(Sports Network) - After capturing a Super Bowl title two years ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers seem poised to make another run at an NFL championship this time around. The New Orleans Saints, last season's team that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, haven't exactly resembled an outfit that's primed for a return trip, on the other hand.
The surging Steelers aim to continue their terrific start to the 2010 campaign, while the suddenly-struggling Saints try once again to recapture their 2009 form, when the two powerhouses collide this Sunday in an intriguing interconference battle from the Superdome.
Pittsburgh has overcome nearly every obstacle to come its way, including a lengthy suspension to its franchise quarterback, in building a 5-1 record that's tied with the New York Jets and New England for the best in the NFL at this stage of the season. Three of those victories came with Ben Roethlisberger serving a four-game ban for violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy, with the Steelers withstanding their offensive catalyst's absence by playing ferocious defense and maximizing the available talent on hand.
Roethlisberger has since returned from his forced exile and immediately performed at an elite level, making Pittsburgh an even stronger early candidate to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLV. The standout signal-caller has averaged nearly 280 passing yards and thrown for five touchdowns with just one interception in helping the Steelers to their two most recent triumphs.
Pittsburgh's had a bit of good fortune come its way as well, with the team benefiting from a controversial call that factored greatly in last Sunday's narrow win at Miami. With the Steelers down by two points with 2 1/2 minutes to go, a Roethlisberger fumble into the opposing end zone was apparently recovered by the Dolphins, but referee Gene Steratore ruled that was inconclusive to determine which team came up with the ball and allowed Pittsburgh to retain possession on the one-yard line.
Kicker Jeff Reed than booted an 18-yard field goal on the subsequent play to provide the difference in a 23-22 verdict.
There was little dispute over the Saints' latest result, a shocking 30-17 home loss to one-win Cleveland in which quarterback Drew Brees threw four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns by Browns linebacker David Bowens.
The defeat left New Orleans with a 4-3 record and in third place in the NFC's South Division, one game behind front-running Atlanta and a half-game back of surprising Tampa Bay.
Mistakes have plagued the Saints numerous times over the season's first seven weeks, with the reigning champs having committed 14 turnovers in their last five contests. Brees has been picked off 10 times during that time frame, one less than his entire total of last year.
New Orleans' slumping offense has also been slowed by the absence of a consistent running game. With top backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush sidetracked by injuries, the Saints have averaged a pedestrian 92.6 yards per week on the ground.
A turnaround in that area looks to be a tall order this week, considering Pittsburgh leads the NFL in run defense in addition to yielding a league-low 13.7 points per game. The defense will be without one of its key pieces for the remainder of the season, however, after sturdy end Aaron Smith suffered a torn triceps in last week's win over the Dolphins.