FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
When the news was relayed to outspoken Jets safety Kerry Rhodes that outspoken Jets coach Rex Ryan said his team should be considered the favorites to win the Super Bowl - yup, favored - Rhodes' eyes lit up.
"He said that?" Rhodes asked rhetorically.
"To me, we should be the favorites," Ryan told reporters Wednesdayafter hearing the Jets, at 50-1, are the biggest underdogs in this year's playoffs. They're 2½-point underdogs for Saturday's game against the Bengals in Cincinnati. "I mean, in the whole tournament."
"We think we can run the table, there's no question," he said. "We think we're one of the best teams in the league. There's only 12 of us left, so I don't think it's that far-fetched. We know no team wants to play against us right now. We're playing at a high confidence level. We're going to be a tough out now."
Just to make sure Rhodes meant what he said in that first sentence, I read back his quote: "We think we can run the table."
"Yeah, that's fine," he said.
"We will run the table," I said, trolling for a Namathian guarantee. Rhodes wasn't biting.
"We think," he said. "A very positive think . . . nice try, though."
Only three weeks after the Jets actually thought they were out of the playoffs following a 10-7 home loss to the Falcons, they're not only in the tournament, but they're talking smack about winning it all.
And why not? Not long after Ryan walked in the door here, he was talking Super Bowl. Remember his opening news conference last Jan. 21? Ryan stepped to the podium in the Jets' auditorium, took a look at the gaggle of reporters, camera crews and photographers and quipped, "With all the cameras and all that, I was looking for our new President back there . . . I think we'll get to meet him the next couple of years anyway."
"If I had a choice to coach any team in the tournament, I'd choose this one," he said.
And if you ask his players, there's no one else they'd want as their coach.
"Rex has always had confidence in us as a team, and we feel the same way about him," safety Jim Leonhard said. "If you don't have faith in your team that you can go to the Super Bowl and win it, then I think you're in the wrong business. It's not arrogance against any other team. It's just that he has confidence in the guys he's put together."
Cornerback Lito Sheppard even drew on a Muhammad Ali reference to what he sees as the Jets' impending playoff run.
"Just like Ali talked noise all day," Sheppard said. "But if you can't whup him, you can't whup him. We're taking that same mentality. We're about to get into the battle. You're going to have to show us, bottom line."
Is Ryan talking too much? I don't think so.
It's who the guy is, and it's no different from what he's done up to this point. Whether it's telling WFAN he's not here to "kiss Bill Belichick's rings," or calling out Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder, or being defiant even in the face of a 4-6 record, Ryan's confidence has never wavered.
Cocky? Absolutely. But his enthusiasm has been infectious to the players, and it certainly hasn't hurt them on the field. The Jets go into the playoffs on a roll, having won five of their last six. Sure, the Colts and Bengals rested players, and you can argue the Jets backed in. But Ryan is right about this: You don't want to face these Jets in the playoffs.
In fact, Ryan said this year's Jets team reminds him of the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl winners; he was the team's defensive line coach. The defensive coordinator that year? Marvin Lewis, who coaches the Jets' opponent on Saturday.
FYI: That Ravens team, the one that beat the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, entered the playoffs as a lightly regarded wild-card team.
"We were able to run the ball, we were efficient in the passing game, and we played great on defense," Ryan said of the Ravens. "I think [the Jets] have the best defense, the best rushing attack. I think we have a great coaching staff. I want this football team. I'm not going to trade our team."
Big man. Big talk.
We'll see Saturday if it's an empty boast . . . or the start of something even bigger.