Let's get to it:
TIMOTHY TRATHOWEN FROM SOUTH VIENNA, OH: I have a two-part question for you. With T.J. Watt looking to have the inside track to be voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year, how many Steelers have won that award? Second, in addition to being the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, what are Watt's realistic chances of winning the NFL MVP Award?
ANSWER: The Associated Press has been handing out the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award since 1971, and during that time six Steelers players have combined to win the award seven times. Those Steelers players were: Joe Greene in 1972; Greene again in 1974; Mel Blount in 1975; Jack Lambert in 1976; Rod Woodson in 1993; James Harrison in 2008; and Troy Polamalu in 2010. Since 1957, the Associated Press has been handing out the NFL MVP Award, and the only ones who weren't quarterbacks or running backs were Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page in 1971; Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986; and Washington placekicker Mark Moseley in 1982. Based on that, I would give Watt no realistic chance to be voted NFL MVP.
SAMY MIKHAIL FROM BETHESDA, MD: In the regular season, the Chiefs raced out to a big lead and defeated the Steelers easily. What will be the keys to keep the game more competitive and avoid a similar outcome?
ANSWER: It's really a simple formula, in my mind: Score some points in the first half – the Steelers put up a goose-egg in the first half on Dec. 26 at Arrowhead Stadium – and they absolutely, positively cannot finish the game with a minus in turnover ratio – they were minus-3 in turnover ratio in that game.
LUKE CAMPBELL FROM CARLISLE, PA: Turnovers in the first matchup with the Chiefs killed the Steelers. They just couldn't seem to get out of their own way. Do you feel this is the most important factor the team needs to improve upon from the first matchup, or do you feel it's in another area, perhaps getting more heat from the pass rush on Patrick Mahomes?
ANSWER: See above answer. To expand a little on that, it wouldn't necessarily be a killer if the Steelers turn the ball over on Saturday, but if they do turn it over, the defense has to mitigate the situation by coming up with a comparable number of takeaways. Again, the key is not to finish the game with a minus in the turnover ratio. A zero in turnover ratio could be OK, but a plus is really what they will need to pull off an upset.
CHRIS SAQQAL FROM ALLENTOWN, PA: Is there any chance that players like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Tyson Alualu, Stephon Tuitt, or Kevin Dotson come back and play this week?
ANSWER: I would label the "chance" as "highly unlikely."
UMAR HAMEED FROM BLYTHEWOOD, SC: Do you think there has been a season that would have qualified Mike Tomlin for the NFL Coach of the Year Award?
ANSWER: My opinion – and I will admit this was not my original idea – is that the NFL Coach of the Year Award should be presented annually on the podium immediately after the Super Bowl, and it should automatically be given to the same coach who just was handed the Lombardi Trophy. Based on that, I offer 2008 as the season where Mike Tomlin deserved to win the Coach of the Year Award.
MICHAEL TORSIELLO FROM MORRISTOWN, NJ: If I remember correctly, didn't the Steelers have the toughest schedule in the NFL this year based on the 2020 records of this season's opponents? And if I remember correctly, didn't most "analysts" predict we would finish well below .500 and in last place in the AFC North? And if I remember correctly didn't these same people predict Ben Roethlisberger would be benched midseason? Please refresh my memory.
ANSWER: Your memory seems perfectly fine to me. And the guy's surname is spelled T-a-n-n-e-n-b-a-u-m. His first name is Mike, and he was the guy who, when he was in charge of player personnel for the New York Jets, thought Mark Sanchez was worth the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. I am in favor of committing that to memory as well.
JAKE MILNER FROM WICHITA, KS: Just realized the upcoming Wild Card Round contains a Monday night matchup. Will this not put the winning team of this game at a major disadvantage when they have to play the following weekend in the Divisional Round?
ANSWER: The teams picked/assigned to play on Monday night during Wild Card Weekend certainly are facing some adversity in terms of getting mentally and physically ready for the following week's Divisional Round, but the extra revenue from the networks for more playoff games and more regular season games are split between the owners and players, which will be reflected starting with the 2022 salary cap. It's all about the money. Certainly, you understand that by now.
JIM BABAY FROM ERIE, PA: In the game vs. the Chiefs a couple weeks ago, they handled the Steelers easily. Are there any Steelers players available for the playoff game or Chiefs players unavailable that could help the team in the game?
ANSWER: In that regular season meeting, the Chiefs were without tight end Travis Kelce and still won, 36-10. I guess you always could hope that Patrick Mahomes gets abducted by aliens.
PHIL WILSON FROM FREWSBURG, NY: T.J. Watt tied Michael Strahan for the NFL record for most sacks in a season with 22.5. How many games did Strahan play to get the record, because Watt missed several games this season with injury?
ANSWER: When Michael Strahan recorded 22.5 sacks in 2001, he started and played in each of the Giants 16 regular season games. T.J. Watt started and played in 15 of the Steelers' 17 regular season games in 2021.
GUY COURTNEY FROM FREDERICKSBURG, MD: Not much has been said about the release of Isaiah Buggs. With the defensive line struggles it seems odd the team would release any serviceable players on the defensive line. Do you have any insight about why he was released?
ANSWER: I agree with you in that "with the defensive line struggles it seems odd the team would release any serviceable players on the defensive line." And so that should tell you everything you need to know about Isaiah Buggs' contributions during his rather short time with the Steelers. What the whole scenario tells me is that Buggs is a guy who has some skills but doesn't necessarily apply himself to make use of those skills. Does the name Dan McCullers ring a bell?
JEFF ELINOFF FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: What are the players paid now for playoff games? Does the pay differ at all between starters and others?
ANSWER: Individual contracts do not apply during the NFL postseason, with each player on the 53-man roster and injured reserve at game time taking home the same amount of money during the first two rounds of the playoffs. That means Tom Brady gets paid the same as a schlub on IR who maybe hasn't been on the field for a single snap in months, if not longer. Here is the breakdown of those payments:
WILD CARD ROUND
• Players on teams that won their division earn $42,500, whether their teams win or lose the Wild Card game.
• Players on teams that didn't win their division; and players on the top-seeded team in each conference that get a bye through the Wild Card Round earn $37,500.
DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF ROUND
• All players on teams that participate in a Divisional Round Game, win or lose, earn $42,500.
CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
• All players on teams that participate in a Conference Championship Game, win or lose, earn $65,000.
• All players on the team that wins the Super Bowl earn $150,000.
• All players on the team that loses the Super Bowl earn $75,000.
The maximum a player can make in the 2021 playoffs is $300,000, but those players must play on a team that won its division but is playing in the Wild Card Round (Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Dallas, Los Angeles Rams). Payments to players during the playoffs must be made within 15 days after a game has been played.
Postseason money for Wild Card Round and Divisional Round games is less than the weekly pay many on the team earn on a weekly basis during the regular season. Using Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce as an example, at a reported base salary of $6.5 million in 2021, a game check for him is in the amount of $361,111.11. For Sunday night's game against the Steelers in the Wild Card Round, Kelce will earn $42,500.