After producing a trio of playoff teams last season, the AFC's black-and-blue division has enough talent to repeat the trick in 2015.
Cleveland's offseason has been a collage of headache-inducing drama, from Ray Farmer's texting scandal to Johnny Manziel's stint in rehab. The Browns added more veteran talent to a rising defense, but coach Mike Pettine still lacks a true starting quarterback. That's no recipe for success in the rough-and-tumble North.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
Why they sit above the rest: There's no ceiling with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm. January's playoff loss to Baltimore would have been a different contest with a healthy Le'Veon Bell, who gives the Steelers one of the game's most dangerous runners. With Bell facing a three-game suspension to start the season, the newly added DeAngelo Williams should work out better than last year's LeGarrette Blount experiment.
Pittsburgh's aging defense needs help. Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor have both retired. Brett Keisel is also out the door. While the ageless James Harrison returns, he can't make up for the sudden retirement of Jason Worilds. Pittsburgh will eye the draft for pass-rushing help.
» Rebuild the secondary: The Steelers have lost a combined 1,595 snaps from last season with the departures of Polamalu, Taylor and Brice McCain. Drafting a cornerback early makes plenty of sense for a squad with paper-thin depth behind William Gay. Cortez Allen has been a mess. Polamalu is irreplaceable, but finding help at safety is a must unless the front office believes young Shamarko Thomas can make the leap.
2. Baltimore Ravens
Holding their ground: The loss of Torrey Smith leaves Baltimore vulnerable at the wide receiver position. Need also exists at cornerback, safety, tight end and running back, but general manager Ozzie Newsome has a whopping 10 draft picks at his disposal. History tells us the Ravens know how to solve their own problems.
The most concerning "departure" is the loss of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who helped Joe Flacco to his finest season yet. Marc Trestman is a strong hire as Kubiak's replacement and should continue to milk the most out of Baltimore's durable quarterback.
» More cover men: The Ravens have done plenty of homework on draft-eligible corners. This wouldn't be such a need if Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith could stay in one piece, but the duo never played a game together at full health in 2014. The team believes in Terrence Brooks, but Baltimore could use another stud here.
» Help in the backfield: What happens if Georgia's Todd Gurley falls to Baltimore at No. 26 overall? The Ravens are a solid bet to nab another runner somewhere in the draft to deepen a backfield led by 29-year-old Justin Forsett. Lorenzo Taliaferro showed flashes as a rookie, but that shouldn't stop Baltimore from taking their pick among a good class of backs.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
My issue with the Bengals: They have the vibe of a risk-averse organization perfectly content with the ceiling that's defined them in recent seasons. It starts at quarterback, where the team has committed long-term to Andy Dalton, a wholly imperfect field general who crumbles when the clock strikes January. Why not doggedly pursue competition at the most important position in sports?
Cincy's additions -- A.J. Hawk, Michael Johnson and Pat Sims -- bring depth to the defense, while their losses -- Taylor Mays and Terence Newman -- can be addressed through the draft. Again, talent alone makes the Bengals a logical threat for another postseason berth, but the final result is bound to mirror the horror show of the past four seasons.
» Rebuild the defensive line: Posting a league-worst 20 sacks last season, the Bengals must find pass-rushing help in the draft. Bringing back Michael Johnson helps, but Cincy's front seven hasn't been the same since Geno Atkins tore up his knee two seasons ago. NFL Media's Charles Davis might be right in pegging Oregon defensive tackle Arik Armstead to the Bengals at No. 21 overall.
4. Cleveland Browns
Out of the cellar?: What a bizarre season for the Browns. Cleveland went from darlings to dunces, sitting atop the AFC North at 6-3 in early November before a total meltdown at the quarterback position led to a 1-6 record down the stretch. Now the team is back where it started, feeling around in the dark for a franchise signal-caller.
Brian Hoyer's out, Josh McCown is in, but the Browns aren't done under center. While Johnny Manziel underwent rehab, general manager Ray Farmer tried twice to trade for Sam Bradford. Now a legitimate candidate to trade up for Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Cleveland has made it clear they will do anything to land a functional passer.
» More weapons on offense: The Browns ignored the receiver position in last year's draft, but they can't afford to pass on a top prospect at No. 12 or No. 19 overall. Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline won't get it done alone. Signing Rob Housler helps, but the Browns must also develop a playmaking tight end after losing Jordan Cameron.
» Pass rushers:Barkevious Mingo has failed to live up to his first-round pedigree, but the Browns hope he'll be a different player when healthy in 2015. After losing the versatile Jabaal Sheard to New England, Pettine is still searching for his beloved "bitch-kitty" pass rusher, making the Browns a candidate to add an outside linebacker in the draft.
» The quarterback quest continues: Cleveland's reported interest in Mariota makes sense after hiring his passing coach, Kevin O'Connell, as their quarterbacks aide. It's clear the Browns aren't counting on Manziel, so swinging a deal for Mariota remains a real possibility.