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Dungy throws a seed: Bengals can beat Pats


NBC's Tony Dungy predicts Andy Dalton breaks through in this year's postseason.

Tony Dungy presides over Sunday's Football Night in America on NBC with the same implacable reason above the madness that put him on the Pro Football Hall of Fame ballot after winning 67 percent of his games as a head coach.

So as he prepares for the Bengals and this week's edition in Arizona (8:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5), Dungy, as usual, has remained calm and predicts an AFC Championship Game between the Bengals and Patriots. And no matter if the stadium is Paul Brown or Gillette, Dungy says the Bengals can win and then go on to win it all.

"I would give them a shot. I don't think New England is a great defensive team," he said this week from Tampa, home of his Tampa Two and post-coaching career. "They're a very, very good offensive team. You have to be able to pressure Tom Brady without blitzing. That's the way you slow them down and a couple of teams have been able to do that this year. The Giants did it pretty well the other day. But you have to be able to put points up. You're probably not going to beat New England in a 17-14 game."

Dungy is looking at Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson like the young defensive guru that began life under the Steelers' Chuck Noll and then made his name learning how to stop the game's first high-powered passing offenses in the '80s. He looks at the Bengals offense and sees a lot of options.

"I think Cincinnati can score on them. I think they've got a varied enough attack where Bill Belichick can't sit there and say, 'If I take this element away, we'll beat these guys,' " Dungy said. "If he wants to say A.J Green isn't going to be the guy that beats us, they've got enough they can still score. I think it will be a good matchup with New England."

Dungy is impressed with how Jackson uses the versatility and it brings him back to the days he schemed against Bengals head coach Sam Wyche and quarterback Boomer Esiason as Chuck Noll's defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh. Those were the early day of his Tampa Two, a response to varied offenses like the Bengals featured.

"The big thing about Hue is that he knows what his guys can do well and he's got a lot of weaponry," Dungy said. "You have to go back to the old Bengals, those Super Bowl Bengals when they had so many weapons. This kind of reminds me of that.  It's just not one player. It's just not the deep ball. It's not one running game.  They can run inside and outside with a couple of different backs that hit you and keep you off balance. They've got a tight end that's a factor and a lot of different wide receivers. They're versatile and dynamic. And (Andy) Dalton is playing better. He's a little more relaxed, a little more accurate. You can tell he doesn't feel limited. You can tell in a big situation he's not saying, 'Boy, I've got to get the ball to A.J. Green.' He's got six or seven guys that can make a play for him. I think that tends to relax the quarterback."

Dungy knows all about quarterbacks taking heat for not winning in the postseason. He lived it his first year in Indianapolis in 2002 when he inherited Peyton Manning and when the Wild Card Colts got bounced in the first round, Manning ended his fifth season at 0-3 in the playoffs.  Tough as it is, Dalton, he says, has to win one in January to get established.

"The same thing happened with Peyton. 'Hey, we're not going to buy in until you start winning play-off games.' They can go 15-1, 14-2 and people will still say we want to see Jan. 15," Dungy said. "And unfortunately he'll be thinking about that all the way through. But the way you get through that is just what they're doing. Play well; play sharp and the playoffs are no different."

Dungy admits he was "thrown for a loop," when the Texans beat the Bengals on Monday night by suffocating their offense, 10-6. The way the Bengals had been so smooth, he just didn't see that coming: "I thought at home on Monday night we'd see the best of the Bengals."

Yet this isn't the NFL of a decade ago. The field seems a lot more limited.

"This year you've got about five really good teams and then you've got 25 teams that are in the next bunch that can win on any given day," Dungy said. "But it's not like the past where you've got one team that is really dominant or there are eight or 10 really good teams that could get hot and win the whole thing. I just think it comes down to Cincinnati or New England in the AFC and a couple of teams in the NFC. I don't see another AFC team that can go in and beat Cincinnati.  They lost a home game to Houston but I wouldn't see that in the playoffs. The next tier of teams just doesn't seem to be good enough."

But he says the Bengals are as one of the three or four best teams in the league. He's interested to see the bounce-back factor against the Cardinals.

Cincinnati Bengals host practice at the University of Cincinnati 11/18/2015

"They've got everything you need," Dungy said. "They've got speed and striking ability on offense. They've got people who can pressure the passer; they've got good coverage people in the secondary. They're playing with a lot of energy. This is a good team. It's going to be great to see how they rebound this weekend because they didn't play their best game for whatever reason. I think we're going to see what they're really made of Sunday night."

He thinks the Bengals rebound long enough that they'll be the AFC's first or second seed and that they're poised to bury the post-season disappointment. And Dungy knows how to do that, too. He was 5-8 in the postseason before the Colts won the 2006 Super Bowl.

"They have to put that out of their minds," he said. "It's a new team and a new year. 'We're just going to play our game.' You still have to relax. You win that first play-off game and all that goes out the window. In the past they were good . . . but I think this year they're going to play somebody that doesn't have as good a team as they do, they'll get that first win, and you build the momentum and go from there. When you play them, you've got a lot of things to worry about."

For the third straight week the Bengals are in the glare of the TV lights and Sunday night they'll be topical. Dungy, the first African-American to coach a Super Bowl winner, has been made aware of an impending milestone. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is five away from tying Dennis Green for most wins by an African-American head coach with the same team at 113.

"It is (significant). To me, the more significant thing is being with the same team for 13 years, let alone the most wins. An African-American coach, settled in, he's got a chance to be Chuck Noll. He's got a chance to be Tom Landry," Dungy said. "He's got a chance to write a great history there.

"I have to give Mike Brown a lot of credit," Dungy said. "He's stuck with Marvin. And said, 'This man is a good coach, he's my coach, and I don't care how upset everybody is or what people think. We're going down this road together.' That to me says a lot. And I appreciate Mike Brown for that."


Cincinnati Bengals host Houston Texans at Paul Brown Stadium in week 10 of the regular season.

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