PITTSBURGH -- Tom Brady's injury, the Colts' fall to Earth, San Diego's slide and the Titans' rapid rise are upsetting the AFC's balance of power. The Pittsburgh Steelers, off to their usual good start, are about the only old reliable in the mix.
The Steelers may not need to wait any longer than today to find how exactly good they are.
Is it too early to call the pivotal New York Giants-Steelers interconference game a possible Super Bowl preview? For sure.
With 10 weeks left in the NFL season, the powers of October often are long forgotten when the playoffs begin in January.
Still, the track records and stay-with-the-basics styles of two of the NFL's most tradition-steeped franchises suggest these Giants (5-1), the reigning Super Bowl champions, and the Steelers (5-1), the champs of 2005, will be very much in play once the post-season starts.
"Both teams are 5-1, got off to a good start and are playing a road game at a storied franchise, it is a big game and important to us," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said.
It might be a big game for a lot of reasons and may remain so for the rest of the season if both teams keep playing the way they are now.
The Giants lead the league in rushing, are second in offence and are fourth in defence.
The Steelers are first in defence, tops against the pass and second against the run.
Both teams run the ball without fail, shut down the big play, get after the quarterback with aggressive pass-rush schemes and stuff the run. They're eerily similar, much like their records of the last four seasons.
In 2005, when the Steelers were the champs, each went 11-5. In 2006, each slipped to 8-8. Each rebounded to 10-6 last season, when the Giants took the same route as the '05 Steelers by winning four playoff games away from home to win the Super Bowl.
The approaches are the same, the rosters are similar in makeup, and the records are identical.
"Pittsburgh is 5-1. We're 5-1," said wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who left the Steelers after the 2004 season to join the Giants.
"I know those guys well. I know the defence, and they're going to be coming from everywhere. We will have to try not to let their pressure and their noise affect us and go out and make some plays."
Given the teams' comparable personalities, this one may be decided by which runs the ball better, forces turnovers and gets after the quarterback better.
With the 264-lb. Brandon Jacobs averaging 5.4 yards per carry and 86 yards per game, the Giants' running game will be a major test for a Steelers defence that has allowed only one team to gain 100 yards.
So will controlling Burress, especially with the Steelers' biggest cornerback, Bryant McFadden, out with a broken right arm.
"Eli puts him in a lot of positions where he has an opportunity to go up against a smaller defensive back," safety Ryan Clark.
"It's tough when you've got a guy who's 6-5 with that type of leaping ability."
The Steelers lead the league with 25 sacks, with linebackers James Harrison (8) and LaMarr Woodley (8) combining for 16, and they want to keep the Giants out of favourable running downs by forcing Manning to make mistakes.
The Giants, with 21 sacks, plan to apply similar pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, who has been sacked 18 times to Manning's six.
"But we're not going to get consumed in that subplot," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
"Our goal is to win the game. I would rather win the game and have no sacks than have 10 and lose."
And about all those sacks allowed by the Steelers, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said, "They certainly compensate on the other side of the ball."
The clubs met twice a year from 1945-67 and have played 77 times, yet this will be the Giants' first game in Pittsburgh in 17 years and only their second in 37 years, or since the now-demolished Three Rivers Stadium was one year old in 1971.