Alex Ferguson meets Barry Fry in NFL playoffs
There have been several occasions in the past when I have painted New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick as the Alex Ferguson of the NFL.
The three-time Super Bowl-winning head coach is widely considered as a sideline genius and a legend in the making, he does not suffer fools gladly, he could take or leave pre- and post-match press conferences and he is happy to ship out troublesome players who don't fully buy into his system, even if they are the biggest names in the sport.
Ferguson was content to allow the likes of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo to leave Old Trafford, and Belichick made a similar headline-making move this season when he jettisoned one of the most successful wide receivers of the past decade in Randy Moss.
Belichick has guided the league-leading Patriots to the quarter-final stage of the NFL playoffs and this Sunday evening he takes on his polar opposite in New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan.
Rex Ryan has said that Sunday's playoff fixture is 'personal' between him and Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Photos: AP
If Belichick is the NFL's Alex Ferguson, Ryan is probably more akin to Peterborough's Barry Fry. He is a larger-than-life character, he has never met a microphone he didn't like and he is constantly filling journalists' notebooks with cracking one-liners.
Ryan has not disappointed this week, insisting: "There's no question it's personal - it's about Belichick against myself. That's what it's going to come down to. I recognise that he's the best in the business and all that, but I'm just trying to be the best on Sunday.
"He's going to get my best shot. If he slips at all, I'm going to beat him."
This is a typical Ryan move. He seems unable to avoid making a controversial remark but I think it is actually a well-designed move to put the spotlight on himself, allowing his team to prepare for big games in relative peace and quiet while he takes all the tough questions.
Ryan, who once challenged Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder to a fight, has been in the media spotlight all season long. His team was the subject of a fly-on-the-wall documentary called Hard Knocks (a series Patriots quarterback Tom Brady refused to watch because he hates the Jets) and in December it was alleged that his wife of 23 years, Michelle, was the star of a series of You Tube foot fetish videos, one of which reportedly featured the coach speaking off camera.
Interestingly, it was not an allegation denied by Ryan, who instead responded to questions from the media by saying: "It's a personal matter."
Ryan appears completely unfazed by the probing into his private life and remains totally focused on the job at hand. And it would be especially sweet for New Yorkers if the Jets can knock off the 14-2 Patriots at the weekend, especially after Ryan's team suffered a stunning 45-3 loss at the hands of the Patriots last month.
That was a result that so angered Ryan he dug a hole at the Jets' training ground and buried the game ball in it.
Ryan revealed: "I told Belichick after that game 'We'll see you in round three.' He just looked at me."
There is certainly no love lost between these AFC East rivals, and it would be fair to say they have quite a bit of previous.
The bad feeling really began in 1997 when Patriots head coach Bill Parcells left to take charge of the Jets. A year later, New England's star running back, Curtis Martin, also raced out of Boston and enjoyed the best years of a potential Hall of Fame career with the Jets.
In 1999, the Patriots got their revenge. Belichick was lined up as the Jets' replacement for the departing Parcells but he had a very late change of heart and took charge of New England.
That was a blow to the Jets that became more painful with each passing season as Belichick guided the Patriots to Super Bowl wins in 2002, 2004 and 2005, making them the elite team in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Jets are still chasing their first NFL title success since the 1968 campaign.
In 2006, Belichick was angered when his trusted assistant, Eric Mangini, left to coach the Jets, and in 2008 the Patriots were at the centre of the Spygate storm, where they were found guilty of illegally video-taping another team in action. And yes, you guessed correctly - it was the Jets.
That little controversy cost the Patriots $750,000 and a first round draft pick. It also threatened to damage Belichick's legacy, to some degree, with some critics suggesting New England needed such illicit activities in order to succeed.
I don't think that was the case, and Belichick has long reigned over one of the best-run and most talented teams in the NFL.
The 2010 edition of his Patriots will provide a stiff challenge for the Jets. Brady has enjoyed the kind of season that virtually guarantees he will be named the league's Most Valuable Player on Super Bowl Sunday.
The catalyst of New England's three Super Bowl wins has thrown 36 touchdowns and just four interceptions this term. He has not tossed an interception in an NFL record 335 passes. That is out-of-this-world production.
Offensively, the Patriots have been able to share the load among players who were not that heralded around the league at the start of this season and who might actually struggle to start elsewhere if they were to be judged purely on athletic talent.
Belichick is not all about speed. He factors in toughness, mental agility and attitude. If you hit hard, put the team first and can think quickly on your feet, you can play for the Patriots.
And that is why the likes of undrafted running backs Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead (signed after the Jets cut him in the summer) have been able to succeed in New England, alongside aerial targets such as rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and veteran wide receivers Deion Branch and Wes Welker.
It has been a total team effort for the Patriots, and that is fitting for Belichick's club where the individual is never allowed to put his own goals ahead of the group's ambitions.
Defensively, the Patriots are tougher to work out but they appear to be on the rise. This young and developing unit ranks 25th out of the NFL's 32 teams in terms of yards conceded but they lead the league in turnovers, taking the ball away from the opposition 38 times.
The Jets - who are no mugs themselves with 12 wins to their name and a host of stars including quarterback Mark Sanchez, running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene, and receivers Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes - will enjoy no luck if they try to entice bulletin board material out of the Patriots.
New York are a mirror image of their head coach - loud, brash, confident and in your face. The Patriots reflect the personality of their coach - they are quiet, business-like and determined to let their play on the field do the talking.
So this is more than a tale of two head coaches. It is a tale of two vastly different teams with just one thing in common - they don't like each other very much.
And that should make for a very interesting Sunday evening as Arlo White and Greg Brady bring live commentary of the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears from 1745 GMT on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra before handing over to myself and Nat Coombs for the Jets-Patriots showdown.
For now, I am leaning towards Brady and the Patriots. I would much rather listen to Ryan in a press conference and think he is a breath of fresh air for the NFL, but he and his team still have a long way to go before they can overcome New England and Belichick.
NFL Divisional Playoff Round Predictions
Baltimore Ravens 13 Pittsburgh Steelers 17
Green Bay Packers 24 Atlanta Falcons 21
Seattle Seahawks 10 Chicago Bears 28
New York Jets 17 New England Patriots 27
Listen to live coverage of Sunday's playoff games from 1745 GMT on BBC Five live sports extra and watch highlights of the weekend's action at 2320 GMT next Monday on BBC Two.