But in all other matters — ethos, values, temperament — these coaches seem antithetical. Actually, if you think about it, this is shaping up as a contest between the coaches. The NFL, an institution that commands the media's most obedient attentions, does pre-game hype better than the WWE. You won't need a program to tell the heroes from the villains, the babyface from the heel. Their personas will be inevitably exaggerated, rendered as caricatures. By kickoff time, Tony Dungy versus Bill Belichick will be shorthand for Good versus Evil.
The bookies like Evil by 5-and-a-half. Still, that shouldn't affect your rooting interest. The more you see from Bill Belichick, the more difficult it is to like the guy.
He's a great coach, maybe even the greatest. But he's also a cheater. There's no denying that after the commissioner imposed unprecedented sanctions against the Patriots for illegal videotaping in September. The cheating cost New England $250,000 and a first-round pick. Another $500,000 was to come directly from Belichick's pocket.
Even Dungy, dreadfully modest and circumspect in his public pronouncements, felt obliged to comment. "It's a sad day for the NFL," he said.
All coaches look for an edge. But Belichick's pursuit of that edge is relentless, arrogant, secretive, Nixonian. The edge is his white whale. No advantage is ever enough. Last Sunday, at home against the Redskins, the Patriots had fourth down and one on Washington's 7-yard line. The score was 38-0. "Do you kick a field goal and make it 41-0?" Belichick asked later. "Or go for it on fourth down?"
Depends who you are. If you're Belichick, you go for it. And later in the game, on another fourth down with the score 45-0, you go for it again. There's no need for another debate about running up the score. All you need to know is this: Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, long regarded as one of football's gentlemen, brushed Belichick off after the game.
There remain other reasons — apart from Belichick's unreasonably high regard for the melodies of Bon Jovi — to view him with distrust. Consider the case of former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson, 34, who suffers from depression and a cognitive condition resembling the early onset of Alzheimer's. It all began with a concussion Johnson sustained in a 2002 preseason game. From the New York Times: "He sustained another four days later during a practice after Patriots coach Bill Belichick went against the recommendation of the team's trainer, Johnson said, and submitted him to regular on-field contact."
Belichick, as is his habit, didn't respond to the allegation. But you wonder how to ever give this guy benefit of the doubt. Jets fans will always remember his infamous one-day tenure as "HC of the NYJ." Belichick had signed a contract specifying that he would succeed Bill Parcells as coach. But when that time came, he broke his contract and his word, abandoned the team that gave him a shot, and left for Foxborough. New England got a dynasty. New York got Al Groh.
Perhaps this is ancient history. Then again, hype is just history writ large. And given Belichick's history, it's easy to understand why the bookies gave his opponent the points.
One might recall a Colts-Ravens game three years ago. Peyton Manning was a touchdown pass from breaking Dan Marino's single-season record. Already up by 10, the Colts intercepted a ball that gave them a first down on the Baltimore 4-yard line. Instead of going for the record, though, Manning took a knee, then another. Finally, the clock ran out.
"That's the right way to play," said Manning.
Belichick might beg to differ. Dungy would not. His teams have won the last three meetings with the Patriots, including a spectacular comeback after being down 21-3 in last year's AFC Championship game. Still, the Patriots look like the better team this year. You don't have to be a bookie to see that.
Whatever happens, Dungy will take it in stride. He has survived worse losses. In fact, he has survived the worst loss of all, the suicide of his teenage son in 2005. It's a wonder anyone pulls through something like that. But you can't help but cheer for those who do.
In Dungy's case, he credits his faith. He's devoutly religious, having once considered leaving football to run a prison ministry.
In the end, though, he's a football coach — a great one, but also, a marked departure from the stereotype. "I've always coached the way I wanted to be coached," he once said.
He doesn't yell or embarrass himself or anyone else. His pursuit of an edge is intense, but not consuming. Sports are now plagued with cheaters like never before. Tony Dungy isn't one of them.
So maybe, just this once, tell your bookie you're betting with your heart. Take the good guy and the points.
Mark Kriegel is a national columnist for FOXSports.com.