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Steelers already focused on Patriots

The New England Patriots are not only the defending champions and consensus best team in football, they might have won the NFL offseason as well. After beating the Atlanta Falcons with an absurd comeback from 28-3 late in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, the Patriots loaded up the roster with more star power.

Stephon Gilmore was signed away from the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots then plucked Brandin Cooks away from the New Orleans Saints, giving up a first round draft choice. There were also the quieter additions of tight end Dwayne Allen and defensive end Kony Ealy, fortifying an already strong front.

Still, none of this seems to rattle Ryan Shazier and his teammates on the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Thursday, Shazier spoke confidently about Pittsburgh’s chances to take down the Patriots, who hammered the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game last season. Per ESPN:

“They’ve been a great team, they have a great leader, and they just find a way to win,” Shazier said. “They have a good strategy in what they want to do. But I feel we are going to be prepared for them this year. I feel we are going to get them when we need to get them. And at any day I feel we can win the Super Bowl. We might have had a problem in the past but I think we are going to be ready this time.”

Pittsburgh, which has not won the Super Bowl since 2008, knows that time is beginning to run short on the current crop. Martavis Bryant is set to hit free agency after this season, along with running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell was placed on the franchise tag this winter and has yet to sign it, with a July 15 deadline looming for a long-term deal. Ben Roethlisberger spent much of the offseason contemplating retirement, only to come back for at least another run. Smart money says the future Hall of Famer plays out the remainder of his contract, giving the Steelers this year and two more to work with.

If the Steelers are ever going to dethrone the Patriots, this might just be the year, as Shazier suggests. New England is — on paper — the best team its been since going 16-0 back in 2007. Still, the Steelers should be at the peak of their powers with Roethlisberger, Bell, Bryant and Antonio Brown, along with the AFC’s best offensive line. Factor in a defense with capable talent, and Pittsburgh represents the biggest threat to the Patriots in the conference.

Still, history says it’s a long, uphill climb for a Steelers team that hasn’t fared well in recent seasons against Tom Brady and the boys.

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