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Steelers 7th in ESPN Future Power Rankings poll

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Steelers top the AFC North, stand third in the AFC in collaborative ESPN poll.

Justin K. Aller

What a difference a year makes.

The Steelers were smack dab in the middle of ESPN's Future Power Rankings poll in 2013 - a collaboration of ESPN writers and analysts who evaluate and rank each team's future three seasons by way of the team's roster, quarterback, draft, front office and coaching.

After a positive offseason including an athletic 2014 draft class, the Steelers are now seventh, and stand at the top of the AFC North.

They trail, in order, Seattle, Green Bay, San Francisco, Denver, New England and New Orleans, meaning, they're the third-best team in the AFC.

Polls mean nothing unless they tell us news we like to hear. This seems worthy of "something we like to hear" status, especially when they finish ahead of Baltimore (10), Cincinnati (13) and Cleveland (29). The poll seems to suggest a prediction of Baltimore and Pittsburgh competing for the next three AFC North titles. To whatever extent such a thing can be measured, it's certainly not anything new. That's more or less been the way of it since 2002, when the division was created.

Still, the Steelers' 14-point increase from last year was largely credited to a renewed optimism in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who played in all 16 games last season after getting dogged by the same group for injury concerns leading into the 2013 season.