Three weeks ago, it looked like a run-of-the-mill matchup between two teams struggling to find an identity.
Six combined victories later, the Jets and Saints are preparing for one of the NFL's spiciest early season matchups.
On Sunday at the Superdome, two of the league's seven remaining undefeated teams will put their 3-0 records on the line, and the contrast in styles couldn't be more entertaining. The Jets are all about defense, with rookie coach Rex Ryan's innovative blitzes and brash personality fueling an instantly formidable unit. The Saints, conversely, are an offensive powerhouse driven by coach Sean Payton's cutting-edge schemes and quarterback Drew Brees'(notes) brilliant ability to execute them.
There are some compelling similarities as well. Each franchise is trying to end a sustained run of frustration – the Jets haven't won a Super Bowl in 40 years, while the Saints have never even captured a conference title. The closest New Orleans came was in 2006, when Payton was a rookie coach and the team lost to the Bears in the NFC championship game. That was the same year the Jets' rookie coach, Eric Mangini, was being called "Mangenius" after guiding New York to an unlikely playoff berth. (His current nickname in Cleveland: Some Other Team's Defensive Assistant-In-Waiting.)
This year's Saints and Jets are loose, confident teams capable of overwhelming opponents before they know what hits them. Payton's players, who two weeks ago blew out the Eagles in Philly, carry themselves like they expect to score on every possession. Ryan's players are backing up their smack-talking coach by talking some smack of their own, and there is no more festive locker room in sports.
Having gone from the secretive, hyper-restrictive Mangini to Ryan, a coach who flat-out ordered them to start having more fun, the Jets are like Berliners after the fall of the Wall, an attitude reflected by the swarming, unrestrained play of their defense.
There's no better place for a party than New Orleans, and Sunday's should be a fascinating spectacle. When an irrepressible offense goes up against an in-your-face defense, who do you like?
As you can see from this week's inquisitive trip from first to worst – and, yes, thanks to some Motown magic we have a new caboose on this train – there's a lot to like about the Jets and Saints. Mangini's new team? Not so much.
4. New York Jets: Yo, Pete Carroll, what was that you were saying about Mark Sanchez(notes) needing another season of college football (and how stoked am I that he won't be slinging it in Berkeley on Saturday)?
7. New England Patriots: Given Joey Galloway's(notes) dead-fish impersonation – and a certain Metrodome Miracle – how badly would Bill Belichick like a do-over on his decision to cut Greg Lewis(notes)?
9. Cincinnati Bengals: After his team's biggest win in four years, Marvin Lewis won't let the Bengals have a letdown against their reeling cross-state rivals, right?
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Can you imagine anything less pleasant than Mike Tomlin's practices this week?
17. Denver Broncos: Can you believe this team has given up 16 points in three games – and who stole Mike Nolan's crafty schemes when he was coaching the 49ers?
21. Houston Texans: Is there a rule that every time I get excited about these guys, they're required to let me down?
26. Washington Redskins: Yo, Daniel Snyder: Shanahan, Gruden, Cowher or Holmgren?
29. Detroit Lions: Aren't they, like, the most awesome thing in the whole wide world?
30. St. Louis Rams: Now that the Lions have finally won, will their 13-game losing streak finally get noticed?
31. Cleveland Browns: If Latrell Sprewell played for the Browns, would Mangini be worried?
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Is anyone besides me beginning to conclude that Jon Gruden did a decent coaching job last season?
- Eric Mangini