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More than bragging rights at stake for Giants, Jets

The snow's on the ground. The ornaments are on the tree. The songs are on the radio.

And New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan is crowing about the playoffs.

Yes indeed, folks...it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Keeping with the tradition he'd established in years one and two on the job, the outspoken Gang Green sideline boss reminded everyone again this week -- as the Jets prepare for a Saturday home date with their live-in rivals at MetLife Stadium, the New York Giants -- that he believes his team is an elite one.

And not to mention better than the Giants based on recent performance.

"There's a lot of talk going back and forth, most of it driven by me," Ryan said of the rivalry. "But I'll stand by anything I've ever said. I didn't come here to be anybody's little brother. I came here to win, to be looked at that way and to take over not just this city, even though it's the city to take over, but also this league.

"To say a team's better than you that never made the playoffs is ridiculous. Clearly, we were the better team my first two years. We get to prove it Saturday who the best team is this year."

The Jets were blasted by a 45-19 score last weekend in Philadelphia, making their hold on the final AFC Wild Card playoff spot a little more tenuous and simultaneously keeping the Eagles in the chase for the NFC East, where they're a game behind the second-place Giants.

But in spite of Ryan's verbal jabs, his counterpart this week wasn't interested in sparring.

"Talk is cheap, play the game. That is the way I've always believed," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said. "It will be one of those knock-down, drag-out games without a doubt."

At 8-6, the Jets are tied with Cincinnati in the standings but own a tiebreaker edge on the Bengals, with both teams a game ahead of the trio of Tennessee, Oakland and San Diego. Wins in the final two games, with the Jets closing next week in Miami, would guarantee them a third straight Wild Card playoff berth.

The Giants, who lost to Washington by a 23-10 count last week, are no longer in the NFC Wild Card picture, but can still take the East with wins over the Jets and next week at home against Dallas.

The Cowboys are division champs if they win their final two games, which includes a matchup with Philadelphia on Saturday, or by beating the Eagles and the Giants losing to the Jets. Philadelphia would capture the NFC East if they win their final two games and the Giants lose this week but defeat Dallas in the finale.

But in spite of the complexity, Coughlin said he'd not have it another way.

"I think if you were to sit down in August and say that with two games to go you'd have your destiny in your hands, not depending on somebody else, you'd say, 'OK, sign me up for that,'" he said.

SERIES HISTORY

The Giants own a 7-4 advantage in their all-time regular-season series with the Jets and have won the last four meetings between the Gotham rivals, most recently scoring a 35-24 decision as the home team in 2007. The Giants also posted a 31-28 overtime victory over the Jets in 2003 and prevailed in encounters in both 1996 (13-6) and 1999 (41-28) as well. The Jets' last triumph in the set was a 10-6 verdict on Oct. 31, 1993.

The Jets did come out on top via a 17-3 score in a preseason clash between the teams back on Aug. 29.

Coughlin is 4-2 in his career against the Jets, owning a 1-0 mark during his tenure with the Giants and a 3-2 mark while at the helm of Jacksonville from 1995-2002 that includes a loss in a 1998 AFC Divisional Playoff. Ryan will be taking on both the Giants and Coughlin for the first time as a head coach.

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL

Quarterback Eli Manning won his only start against the Jets and passed for two touchdowns in that 2007 matchup. He has a franchise-record 4,362 passing yards this season and has thrown for 14 touchdowns in the fourth quarter, tied for the most ever in an NFL season. Manning leads the league with a 111.8 rating in the fourth quarter as well and has three 400-yard games in 2011, also tied for an NFL single-season record. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw has 828 yards from scrimmage (103.5 per game) and six touchdowns in his past eight games against AFC foes. In his only meeting with the Jets, backfield mate Brandon Jacobs rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Victor Cruz has 1,194 receiving yards on the season and needs 150 to break the club record of 1,343 set by Amani Toomer in 2002, while fellow wideout Hakeem Nicks has 22 catches for 293 yards (97.7 per game) and two scores in his past three contests against the AFC. Cruz and Nicks (1,096 receiving yards) are the first set of Giants teammates to record 1,000-plus receiving yards in the same season. Another wide receiver, Mario Manningham, aims for a third game in a row with a touchdown versus an AFC opponent.

