Rex Ryan talks to linebacker Bryan Thomas during a preseason...

Rex Ryan talks to linebacker Bryan Thomas during a preseason game. Credit: AP

Phil Simms didn't grow up around here, but after three decades as a resident and observer, it takes a lot to surprise him when it comes to New York hype.

Then came the 2010 Jets.

"At first I thought, this is kind of fun and harmless,'' the CBS analyst said when I asked him about the pros and cons of Gang Green's preseason exposure. "But gosh, I've never seen anything like it.''

Gosh? There are some in the NFL, including the commissioner, who would have liked Rex Ryan to use that word in place of some others on HBO's "Hard Knocks.''

But gosh darn it, that's just not Rex. And as the coach has said often, the Jets are determined to be themselves in all their brash, cocky glory.

That approach has generated huge interest in the team and has been a source of debate in the NFL, with the only area of agreement being that a poor start could generate an ugly backlash.

For one constituency, though, it's all good: television executives.

"Hard Knocks'' was one thing. HBO relished a hit in both critical and ratings terms, one that mostly starred Ryan, with special-teams coordinator Mike Westhoff in a colorful supporting role.

It ended dramatically Wednesday night when Ryan was seen cursing out Darrelle Revis' agent with a flourish, after which Revis returned just in time the next day to lead a post-practice cheer. Convenient!

But that was just preseason. The stakes are higher now, beginning Monday on ESPN, as the networks wait to see whether the Jets at long last can become a consistent national attraction.

(Even locally, they usually have among the lowest ratings of any NFL team.)

CBS, which has the AFC package, has the most to gain, followed by ESPN, which has three of the Jets' five scheduled prime-time games.

"If you look at the elements that go into an attractive television team, they have got a lot of them,'' CBS Sports president Sean McManus said.

"They are set up better than they've been in a long time to be a really big national team.''

McManus cautioned that the Jets must keep winning to fulfill that promise, but the reality is that in this case, a losing season would be almost as compelling as a triumph.

From New England to South Florida to a certain blue-clad group that co-owns the Jets' new stadium, a Ryan wreck would be a source of much amusement.

The men who used to play the game and now are paid to talk about it on TV unanimously have had the same message for the Jets, like them or not: It's time to prove it.

As ESPN's Jon Gruden - who will work Monday's game - put it, on one hand, "a lot of the things I've heard from the Jets have been entertaining.'' On the other, "A lot of it is elevator music.''

In other words: background noise.

Gruden's partner, Ron Jaworski, called the Jets one of the league's most overrated teams. He said that while he has found their approach refreshing, opponents will be primed to "put them in their place.''

Tom Jackson, an ESPN studio analyst, said the Jets are a Super Bowl contender if quarterback Mark Sanchez improves, but if he regresses . . .

"I think it could be a real struggle, and in a city like New York, if you begin to struggle after the bravado you've shown in the offseason, well . . . ,'' he said before pausing. Then he made the key point:

"That will be an interesting conversation for us to have on 'Sunday Countdown.' ''