Jets, Saints proper hosts for Bourbon St. party

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Follow Michael Silver at Mogotxt and Twitter.

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.


Brees (left) and Payton have the Saints offense clicking once again.

(Howard Smith/US Presswire)

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.

1. Baltimore Ravens: When Joe Flacco(notes) proclaims that the Ravens are "10 times better" than they were last season, can we assume he wasn't a math major at Delaware?

2. New Orleans Saints: If Pierre Thomas(notes) can do all that in 28 minutes, would Flacco conclude that he's twice as good as the average running back?

3. New York Giants: Who enjoyed more freedom on Sunday – Plaxico Burress(notes) or the Bucs' offense?

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)?

5. Philadelphia Eagles: Instead of messing around with Michael Vick(notes), shouldn't Andy Reid consider running the Wildcat with DeSean Jackson(notes) taking direct snaps?

6. Indianapolis Colts: How insane was that one-handed touchdown catch by Reggie Wayne(notes) in Arizona – and is any wideout being asked to do more for his team right now?

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)?

8. Dallas Cowboys: Following two weeks of criticism, is it fair to say Terence Newman(notes) and the other 10 guys in the huddle got a little defensive Monday night?

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?

10. Atlanta Falcons: Wouldn't this be a good time for last year's Michael Turner(notes) to line up for this year's Falcons?

11. Minnesota Vikings: Fran Tarkenton's a bit quiet this week, isn't he?

12. Green Bay Packers: All right, Mr. Rodgers, are you ready to enter this neighborhood?

13. San Francisco 49ers: Is it possible Mike Singletary was right about Vernon Davis(notes) being "the best"?

14. Chicago Bears: When coach Lovie Smith assured us Devin Hester(notes) was a legitimate No. 1 receiver, is it possible he was right?

15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Can you imagine anything less pleasant than Mike Tomlin's practices this week?

16. San Diego Chargers: Is Vincent Jackson(notes) the most underrated receiver in football?

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?

18. Arizona Cardinals: Who's in bigger trouble – Larry Fitzgerald's(notes) brother, or the Cardinals' offense?

19. Tennessee Titans: If Vince Young(notes) is ever going to step up and fulfill his massive potential, wouldn't now be an ideal time?

20. Jacksonville Jaguars: How big a star would Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) be if he played in a major market?

21. Houston Texans: Is there a rule that every time I get excited about these guys, they're required to let me down?

22. Carolina Panthers: Did the Panthers' offense get lost in the corridors of Cowboys Stadium, Spinal Tap-style, for the entire second half?

23. Seattle Seahawks: Yo, Olinda Mare – it's not easy being fluorescent green, is it?

24. Buffalo Bills: Whose shades are more ridiculously retro – mine or T.O.'s?

25. Miami Dolphins: In the interest of optimism, can we go ahead and pencil in perpetual comeback player of the year Chad Pennington(notes) as the recipient for the 2010 award?

26. Washington Redskins: Yo, Daniel Snyder: Shanahan, Gruden, Cowher or Holmgren?

27. Oakland Raiders: I love Richard Seymour(notes), but now that he's a Raider, will at least one Bay Area columnist be referring to him as "Dick"?

28. Kansas City Chiefs: Is it too early to start wondering if Scott Pioli gave up too much for Matt Cassel(notes)?

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?