The teams: The Green Bay Packers (7-6-1) vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8).
The time: 3:25 p.m. CST Sunday.
The place: Lambeau Field, Green Bay.
The TV coverage: CBS – WDJT (Ch. 58 in Milwaukee), WISC (Ch. 3 in Madison) and WFRV (Ch. 5 in Green Bay).
The announcers: Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots in the booth.
The coaches: Green Bay's Mike McCarthy is 87-48-1 (including 6-4 in the postseason) in his eighth season as the Packers' coach and as an NFL head coach. Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin is 74-44 including 5-3 in the postseason) in his seventh season as coach of the Steelers and as an NFL head coach.
The series: The Packers lead the all-time regular-season series, 18-14, although the Steelers have won seven of the last 10 regular-season meetings. The Packers won the most recent meeting, in Super Bowl XLV.
The rankings: The Packers’ fourth-ranked offense is No. 7 in rushing and No. 7 in passing. Their 26th-ranked defense is No. 25 against the run and No. 22 against the pass. The Steelers’ 18th-ranked offense is No. 31 in rushing and No. 11 in passing. Their 11th-ranked defense is No. 19 against the run and No. 8 against the pass.
The line: The Packers are favored by 2 1/2 points.
The injury report: Packers–Out: DE Johnny Jolly (shoulder/neck), TE Brandon Bostick (foot), QB Aaron Rodgers (collarbone). Questionable: DE C.J. Wilson (ankle). Probable: ILB Brad Jones (ankle), RB Eddie Lacy (ankle), OLB Mike Neal (abdomen), OLB Nick Perry (foot), DT Ryan Pickett (knee).
Steelers – Probable: DE Brett Keisel (foot), WR Jerricho Cotchery (shoulder), TE Heath Miller (not injury related), S Troy Polamalu (not injury related), T Marcus Gilbert (ankle), T Kelvin Beachum (knee), NT Steve McLendon (ankle), WR Emmanuel Sanders (foot).
THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
‘Nobody’s underdog’: That was McCarthy’s famous phrase in 2010, when Matt Flynn was taking on the New England Patriots with Rodgers sidelined with a concussion. He didn’t deliver quite as pithy a quote this week while talking about his confidence in his team as it prepared for its seventh straight game without Rodgers, but he didn’t hesitate to talk tough in the wake of his announcement that Rodgers’ collarbone had not healed enough for Dr. Pat McKenzie to give him medical clearance to play.
“We feel that we can beat Pittsburgh with our football team. That’s why we prepared,” McCarthy said forcefully. “We came in here Monday morning preparing to beat Pittsburgh with Matt Flynn as the quarterback, stated that all along, was hopeful that Aaron’s situation would progress. As an organization we don’t feel like he’s ready to play. And as a football team, we’re confident about our opportunity against a very good football team coming in here Sunday.”
Certainly the Packers know the opportunity before them. Their playoff road is simple: Beat the Steelers, beat the Chicago Bears in the Dec. 29 regular-season finale at Soldier Field, and they win the NFC North and get a home game in the NFC Wild Card round Jan. 4 or 5.
“I think for the last couple weeks we've known we were (in a must-win situation). We started our playoffs two weeks ago, basically. We've all known that,” Flynn said. “But now we know 100 percent that we control our own destiny. Last week, we knew we still needed a little help. But I'll bet it fires us up a little bit more and hopefully inspires us to prepare a little bit harder."
After back-to-back comeback victories – down 21-10 to Atlanta and 26-3 to Dallas – the Packers are hoping to also be inspired to avoid an early deficit this week.
“You want to start every game fast. Obviously,” McCarthy said. “Hopefully what we practiced, we can come out of the gates firing.”
Fumble-rooskie: Alex Van Pelt did not want any part of the conversation. He simply praised Lacy and hurried along to the next topic.
“Don’t like to talk about it,” the Packers running backs coach said. “He’s doing a heck of a job.”
Yes, he is. Lacy has gone an incredible 242 carries without a fumble since fumbling against San Francisco in the regular-season opener. The longest active streak in the NFL belongs to Atlanta’s Steven Jackson, who has gone 606 carries without a fumble, according to Elias Sports Bureau. (Although Jackson did fumble after a reception during the streak.)
According to Lacy, he learned a valuable lesson from his first NFL fumble, having fought for additional yardage on the play before losing the ball. He wound up on the bench for more than a quarter.
“The only thing I did was pretty much let myself know when to give up. During that play, I tried to get extra yards and had the ball loose,” Lacy said. “It was a mistake on my behalf, so since then I’ve learned in certain situations to give up and go to the next play.”