Let's get to it:
DAVE STARCHER FROM BUTLER, PA: Can you explain the seeding of the 1973 NFL Playoffs, specifically why the AFC's No. 1 seed Miami Dolphins played the Cincinnati Bengals instead of the Steelers, who qualified that year as a Wild Card?
ANSWER: The NFL's playoff seeding system as we know it today wasn't implemented until 1975, and so in 1973 the Dolphins were not recognized as the AFC's No. 1 seed even though they had the best regular season record in the conference. Before 1975, and after the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, homefield advantage through the playoffs was decided on a rotating basis that was based on divisions, and also as part of this rotation system, there was a division in each conference each year that had no chance of hosting a playoff game. So based on where the rotation was in 1973, the AFC East winner had homefield advantage, the AFC Central winner had no chance at a home game in the Divisional Round, and the Wild Card team never had a chance to host a playoff game. At the end of the 1973 season, Miami (12-2) won the AFC East, Cincinnati (10-4) won the AFC Central, Oakland (9-4-1) won the AFC West, and the Steelers were the Wild Card. That meant that both the Bengals and the Steelers had to be on the road in the Divisional Round, which left the Dolphins and the Raiders as hosts in the opening round. The Bengals couldn't go to Oakland because the Raiders had a better record than the Bengals, which meant the Steelers went to Oakland. That left the 10-4 Bengals facing the 12-2 Dolphins in Miami.
This rotation system was complicated, convoluted, and resulted in some strange matchups. In 1971, the teams with the two best records in each conference met in the Divisional Round – 10-3-1 Kansas City hosted 10-3-1 Miami in the AFC, and 11-3 Minnesota hosted 11-3 Dallas in the NFC. In 1972, the undefeated Dolphins faced the 12-3 Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium in the AFC Championship Game because it was the AFC Central Division's turn for homefield advantage in the AFC. And in 1973, the Cowboys finished 10-4 but hosted two 12-2 teams, the Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota, because it was the NFC East's turn for homefield advantage. But all that ended in 1975, when the NFL instituted the seeding system that's still in use today.
JOHN CULLEN FROM BELMONT, MA: I've been a Steelers fan from Boston since I was 10 years old, and I'm 59 now. If Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy, what do you think the Steelers' chances are of winning a Super Bowl this year?
ANSWER: Optimism is a welcome emotion in this time of self-quarantine, and I hope you're right about the Steelers in 2020. All I can tell you at this stage is that on the NFL futures market, the Steelers are 25-to-1 to win Super Bowl LV. Other teams of note, with their odds, in order: from the AFC, defending champion Kansas City is 6-to-1; Baltimore is 15-to-2; New England is 18-to-1; and then the Steelers are 25-to-1. From the NFC, in order: San Francisco is 9-to-1; New Orleans is 14-to-1; Philadelphia and Tampa Bay are both 16-to-1.
NICK MOSES FROM SIMI VALLEY, CA: So the Steelers have the luxury of drafting the best player on the board, because there are no glaring holes on their roster following their moves so far this offseason. Does that mean they're open to drafting a defensive player, or are they very likely going offense with their first pick?
ANSWER: I believe they're very likely going to find an offensive player they see as a good value at No. 49 overall, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't be open to drafting a defensive player.
DON ADAMS FROM BUENA PARK, CA: In a normal offseason teams are allowed to bring in a certain number of prospects, I believe it's 30, prior to the draft. Has the NFL changed the number of players teams can videochat with during the pandemic?
ANSWER: This was written by Mike Florio and appeared on ProFootballTalk.com: "According to the NFL, teams may contact an unlimited number of incoming rookies up to three times per week, for up to one hour at a time. The communications may be in the form of phone calls or videoconferences, and the only requirement is that it not conflict with a player's school work. Given that most players are no longer in school and given that most schools have switched to online learning, few if any communications would potentially conflict with classwork."
VINNIE DIFONZO FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Now with Javon Hargrave gone, it doesn't look like the Steelers have a starting-caliber, true nose tackle on the roster. Chris Wormley is listed as a nose tackle on the website, but it looks like he has played mostly defensive end in his career. I know they play mostly in sub-packages and like to rotate defensive lineman, but as of right now, who would be the starting nose tackle in their 3-4 defense?
