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More than first place in the AFC East

By Josh Alper
|  Monday, Nov 29, 2010  |  Updated 4:45 PM EDT
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Being thought of as the best team in the NFL is obviously something that matters a great deal to the Jets.

They've never made a secret of it -- with head coach Rex Ryan, in particular, sounding a constant message that being at the top of the league's heap is the most important thing in the world.

They have had the best record in the league for much of this season and they've had a few people touting their worthiness for that spot, but the wide acclaim they so desperately seek has been slow in coming.

That can change next Monday night in Foxborough. Ric Flair made a career out of telling contenders for his crown that in order to be the man, you need to beat the man. Bill Belichick doesn't style, doesn't profile and doesn't take rides on Space Mountain, but he is just as much the man as Flair and the Jets need to beat him in his house to make their way to the top rung on the ladder.

Not only will they have the best record in the AFC and the inside track on home field throughout the playoffs, they'll have the signature win of the nascent Ryan era that really symbolizes the changing of the guard that he's been espousing since taking over the job. The Jets have made several resounding arguments for their inclusion among the teams vying for the crown this season, but sweeping the Pats would generate more noise than all the rest of them put together.

Since we're on the topic, a loss would also dwarf everything that's come before for the Jets. All of a sudden, the tight victories over unimpressive competition would go from examples of the team's grit to examples of the team's flaws. The losses to the Ravens and Packers would group with a loss to the Patriots to form a pattern of failure against elite competition that the Jets would likely have to erase by winning multiple road games for a second straight postseason.

That's a lot to worry about. Thankfully it isn't the Jets' quarterback who is trying to balance all of this pressure along with keeping a luscious head of hair for his supermodel wife to run her fingers through.

Mark Sanchez has 99 problems, to be sure, but a follicle ain't one.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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