Jets linebacker David Harris has a career-best three interceptions on the season and leads the team with 80 tackles. At cornerback, second-year Jet Antonio Cromartie has 39 tackles, a forced fumble and three interceptions in 14 games, while rookie end Muhammad Wilkerson has 41 tackles and two sacks to pace the team's three-man front.

Statistically speaking, the Giants are 13th in scoring (23.9 ppg), eighth in total yards (385.1 ypg), third in passing (299.0 ypg) and dead last in rushing (86.1 ypg). On defense, the Jets are 21st in scoring (22.5 ppg), seventh in yards allowed (317.9 ypg) and against the pass (205.1 ypg) and 16th against the run (112.9 ypg).

WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL

Quarterback Mark Sanchez (3,009 passing yards) needs 283 passing yards to surpass his career-best of 3,291 from 2010. At home in 2011, he has completed 125-of-221 passes (56.6 percent) for 1,558 yards with 15 touchdowns, seven interceptions and an 88.0 passer rating. Running back Shonn Greene (941 rushing yards) needs 59 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the first time. He also leads the AFC with four rush touchdowns in December and is averaging 96.7 rushing yards per game for the month. Fellow running back LaDainian Tomlinson, meanwhile, has 18,312 career yards from scrimmage, the fifth-most all-time. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes aims for a fifth straight game with a receiving touchdown and has eight scoring catches in 2011, tied for a career-high initially set while with Pittsburgh in 2008, while counterpart Plaxico Burress spent four seasons with the Giants from 2005-08 and faces his former team for the first time since being let go by Big Blue following the 2008 campaign. Holmes and Burress are the only AFC duo with at least eight touchdown receptions apiece in 2011. Tight end Dustin Keller needs two receptions to become the fourth tight end in franchise history to reach 200 for his career, while kick returner Joe McKnight leads the NFL with a 32.3-yard average.

Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has 18 sacks in his past 20 games, as well as five sacks in his past four matchups against the AFC, and aims for a fifth week in a row with a sack. Cornerback Aaron Ross had two interceptions, including one he returned 43 yards for a touchdown, in the Giants' 2007 win over the Jets, while end Justin Tuck has a half-sack in three of his last four games against the AFC. Safety Kenny Phillips had an interception last week and has a career-high three picks for the season, and linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka has 77 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception on the year.

By the numbers, the Jets on offense are seventh in scoring (24.7 ppg), 26th in total yards (306.0 ypg) and 21st in both passing (201.9 ypg) and rushing (104.1 ypg). On defense, the Giants are 28th in points allowed (26.6 ppg), 29th in both total yards allowed (385.1 ypg) and against the pass (257.5 ypg) and 22nd against the run (127.6 ypg).

KEYS TO THE GAME

Giant challenge. Manning and his offense have been at or near a record-setting aerial pace all season in spite of the league's least-productive rushing attack. The Jets figure to emphasize stopping the pass, which could open up some lanes for Bradshaw and Jacobs.

Ground and pound. As it's been for the past two seasons en route to the AFC title game, the Jets are beginning to rely more on the running game -- and particularly tough guy Greene. If they can generate yards and gobble clock with runs, they'll keep Manning and his arsenal off the field.

Kings of New York. As usual, the Jets' Ryan has taken the role of big talker leading up to the intra-region matchup, which may or may not be beneficial to a team that's heard his bluster now for three seasons. A win here may be imperative for his message to continue to resonate down the road.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

While the Giants seem capable of higher-end peaks, their valleys -- like last week's dud at Washington -- are probably lower than the Jets' crashes. The Jets have become accustomed to finding the right formula at this time of year, and should be able to play soundly enough against Manning while doing just enough on the offensive side against an oft-dubious Giants defensive unit.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jets 30, Giants 24