Heading into the season, some had this week’s Sunday night game pegged as a Super Bowl preview. And through five weeks, it looked like the Steelers and Packers were both certainly championship contenders. Then Oct. 15 arrived, and these teams went in opposite directions.
Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone broke in Minnesota that day, and Green Bay has won just once since to fall to 5–5. Even worse for the Packers, they now play four of their last six on the road, as well as four of six against teams with winning records.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh won in Kansas City and hasn’t lost since, building a three-game lead in the AFC North at 8–2. And even better for the Steelers, they have four of their last six at Heinz Field, with only two of the six against winning clubs.
Green Bay at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 26 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Steelers -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Return of the Steel Curtain
Pittsburgh hasn’t dominated on defense since finishing a run of six straight years in the NFL’s top five in 2012. But the Steel Curtain is back, ranking fourth in total defense second in scoring defense so far this season. In fact, the defense hasn’t allowed more than 17 points in regulation of any game this season. (Jacksonville scored 30 thanks to two interception returns for touchdowns, and Chicago needed overtime to put up 23.) The Steelers have been especially tough against the pass, ranking third in yards per game allowed (190.0), second in sacks (34) and second in touchdown passes allowed (nine). None of that bodes well for Brett Hundley (above, right), who is 1–3 as a starter since taking over for Rodgers with just two touchdowns and seven interceptions. He threw three interceptions and lost a fumble last week in a 23–0 loss to Baltimore.
2. It’s Le’Veon Bell time
It was right around this time last season that Bell (right) hit his stride and early carried the Steelers to the Super Bowl. His 120-yard game on Thanksgiving was his second 100-yard game in a row and started a stretch where he averaged 146.5 yards over an eight game stretch before getting hurt in the AFC title game. He has struggled of late, averaging just 67.3 yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry over the last three weeks, but it would be a surprise if he doesn’t get it rolling down the stretch. The Packers have been decent against the run (105.7 ypg, 11th in the NFL), but the Steelers next three opponents all rank 25th or worse in the NFL in run defense.
3. Injuries continue to hit Packers
As if losing Aaron Rodgers for most of the season wasn’t enough, a string of injuries has put even more on Hundley’s inexperienced shoulders. The running back position has been a revolving door: Ty Montgomery, who started the season as the lead back, has been banged up and missed last week with a rib injury. He is doubtful for this one. Aaron Jones, who had 100-yard days against Dallas and New Orleans earlier in the season, sprained his knee two weeks ago and is out. Devante Mays got a shot last week, but he fumbled on two of his three carries and hurt an ankle, leaving him questionable. That leaves rookie Jamaal Williams, who has 38 carries over the last two weeks but for an average of only 3.3 yards. Did we mention that starting tackles Brian Bulaga and Kyle Murphy are both on injured reserve as well?
Even with all the other Green Bay injuries, if Aaron Rodgers was healthy this would be a game everyone would want to see. Instead, the Steelers are a two-touchdown favorite, and it’s hard to see the Packers covering even though they should be desperate to stay on the fringes of the NFC Wild Card race.