Less than seven months after losing to the New England Patriots in the 2017 AFC Championship Game, the Pittsburgh Steelers are back to playing football. They’ll take on the New York Giants in the first game of the preseason Friday night, and they’ve got a chance to present the biggest challenge to Tom Brady and Co. for a second straight year.

The usually competitive AFC North might not be as strong as it was in recent seasons. Pittsburgh has the best betting odds in the division, and they are an overwhelming favorite to reach the playoffs.

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The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook gives the Steelers -360 odds to make the playoffs. Following three straight postseason appearances, Pittsburgh has +280 odds to miss the playoffs.

It’s been almost nine years since they last won a title, but the Steelers have been a perennial winner since they drafted Ben Roethlisberger. Following a 6-10 campaign in 2003, Pittsburgh went 15-1 as Roethlisberger got the majority of the team’s starts under center as a rookie. They haven’t had one losing season with him on the roster, and they’ve won at least 10 games in each of the last three years.

Pittsburgh should have one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL. Roethlisberger is still producing like a future Hall of Famer, and he’s surrounded by weapons like no other quarterback. Antonio Brown is arguably the league’s best wide receiver, and the same can be said about Le’Veon Bell when it comes to the running back position.

But it could be some time before the Steelers’ entire offense is on the field together.

Bell has yet to show up to training camp after he was unable to come to an agreement with Pittsburgh on a long-term contract. Because the Steelers used their franchise tag on the running back, he can stay home without being fined for a few more weeks. Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry waited until 13 days before the start of the 2016 regular season to sign his franchise tender, and Bell could do the same.

"My feeling is there's nothing to be gained by a holdout,'' Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Wednesday. "The situation won't change, it can't really change from our part on a long-term deal.

"So it hurts him not to be here. It hurts him because he's not working with his teammates, he's not getting the conditioning work that he's going to need to have a great 2017 season. And he's not working with his teammates to get acclimated to the offense -- every year it's different."

Both Roethlisberger and Brown will rest in the team’s first preseason game. Brown has missed just one regular season game since the start of the 2013 season, but Roethlisberger’s career has been plagued by injuries. The Steelers will be cautious with their 35-year-old quarterback, who’s missed six games in the last two years.

Martavis Bryant has the potential to be one of the NFL’s best No.2 wide receivers, having caught 50 passes for 765 yards in 11 games during the 2015 season. He was suspended for the entire 2016 season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The NFL has conditionally reinstated Bryant and cleared him to participate in all preseason activities.

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If Pittsburgh can keep their main offensive weapons on the field, their ability to challenge New England and maintain their spot atop the AFC North will depend on their defense. The unit was ranked 10th in points allowed last year, though it was no match for New England when they met in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh visits the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 10 to begin the regular season.