EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Rex Ryan set the tone early in the week - with a brash boast, of course.
His Jets, the coach declared, have been the best football team in New York since he came to town. And he said the facts bear that out: Two playoff trips compared to none by the Giants. But Ryan wants a lot more.
"I don't want to be the one that is not looked at as the best team in my own state," Ryan said. "There's no way. I want to be the best team, period. Now, do I have the courage to say it? Absolutely."
For the first time in his three seasons as the coach of the Jets (8-6), Ryan gets to play for New York supremacy when he and Tom Coughlin's Giants (7-7) square off Saturday in a game with plenty of playoff implications.
That's the major focus, getting to the postseason, and it's what prompted the normally tight-lipped Coughlin to say this about Ryan's bravado: "Talk is cheap. Play the game."
Ryan kept going throughout the week, and players on both sides took some jabs at each other. But both sides have insisted they need to win, regardless of bragging rights, to stay in the postseason picture - even if that might not be completely true. Still, the sense of desperation is clear.
"We all understand that it's going to be some good competition, and I mean, just look at the circumstances of this game," said Jets wide receiver Plaxico Burress, a former Giants star. "The loser of that game won't go to the playoffs; Christmas Eve, Jets vs. the Giants. This is what New York is all about. It couldn't be a better setting."
If the Giants beat the Jets and then Dallas at home next weekend, they'll win the NFC East and return to the playoffs for first time since 2008. But a loss Saturday and a Cowboys win would make for what Burress predicts will be "a bittersweet Christmas" for the Giants.
"It's going to be do or die," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said.
Two wins will just about clinch the Jets a third straight wild-card appearance under Ryan - the first time the team would be in the playoffs three straight years.
"It would be huge, no question," Ryan said. "That would be a great accomplishment."
A loss still wouldn't eliminate them, but they aren't even thinking in those terms.
"It's a big one," Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "We want to win these next two and hopefully control our destiny going into the playoffs, not have to sit around in a couple weeks hoping certain teams lose or not. If we can just win these next two, then we'll be OK."
When this matchup was first announced several months ago, many thought it could potentially be a preview to a Subway Super Bowl, something New York-area fans have dreamed of for decades. Instead of the teams being among the elite in their conferences, they've been surprisingly mediocre.
That was never more clear than last week, when the Giants were embarrassed by the lowly Washington Redskins, 23-10, and the Jets were humiliated by the Eagles, 45-19. With so much on the line, though, that might actually give this game even more juice than if both had already clinched postseason berths.