Fearless Prediction: Packers-Steelers
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m.ET
TV: FOX (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Packers' pass protection has been better of late, but the 48 times QB Aaron Rodgers has been sacked still leads the league - by eight. The offensive line will be under pressure to pick up the correct assignments against the Steelers' well-disguised blitz packages. When given time, Rodgers will be aggressive against a Pittsburgh secondary that is soft underneath. With the NFL's top two run defenses on the field, the Steelers' much-maligned offensive line also has its work cut out. But coach Mike Tomlin still wants an increased focus on the ground game to help alleviate some of the pressure on QB Ben Roethlisberger.
FAST FACTS: Packers coach Mike McCarthy is a Pittsburgh native. ... RB Rashard Mendenhall needs 60 rushing yards to become the seventh Steeler to reach 1,000.
Inside The Camps
Ryan Pickett turned a positive corner Thursday in his recovery from a hamstring pull.
The veteran nose tackle was on the practice field -- albeit only for the jog-through portion at the start -- for the first time since he suffered the injury in the Dec. 7 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
"It's a hamstring. They're kind of tricky," Pickett said. "But, I felt pretty good today."
Pickett also went through some testing and rehab work Thursday as he tries to get well enough to return to action Sunday at the Pittsburgh Steelers after missing a game.
"That's my goal," said Pickett, who is counting on practicing in team segments Friday. "Hopefully, I'll feel good tomorrow. I would know for sure tomorrow."
Head coach Mike McCarthy indicated the team won't be rushing Pickett back from the injury. The Packers (9-4), winners of five straight games, are in good shape to qualify for the playoffs. They likely need only one win in their final three regular-season games to clinch a wild-card berth.
"We're trying to bring him back in steps," McCarthy said. "We'll see how he does tomorrow."
Pickett has been the anchor of a defense that has been stout against the run this season.
The Packers rank second in the league, allowing an average of only 85 rushing yards per game (just behind Pittsburgh's top-rated 84.9).
What's more, Green Bay has built a streak of 10 games in not giving up 100 rushing yards to an opposing player. The last 100-yard producer was the St. Louis Rams' Steven Jackson in the Packers' Week 3 win Sept. 27.
"That's been our main point every week -- we have to stop the run," Pickett said. "If we make a team one-dimensional, we kind of have our way with 'em."
Pittsburgh, which won six of its first eight games this season after winning a Super Bowl, is desperate to win one as the losses and criticism pile up on the Steelers.
Even one of their most admired former teammates has taken potshots at them.
"The Steelers are done," Jerome Bettis said on a national radio show this week. "When you lose your spirit, then everything is pretty much gone. And that's what I saw when they hit the field against the Cleveland Browns. When you don't have the enthusiasm to get up for a game in which you have to win, then it tells me that the leadership isn't there."
This comes on the heels of safety Ryan Clark lashing out at the Pittsburgh media and Steelers fans, and after Hines Ward questioned quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's intent when he was held out of their Nov. 29 game in Baltimore because of headaches after a concussion.
Roethlisberger said then that Ward's comments "hurt" and Thursday he had words for his former teammate, Bettis.
"Jerome who?" Roethlisberger wondered. "I guess he's entitled to his opinion. He's not on this team, he's not in this locker room. So he's just taking an outside view as all of you guys are. If you don't know I don't think you should speak on it."
Their five-game losing streak, however, has been the talk of Pittsburgh and across the football world as they try to avoid tying their longest losing streak in 40 years when they play Green Bay, winners of five straight, Sunday in Heinz Field.
"Beat anybody," nose tackle Casey Hampton declared. "You don't give a damn who you beat at this point. Just getting back on track, something to get you out of the funk, getting us out of this mentality of losing games."
PREDICTION: Steelers 27-23