Bristol are a point above Saracens after four rounds of league action, illustrating the west country club's dogged efforts to establish themselves again among the Guinness Premiership elite.
Saracens, in contrast, have coughed and spluttered, losing to Wasps, Worcester and Sale Sharks, either side of a comprehensive victory over rock-bottom Leeds.
Another loss would leave Ford's men well adrift of the Premiership's top-four pace, and hardly leave them in good health to face opening European Cup opponents Biarritz.
They have also lost a key performer to injury this weekend, with full-back Dan Scarbrough sidelined after recapturing the form which won him an England cap in 2003.
With Scarbrough out, French star Thomas Castaignede moves from centre to full-back and Dan Harris partners Kevin Sorrell in midfield. Another back division change, meanwhile, sees Ben Johnston taking over from wing Ben Russell.
"Bristol have had a good start to the season, and they have been playing some very good football," said Ford. "We are expecting them to test us."
Bristol boss Richard Hill has welcomed the return of scrum-half talisman Shaun Perry for a match that could see his team enter two weeks' European action with a healthy top-six league position if they win.
Perry, a summer signing from National League One club Coventry, played starring roles during Bristol's stirring September victories over Bath and London Irish.
But a hamstring injury suffered during the home league defeat against Gloucester then sidelined him, and Bristol have not won since.
"Shaun will add extra physicality," said Hill, as Bristol look to inflict a third successive Premiership away defeat on their mid-table rivals.
"Jake (Rauluni) has done well, but Shaun is a little stronger at getting the ball away from the breakdown and in getting behind the defence."
While Perry returns, Hill is without the services of Samoan back Brian Lima (hamstring) and flanker Craig Short (ankle), with Short unlikely to play again until December.