Reporting from San Diego — Four decades after Broadway Joe Namath brashly predicted the New York Jets would beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III -- and then came through on that guarantee -- Rex Ryan's Jets have quietly pushed their own pile of chips to the middle of the table.
In an itinerary for his players that somehow was obtained by the media, Ryan had set aside Feb. 9, two days after the Super Bowl, for a celebration through the middle of Manhattan.
In a divisional playoff game today, under threatening skies, the San Diego Chargers plan to rain on Ryan's premature parade. The matchup pits the (powder) Blue Angels air show of the Chargers, led by Philip Rivers, the AFC's top-rated passer, against a Jets defense ranked No. 1 overall and against the pass.
The Jets, who are one-touchdown underdogs, have USC rookie Mark Sanchez at quarterback and the league's No. 1 ground game. That, against a Chargers defense that has regained its equilibrium against the run after the loss of All-Pro defensive tackle Jamal Williams had knocked them for a loop.
"If you had asked me at the start of training camp who are the guys we were going to kind of ride with throughout the year, I would have never said the names," Chargers defensive end Luis Castillo said. "Because most of them weren't here."
That said, the Chargers now are as healthy as they've been in recent memory. The team, coming off a first-round bye, had just one player on its injury report this week: punter Mike Scifres (groin), and he's listed as probable.
They might have vast postseason experience (this is their fourth consecutive trip as AFC West champion) and considerable momentum (11 wins in a row to end the season), but most notable about the Chargers is what they lack: crutches, casts and walking boots.
"It's been a while, since that divisional game we lost to the Patriots [in January 2007], the last time I was actually healthy in the playoffs," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "So I'm excited about it. I get to go out and turn it loose, and whatever happens, happens."
What has made the Chargers so dangerous this season is that Tomlinson is just one option in a crowd of playmakers. Rivers can get the ball in his hands, sure, but can also get it to running back Darren Sproles, receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd, tight end Antonio Gates and others.
The most likely scenario today has the Jets putting stifling cornerback Darrelle Revis on Jackson, then devising ways to get a safety or third corner on Gates. That could create additional opportunities for players whose radar blips are not quite so bright, such as Floyd, or maybe fullback Mike Tolbert.
But it's not as if the Jets are rattled by air raids. They held quarterbacks to an NFL-low passer rating of 58.8 -- eight touchdowns, 17 interceptions and a 51.7% completion rate -- and are the league's only defense that didn't give up a "quick strike" scoring drive of four plays or fewer.
The Chargers finished the regular season as the NFL's fifth-ranked passing offense. The Jets have already faced the top four -- Houston, Indianapolis (although the Colts pulled Peyton Manning in the third quarter), New England (twice) and New Orleans -- and gave up one touchdown pass.
Revis is the brightest star in that no-fly zone, and, the way the outspoken Ryan sees it, was robbed when the NFL's award for defensive player of the year went to Green Bay's Charles Woodson.
"Darrelle Revis is the guy that shut down everybody in this league, and he'll do the same this week, I believe, whoever he's matched up against," Ryan said.
"That's no slight to anybody. That's just the way it's been this season."
Someone else might shy away from such a prediction -- at least publicly -- but not Ryan, a coach no bulletin board can contain. Not everyone thinks the tactic of making bold predictions is a bad idea.
"I think it's brilliant," NBC's Cris Collinsworth said. "I've coached enough kids' sports to know that you have to convince your own team they can win before they can really win. I think what he's done has been a very masterful job of letting them visualize a path to a world championship."
Today, it's up to the Chargers to ensure that the next puffed-up Underdog to be cheered down 7th Avenue . . . will be in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.