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What the Patriots opening night loss means for the Steelers and the rest of the AFC

Was it the beginning of the end for the Patriots after a 42-27 home loss to the Chiefs Thursday night to kick off the 2017 regular season? Maybe not, but it might mean the end is on the horizon for the five-time Super Bowl champions.

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NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

After the first NFL game of the 2017 regular season, one thing is perfectly clear: The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots didn't do enough during the off-season to keep up with the defending AFC West champion Chiefs.

In all seriousness, if you were a Steelers fan in search of a little New England schadenfreude, how about Thursday night at Gillette Stadium for starters?

I know it was only one game, but in the 2017 NFL Kickoff, which the visitors won going away, 42-27, Kansas City looked like a complete football team ready to make a run this year, while the Patriots resembled a group with one too many injuries, one too many plug-and-play chess pieces and, maybe, just maybe, one too many 40-year old quarterbacks.

It's obviously too early to tell, and it’s not as though the Patriots haven't been pasted a time or two during their magnificent 16-year run which includes countless playoff appearances and five Lombardi trophies.

But it's one thing to get pounded by four touchdowns on the road in the middle of the season, which was the case when these two teams met at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 4 of 2014. It's quite another to get outplayed and outclassed at home and on national television in Week 1 of a year that (as crazy as it seems) began with higher expectations than any since the late-2000's when the Patriots were coming off their 18-and-no letdown of the 2007 campaign.

Speaking of 10 years ago, when New England marched through everyone (including the Steelers) for 18-straight games, before falling to the underdog Giants in Super Bowl XLII, there were some entities—most notably, USA Today—who picked the Patriots to go 19-0 this season, on the way to capturing their sixth Super Bowl and their second in the past three years.

If you gambled on the Super Bowl part of that equation, it's still easy to like your chances. However, if you made one of those prop bets on 19-0...I hope you didn't mortgage your house.

What does all this mean for the 2017 Steelers?

Nothing. Like head coach Mike Tomlin often says: They can't get preoccupied with what goes on in other stadiums.

But the way New England looked on Thursday—a performance that let's not forget came directly on the heels of what should have been a lopsided loss to the Falcons in Super Bowl LI—might signify a shift in power in the AFC and, by extension, the NFL.

While it might be a cool and hip theory to have, the fact is, Patriots coach Bill Belichick hasn't gotten by strictly on genius throughout his career. Yes, there's been the historically great quarterback Tom Brady who he's been able to trot out onto the field time-and-time again during the past 16 years. But the Pats’ coach also has been the beneficiary of excellence from many other awesome players during his decade-and-a-half reign over professional football.

If it was only a matter of picking players to fit your schemes on both offense and defense—as ingenious as some think Belichick's moves have been—why haven't all these other NFL coaches figured it out by now?

It’s a copycat league, after all.

Speaking of systems, Brady is either one of the top-2 or -3 greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game, or else he's benefited from having the greatest offensive system ever devised.

I tend to think it's the former, and when it comes to that, again, the former just turned 40-years old in August.

I know they say 40 is the new 30, but that probably doesn't matter since the game of football has always been dominated by actual 20-somethings.

As hard as this might be to believe, Brady wouldn't be the first legendary quarterback to hit a wall and hit it hard.

All one needs to do is think back to 2015, when then 39-year old Peyton Manning finished his illustrious career by tossing just nine touchdown passes to go along with 17 interceptions.

Yes, the Broncos won Super Bowl L, but that had more to do with a dominant defense than any magic Manning had left in his right arm.

After watching the Patriots defense yield 537 total yards to Kansas City on Thursday, I couldn't help but think back to the early-1980's and those post-Super Bowl Steelers defenses that suddenly looked old and slow.

Nobody knew it yet back then, but by the time the Steelers took the field in September 1980 to defend their fourth Super Bowl crown, the dynasty was finished.

Actually, that's not entirely true.

In the fabulous NFL Films feature: A Football Life: Chuck Noll, Noll's widow talks about how The Emperor confided in her immediately after Pittsburgh's Super Bowl XIV triumph over the Rams following the '79 season and said his team was old and tired, and the years ahead would be pretty tough.

We might have to wait about 20 years to get such a confession from Belichick—if indeed he knows something that we don't. But given his coaching aptitude, it certainly wouldn't surprise me if he already sees the handwriting on the wall.

If you've never seen the aforementioned special on Noll, there's an awesome little moment near the end, which shows Noll leaving the field following his final game in December 1991 (a 17-10 victory over Cleveland) and being congratulated by Belichick, then head coach of the Browns.

Obviously, considering how similar Belichick's coaching career would ultimately be to Noll's, it was a nice little moment of football history.

There will come a time when Brady doesn't have it anymore and when the Patriots’ defense will perpetually look helpless. When this comes to pass, Gillette Stadium will no longer hold the same mystique as old Three Rivers Stadium did for those '70's Steelers.

Just like every dynasty that ever reigned over its sport, the Patriots days of dominance will come to an end—probably sooner rather than later (yes, even when mega-backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo takes over for Brady).

When that happens, it’ll be perfectly fine to mention the Patriots on Behind the Steel Curtain without raising the blood pressure of many of its readers.

Why? Because the Patriots will then be just another team--or exactly what they looked like Thursday night against the Chiefs.