If the Jets advance to the Super Bowl, would Rex Ryan be the best coach in the NFL?
That's the gauntlet New York Jets coach Rex Ryan must traverse.
And if he makes it through still alive and advances to the Super Bowl, then Bill Belichick, Lovie Smith, Todd Haley or anybody else who wins a 2010 Coach of the Year Award ought to ship it on over to One Jets Drive.
The sixth-seeded Jets can accomplish a rarity if they defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday for the AFC Championship. Wild-card teams have reached the Super Bowl before, but only one team ever has knocked off the first, second and third seeds to do it.
Manning, Brady and Roethlisberger have won six Super Bowls and played in eight. They have a combined 32-17 postseason record.
"That's a pretty strong task when you mention guys like that," said Tom Flores, who coached the first wild-card champions, the 1980 Oakland Raiders, in Super Bowl history. "They've been there before. They've experienced being in big games before and winning big games before.
"You're going against the best. There's no unknowns there."
In addition to the superstar opposing quarterbacks, the Jets are venturing into some of the most difficult venues in any sport.
Flores got past an impressive group of quarterbacks for his first Super Bowl (he won another two years later as a division champ): Ken Stabler, MVP Brian Sipe and future Hall of Famer Dan Fouts.
But that lineup isn't as tough as what the Jets are facing. Flores sees Sunday's game being less intimidating than their showdown against the Patriots.
"Their biggest hurdle was in New England," Flores said. "That was almost impossible to beat them there."
Unfortunately for Ryan, awards like coach of the year are based on regular-season results.
He led the Jets to a 11-5 record, but they faded down the homestretch. Their lopsided 45-3 loss to the Patriots in Week 13 followed the next week by an ugly home loss to the Miami Dolphins erased any chance of Ryan winning honors.
But if Ryan can navigate this rugged playoff stretch and make it to the Super Bowl, then we'll know who really deserves to be considered the best.
"Well, I can say this: It's not easy," Ryan said. "I don't know who's next. [Terry] Bradshaw?
"Clearly, we have a ton of work to do to pull this off. But we think we're the men for the job, and we're going to find out Sunday."