After being called everything from the "Game of the Millennium" to "Armageddon" to "Super Bowl 41½," Sunday's bloodbath between New England and Indy has generated more hype than we have frequent groper points at the neighborhood nudie bar.
But with all due respect to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the success of each club in recent years owes more to two men: the head coaches.
Yeah, we know the story: Brady and Manning are the faces of the NFL; Manning takes up more commercial air space than a fleet of 747s; Brady gets more Brazilian trim than an Amazonian warrior goddess; and, sure, comparing the two best quarterbacks in the league would be a great read
But, in a coach's league, it's the men on the sidelines who deserve the credit for leading the two most successful franchises since of the 21st century.
Bill Belichick came to New England at a steep price
, but his success far outweighs any costs. He was a controversial figure in Cleveland and then again during his three-minute stint as the HC of the NYJ. But he has helped transform the Patriots from a playoff pretender to three-time Super Bowl winner and, in doing so, has placed his name among some of the all-time great coaches.
Tony Dungy, meanwhile, came to the Colts after being fired by Tampa Bay for an inability to take the next step in the postseason. Since becoming the head man in Indianapolis, Dungy has never missed the playoffs and last year achieved the ultimate goal by winning Super Bowl XLI.
1. Dungy rules the regular season
In fact when it comes to winning during the regular season, few have done it better than Dungy. In his 12 seasons as a head coach, Dungy has won at least 10 games eight times and has reached the playoffs in nine seasons. His .661 winning percentage is sixth all-time among coaches with 100 or more regular-season victories, behind only a series of Hall of Famers (see the list here
It has all started with winning at home, where Dungy boasts an impressive .758 winning percentage in his career and has never had a losing record at home. Even in his first year as a head coach, his 6-10 Buccaneers were 5-3 at home.
Dungy's string of eight consecutive playoff appearances (and nine in 11 years as a head coach) should come as no surprise; only one time has a Dungy-coached team finished with a losing record. And that losing record came in 1996, his rookie year in the NFL when he went 6-10 with the the perenially piss-poor Bucs. Coming into this season, Dungy has won at least 10 games in all five seasons as Colts head coach and totaled a .770 winning percentage in Indianapolis.
2. But Belichick is King of the Playoffs
Belichick doesn't quite match Dungy's success in the regular season. But there's no doubt he is one of the most successful postseason coaches of all-time. Belichick has a 13-3 record in the postseason good for an outstanding .813 (13-3) win percentage, second in NFL history only to Vince Lombardi's .900 (9-1).
Belichick is undefeated in the Super Bowl and in 16 playoff games with the Browns and Patriots has outscored opponents by a combined 81 points. In comparison, Dungy had only marginal success in the playoffs until last year and for his career has been outscored in the postseason by 16 points - including a 41-0 loss to the Jets in 2002.
In some cases, Belichick's playoff success is unmatched; he is in fact the only coach to win three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span. Belichick has one at least one playoff game in all six of his trips to the postseason, even leading the Browns to a playoff victory (over Bill Parcells' Patriots) in 1994.
The bottom line
Not only are Belichick and Dungy the most successful coaches in the league today, they are two of the best coaches ever. And with the current state of their franchises as the undisputed rulers of the NFL, they could have even more success this year and beyond.
Dungy is the author of a best selling book
and trumps Belichick in nearly every regular season category, including sideline fashion. But Belichick's success in the postseason has no match this side of Lombardi and, pending a win on Sunday against the Colts, the 2007 Patriots have a chance to go down as one of the best teams ever. Cameras or not, your chances of beating Belichick in the playoffs are similar to that of a hot dog surviving an encounter with Joey Chestnut
Still, while Belichick has had great success with a Hall of Fame QB in New England, Dungy fashioned a winner with guys like Shaun King and Trent Dilfer in Tampa. Belichick wasn't very successful when he had average talent in Cleveland. His pre-Tom Brady winning percentage, in Cleveland and New England, was a very un-genius like .420 (42-58), including playoffs. Dungy has only one sub-.500 season on his head-coaching resume, Belichick has five, all of them in his first six years as a coach (and four in Cleveland).
Who's the better coach? Right now, it's a slight edge to Belichick -- his track record as an assistant (two Super Bowls) and success as a head coach in playoffs are the tie-breaker. But it's hardly the mismatch some in the media make it out to be, where Belichick is universally proclaimed as a coach without peer. But Bill Belichick does have a peer, and his name is Tony Dungy.
In fact, Belichick might not even be in the argument if not for the serendipitous arrival on the scene of Brady.
Plus, a couple of good breaks in the playoffs and it would have been Dungy getting the nod. But it's close enough that you could give Sunday's winner the lead in this epic coaching struggle ... for this week at least.