Rex Ryan has plenty to worry about in advance of Saturday's wild-card playoff game against the Bengals. But his biggest obstacle might not be the Bengals.
It might be human nature.
That might sound ridiculous when you consider the Jets just thrashed the Bengals, 37-0, on Sunday night to get into the playoffs. After all, how hard can it really be to beat them again?
Trust Ryan when he tells you, this is a lot harder than it might seem.
"If we take the Bengals lightly, we have no chance," the Jets' coach said Tuesday. "This is the playoffs, and our focus is going to be on getting better each day, then going to Cincinnati and giving ourselves an opportunity to succeed. The only way you can do that is with great preparation."
Sure, the Jets were vastly superior to the Bengals in their win-and-get-in rout in prime time. But the Bengals had nothing to play for in terms of the playoffs; they were guaranteed a spot in the tournament the week before by clinching the AFC North title. And a handful of key starters, including running back Cedric Benson, were rested.
That's not to say the Jets wouldn't have beaten the Bengals even if they were at full strength. The way Ryan's team came out and dictated the terms from the outset, there weren't many opponents who would have beaten the Jets that night.
But that doesn't mean there will be any carry-over effect Saturday. If the Jets don't prepare as if this will be a down-to-the-wire game against a far healthier and far more motivated Bengals team, then they will be one-and-done in the playoffs.
"Every game has its own personality, and what you did your last game doesn't matter," veteran linebacker Bart Scott said. "Sometimes the football gods don't make things go your way, and you have to fight through it. This is for all the marbles. They got beat, and they'll be amped up and emotional. It's up to us to make it easy on ourselves."
Scott knows there is no momentum simply by wishing for it. Which is one reason he and other players scheduled extra video sessions and meetings Tuesday to study the Bengals' tendencies.
"And that comes from the players, not the coaches," he said. "We've got to be ready, and we can't decide to wait until the second or third quarter to start playing. We've got to get ourselves ready early, get a lead, play stifling defense and get the crowd out of it."
The formula for the Jets no doubt will be the same as it was the last time they played the Bengals: run the ball, play great defense and make plays in the passing game without turnovers. It has gotten the Jets to this point, and there's no way they'll veer away from the plan.
Even so, there are no guarantees they can duplicate the dominant effort of the last game.
"You could very easily be lulled to sleep," center Nick Mangold said. "You could be like, 'Look what I did. I don't have to work that hard.' It was a great performance and guys played their butts off. But you have to go back in as if it's a whole new team, a new look at it, and that it just so happens one of the games you're watching on film is the game you just played."
But Mangold believes the Jets will successfully fight the urge to take the Bengals too lightly.
"We've shown throughout the season that we're willing to work hard and do whatever needs to be done," he said. "I don't expect a letdown now."
Neither do I. With a coach who has experienced plenty of playoff games during his days as a Ravens assistant, including a Super Bowl win after the 2000 season, Ryan will have his team ready to go. It won't be as easy as 37-0, and it might come down to the fourth quarter.
But if the Jets approach this thing the right way, they could be preparing next week for a rematch with another late-season opponent who didn't go all out. Jets-Colts, anyone?