Diane Finley, a sports psychologist and a psychology professor at Prince George's Community College, has been listening to all the chatter emanating from the New York Jets this week, most of it barbs aimed at the New England Patriots.
She says one possible result of the Jets' non-stop tirades is that they may have made New England an improbable sentimental favorite around the NFL.
"Everybody else might be rooting for New England when normally they wouldn't," Finley said. "Frankly, most fans don't like when somebody wins all the time. We like winners, but we don't like winners to win too much. And you've got the Tom Brady thing. Fans don't like when people seem too perfect. The Jets risk putting the sympathy of everybody else onto New England, and I don't think they did that intentionally."
Jets coach Rex Ryan probably doesn't care about perception, but that could change. With all the turmoil the Jets have been through this season – the aftermath of the Brett Favre sex-harassment case, the sideline tripping incident, the poor behavior around a female reporter – they may ultimately get a rebuke from commissioner Roger Goodell. This week, Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie publicly cursed Brady, the Patriots quarterback, in an extension of the ill will that exists between the two teams.
"What's happening is the Jets, with all the cheating and the Brett Favre thing, they're starting to get a rep as a thug team," Finley said. "That's not necessarily a real positive thing. The commissioner may not care for that. … It seems to me if they want to create that image, they're doing a really good job. Some of them may want to have that bad-boy image, although I'm not sure why."
Finley said the psychological games Ryan has been playing of late could indeed backfire in Sunday's playoff game in Foxboro.
"He's putting attention on the coaches' battle, trying to take some of the media focus away from the players and what they didn't do the last time [against the Patriots]," she said. "That could backfire because then New England players are going to rally around their coach, even if they haven't always gotten along with him.
"Look at Maryland's bowl game [last month]. You could tell those players were playing for Ralph [deposed coach Ralph Friedgen]. They weren't trying to make East Carolina look like an incompetent high school team, which they did."