Published November 20, 2014
By now, anyone with premium cable knows more about Rex Ryan and his band of merry Jets than they should. The way Ryan took to reality TV, there's surely a season on "Survivor" or even "Dancing with the Stars" in his future should the football thing not work out.
Hard not to like a fat, jolly man who isn't afraid to talk big in a league where big talking tends to be discouraged. Bill Belichick he's not, as evidenced in a scene on HBO's "Hard Knocks" where Ryan mercilessly lashes his team for poor performance, then closes it out by yelling, "Let's go eat a (expletive) snack."
Fun stuff every week. So entertaining that it's almost sad to see the preseason end.
But true reality begins Thursday night in New Orleans. It continues through the weekend and on to Monday night in the Meadowlands when the Jets must begin to deliver on their many brash promises.
And the reality is that the Jets are probably not nearly as good as Ryan relentlessly hypes them up to be.
He sees them winning the Super Bowl. The wise guys in Vegas see five or six other teams with a better chance.
"There are darling teams every year that people seem to fall in love with," said longtime Las Vegas oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro. "The Jets are a good football team, but to make them one of favorites to win the Super Bowl is insane."
The same could probably be said about the Minnesota Vikings, who face the unenviable task of opening the season with a rematch against the defending Super Bowl champions. Brett Favre drove oddsmakers so crazy with his waffling that some sports books doubled Minnesota's odds on winning the Super Bowl when it looked as though he wasn't going to play.
Favre may not make it through Thursday night's game, much less the whole season. His ankle is already an issue, and there's only so much beating a 40-year-old quarterback can take.
But the NFL is a league so mired in mediocrity that one player can mean the difference between an 8-8 season and a Super Bowl. That's why the Vikings begged Favre to come back, and why Ryan finally threw a hissy fit before the cameras to make sure Darrelle Revis was back with the Jets.
Yes, the Jets could conceivably win a Super Bowl. The Vikings, too, if Favre can somehow have a second miracle season in a row and restrain himself from throwing into triple coverage.
Yes, parity reigns, and if you need proof it's in the lines offered up in Vegas for the sport Americans love to bet almost as much as they love to watch.
"A good third of the teams in the NFL have a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl this year," said Jay Kornegay, who runs the sports book at the Las Vegas Hilton. "We've always had parity, but this year it just seems like so many teams have a shot."
While the public embraces the Jets as the new "America's Team," the wise guys like a team like the Baltimore Ravens. While the Vikings have people jumping on their bandwagon, the Green Bay Packers have the shortest odds to come out of the NFC Central and win it all.
And if you've got some money to bet on the Tennessee Titans at 40-1, well, remember that you heard it here first.
It's a big change from just a few years back when the New England Patriots were dominating the NFL and the only real questions were whether they would go undefeated and whom they would play in the Super Bowl.
The NFL claims to hate the idea of point spreads on its games but, because they are researched carefully and there is real money on them, they provide the best indicator of what is going on in the league. In the opening weekend, there's not one game with a spread as large as seven points, and half the games figure to be decided by a field goal or less.
"There's maybe two to four plays in a game that decide who wins or covers a game," Kornegay said. "That doesn't leave much room for error."
It's also good in the sports books, where a close spread means even more millions changing hands.
But it may not be so great for Ryan and the Jets. They may have promised more than they can deliver, if the slender 2½-point spread in their opener against the Ravens is any indication.
"Hard Knocks" was a lot of fun and good enough to win an Emmy.
It's a lot harder to write a script for winning a Super Bowl.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org