"Brother...can you spare a third-down conversion?"
In a game ripe with matchups between ex-employees, it may be the clash of New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan and Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan that generates the most on-field fun when their teams meet this Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
The twin brothers will face off for the first time since Rex took over the Jets in his own inimitable style in 2009, mixing press-room hyperbole with playtime chaos en route to a berth in the AFC Championship Game. Meanwhile, the lesser-known Rob is climbing the hot list of prospective coaches and could face his brother in a head coach vs. head coach showdown by this time next year.
The Jets' boss said he is ready to unleash some trash talk.
"I'm sure we'll talk about each other's children, wives, whatever," Rex Ryan said. "It's going to get ugly."
The players, meanwhile, will feel the wrath of the rivalry on the field.
"If he's half of what Rex is, it's going to be a major pain for 60 minutes," Jets center Nick Mangold said of Cleveland's Ryan.
Oh, and the man Rex replaced in New York -- Eric Mangini -- has landed as the "other" Ryan's boss with the Browns. The remaining Jets from the Mangini era have acknowledged the impending matchup during game week run-up, but hardly showered their former boss with praise for his work during a 23-25 tenure from 2006-08 that included one playoff appearance.
"There's no hatred with us as the New York Jets organization (from) when Mangini was here," said cornerback Darrelle Revis, a 2007 draft pick who played two years under him in New York. "Smart guy. He did all he could. Now he's in a different place. I'm sure he's looking forward to this game."
The Jets head to the weekend in first place in the AFC East Division, leading the also 6-2 New England Patriots by virtue of an early-season head-to-head win. New York is coming off a 23-20 come-from-behind overtime victory at Detroit this past Sunday.
Cleveland, meanwhile, is 3-5 and third in the AFC North, three games in back of the front-running tandem of Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
"It's going to be special," Mangini said in reference to meeting the Jets seven days after facing another former team in the Patriots, for whom he'd once been an assistant under Bill Belichick. "And last week was special, too."
Cleveland defeated New England by a 34-14 count last week, the team's second consecutive impressive win. Prior to a Week 8 bye, the Browns handed defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans a 30-17 loss in the Superdome on Oct. 24.
Mangini said he's more at ease in all facets of the job in Ohio, particularly facing a media horde less venomous than the one in the Big Apple.
"It's less scripted for me (in Cleveland)," he said. "I know what I want to say. I know the points I want to get across. Not reading it as much as just feeling it and getting the same point across, but from the heart. I think the best thing that I've learned is to take the best things from the people that I've been with who are outstanding, but do it in my way. It's more effective, more authentic."
The Browns hold an 12-7 advantage in their all-time series with the Jets and have won the last two matchups, the most recent being a 24-18 decision in the Meadowlands in 2007. New York also dropped a 20-13 result in its last visit to Cleveland, which took place in 2006, and last bested the Browns with a 10-7 triumph in Ohio back in 2004.
In addition to the regular-season series, the teams played a memorable postseason game, with Cleveland scoring a 23-20 overtime win at home in a 1986 AFC Divisional Playoff.
Mangini has never previously faced his former employers as a head coach and will be opposing his successor in New York for the first time as well. This will also be Rex Ryan's first meeting with the Browns as a head man.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
It hasn't been as pretty lately, but Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is nonetheless 4-0 on the road this season and completed 56.2 percent (68-of-121) of his passes for 951 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions with a 90.6 passer rating. The team is 5-0 when he throws at least one touchdown pass, and the 336 yards he amassed against the Lions last week were a career best. Things have gone better when Sanchez has turned and handed the ball to others, however, as the Jets have a rushing offense that's fourth in the league with an average of 148 yards per week. In five career games against Cleveland, running back LaDainian Tomlinson has averaged 129.8 yards per game and scored eight touchdowns. Meanwhile, backfield mate Shonn Greene is just 69 yards short of 1,000 for his career. Wideout Braylon Edwards continues the homecoming theme, returning to Cleveland for the first time since being traded by the Browns to New York last season. The third overall selection by the Browns in the 2005 draft, he had a 74-yard touchdown catch against Detroit. Fellow receiver Santonio Holmes recorded his first 100-yard game as a Jet last week, while kick returner Brad Smith is first in the AFC and second in the league with a 30.7-yard average per return.
Among the Cleveland defenders, cornerback Eric Wright had his first interception of the season and tackle Ahtyba Rubin chipped in with his first career sack in last week's victory over the Patriots. Several of their teammates have a New York pedigree, as linebackers Eric Barton (2004-08) and David Bowens (2007-08), end Kenyon Coleman (2007-08) and safety Abram Elam (2007-08) all once played with the Jets. On the numbers, Cleveland has been touched for 105.9 yards per week on the ground and 240.5 per game through the air for a generous 346.4 yards per game total. Additionally, the team has produced 14 sacks and nine interceptions, while foes have gained ground at a 5.5 yards per play clip. Free safety T.J. Ward has a team-best 60 tackles, while linebacker Marcus Benard's 4 1/2 sacks and cornerback Sheldon Brown's and Bowens' two interceptions each also are tops among Browns players.
WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL
As much as the Jets have succeeded on the road, the Browns are beginning to mirror it at home, having won five of their last seven along Lake Erie. After downing the Saints and Patriots in succession, Cleveland seeks a third straight game with 30-plus points. The offensive resurgence has been largely triggered by rookie quarterback Colt McCoy, who's 2-1 as a starter and posted a career-best 101.6 passer rating last week. He scored his first rushing touchdown against New England as well, but spent much of the rest of the time handing off to burly runner Peyton Hillis, who rumbled for his third 100-yard game of the season with a career-high 184 yards. Hillis also tied a career- high with two touchdowns and is tied for third in the league with seven scores this year. On the outside, wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi has averaged 17 yards per catch over 47 career receptions and ex-Jet Chansi Stuckey -- a seventh-round pick of New York in 2008 -- had his first career rushing touchdown last week. Also, tight end Ben Watson is averaging 16.3 yards per catch over his last three games.
Individually, chalk Jets defensive end Trevor Pryce as one who'll relish Sunday's matchup, as he's posted 7 1/2 sacks in eight career games against the Browns while then with the Ravens. Statistically speaking, the Jets are allowing 307.1 yards per game, including just 87.4 on the ground and a 3.3- yard average per rush attempt, and 219.8 via the pass while recording 17 sacks and five interceptions. Linebacker David Harris leads New York with 57 tackles, while end Shaun Ellis has a team-best 3 1/2 sacks and cornerback Antonio Cromartie a Gang Green-leading two interceptions.
The Browns have gone into two straight games as heavy underdogs and made so- called experts look foolish. In spite of that resurgence and a home-field advantage, it's difficult to make a case going in that they should beat a team generally considered among the conference's -- if not the league's -- elite. Of course, the way the Jets have played the last month - 8 turnovers in 3 games - they are anything but elite. I was in the building last weekend when the Browns dominated the Patriots - the place was rocking. Look for the Browns to ride that wave and shock the world again!
PREDICTION: Cleveland Browns 23 - New York Jets 20