ANSWER: I don't believe the Steelers need a true nose tackle, because what's the point of spending significant salary cap dollars or draft capital on a player that you admit is only on the field about 33 percent of the time. And whether you realize it or not, Javon Hargrave was not a true nose tackle. The Steelers used a third-round pick on him because of his ability as an interior pass rusher, not because he was a stout run defender. Which defensive lineman lines up closest to the center when the Steelers have three defensive linemen on the field is something that will be worked out in training camp, because there is no need to identify that individual right now because there are no games right now.
BEN JONES FROM WINDSOR MILL, MD: In the second round, if the Steelers went for a nose tackle, who would be your top choices?
ANSWER: I would be totally opposed to using a second-round pick on a nose tackle, because as I explained in the previous answer, a nose tackle is a player who will be on the field for 33 percent of the plays in a game, at the most.
ZACH HANDBERG FROM SIOUX FALLS, SD: Because of the signing of Derek Watt, many people want J.J. Watt to come to the Steelers as well. Is there any realistic situation where this could happen, or is it just a fantasy that will only happen in our imagination?
ANSWER: Just like me wanting to be 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, and 25 years old, it's a fantasy.
TED HANDLIN FROM VIRGINIA BEACH, VA: Do the coaches and management personnel still have faith in Mason Rudolph to remain the current backup and become Ben Roethlisberger's successor?
ANSWER: Maybe you weren't paying attention, but in the weeks immediately following the end of the regular season, Steelers President Art Rooney II, General Manager Kevin Colbert, and Coach Mike Tomlin all said they were comfortable with Mason Rudolph as the backup quarterback. As for a successor to Ben Roethlisberger, it's not time to be worrying about that, because Roethlisberger isn't retiring this year.
KEITH MILLER FROM WAYNESVILLE, NC: Is it possible to re-sign Mark Barron at a minimum salary if he doesn't get another offer, or are the Steelers bound by his last contract? Also, any chance the Steelers give Kameron Kelly a second chance?
ANSWER: There are no rules prohibiting Mark Barron from signing with any team, including the Steelers, for whatever sum he deems acceptable as long as it conforms to the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. He is a free agent, which means free to shop his services to any NFL team. Kameron Kelly had his chance, and I cannot imagine a realistic scenario in which the Steelers give him another one.
BOB FALSO JR. FROM WARWICK, RI: It's crazy to me that teams go through OTAs, training camp, preseason games, and regular season games, and to win a playoff game or even the Super Bowl, it could come down to an overtime coin toss in which you never get a chance at possessing the ball. Rather than a coin toss, has the league ever considered at the end of regulation, the team with the most total yards gets ball first?
ANSWER: It's not the coin toss that cost a team the game under the scenario you describe, but instead it's either awful special teams or bad defense. I checked the rule book, and nowhere in it does it state that a team isn't allowed to stop the opponent from scoring a touchdown on the opening possession of overtime. I know you've heard the phrase, "defense wins championships." So, play defense.
STEVE MCCARTNEY FROM PLAINFIELD, IL: I know questions like this perturb you, but here goes anyway: Derek Watt is a good fullback and a good special teams player, but what if his real talent is in his DNA? I feel that he may be able to perform well as an inside linebacker. He is 6-foot-2, 235 pounds. At the Combine, he ran a 4.75 in the 40 and posted a 33.5-inch vertical jump. He has the measurables.
ANSWER: You are absolutely correct. These kinds of questions perturb me.
PAT GARVEY FROM MOSCOW, PA: How do XFL players figure into the formula for compensatory draft picks in 2021? Steelers have signed four former XFL players.
ANSWER: Only the losses/signings of NFL unrestricted free agents factor into the compensatory pick formula, and an NFL unrestricted free agent is a player whose contract has expired. An NFL player whose contract was terminated, meaning he was cut, does not count in the formula, nor do NFL players acquired or lost in trades. XFL players weren't under contract to the NFL, and so they also do not count in the compensatory draft pick formula.
OTIS JOHNSON FROM GERMANTOWN, MD: I just want thank you and the rest of the people at Steelers.com who give me a little bit of joy over being a Steelers fan. In times such as this, I just log onto Steelers.com, and it always helps me to not get too caught up in all of this not-so-good news. You and the rest of the people like you have really helped me and I'm sure other Steelers fan with all the news about the team. I know it doesn't change the fact that we are still dealing with serious real world issues, but for a few hours or so I'm listening, reading, and enjoying myself with what is going on with Steelers Nation. I can't say enough about how you and the rest of the crew have helped me get some enjoyment out of these last several weeks.
ANSWER: Thanks for the kind words. They are very much appreciated. Continue to stay safe.