback situation probably won’t be much better than it was last season. Brock Osweiler is not the answer and neither is Cody Kessler. It could be much different if they acquire AJ McCarron or Jimmy Garoppolo, but as of now, they simply don’t have enough on offense. Their running game will benefit from the additions of Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter, but they overpaid for Kenny Britt and he can’t be much better than Terrelle Pryor was last year.

Jamie Collins is one of the only playmakers the Browns have on defense, on a unit only better than Detroit’s in 2016 by Football Outsiders’ standards, even though the Browns’ defense will have the chance to quickly improve after the draft. With a huge amount of high draft picks the Browns’ time might come in the future, but right now, the team remains way behind its three AFC North rivals.