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Brady or Belichick? NFL stars on the key to Patriots' Super Bowl dynasty

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Here in the shadows of Disney World, where great debates like Donald Duck vs. Mickey Mouse are the norm, I set out to ask several NFL Pro Bowl players to settle a debate that rages on in their own league, especially this week:

Brady or Belichick?

The New England Patriots have four Super Bowl trophies and they are one victory away from a fifth, which is why the question needs to be asked. Who is the bigger reason for that success, coach Bill Belichick or quarterback Tom Brady?

"Who's more important?" Baltimore Ravens safety Eric Weddle said, echoing the question. "That's a good one."

"Boy, that's a tough question," Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith said.

There is no denying a case can be made for Belichick and Brady being arguably the greatest at what they do. Brady is tied with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana with four Super Bowl victories and can move to the top of that list by beating the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in Super Bowl LI in Houston. At 39, he is still playing at the top of his game.

Belichick coached all four of those victories and he can become the first coach with five Super Bowl titles. What's even more impressive is that he has done it with a variety of players, schemes, looks, styles and coaches, making him and Brady two of the only constants in the great run -- which is, in truth, a dynasty.

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It's a dynasty because they've done it in an era of free agency, where teams get picked apart by vultures like a dead carcass on the road. Through it all, the Patriots have remained great.

In Belichick's 17 seasons with the Patriots, he is 225-80 (counting playoffs) with a 4-2 record in Super Bowls and 15 seasons of double-digit victories. Brady is 207-61 as a starter, counting a 24-9 record in the postseason.

In the games Brady has missed since taking over as the starter in 2001, both men's second season with the team, Belichick is 15-6, including a 3-1 mark to open the 2016 season when Brady was suspended for the first four games for the Delfategate debacle.

The names change in New England, but Bill Belichick just keeps winning. USATSI

So Belichick has shown he can win games without Brady, which is why some of the players think he's the choice as the most important.

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"You've got to go with Belichick," Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "We all know his record speaks for itself. To be able to win the games without Brady, you have to believe he will do whatever it takes to put his team in a position to win. It's almost like you can't get anything past Bill Belichick. He knows how to make boo-boo out of sugar. He finds a way. No matter what the circumstances, and no matter who is playing, he puts them in the best position to win games."

But -- and it's a big but -- Belichick is 41-55 in his career in other games when Brady wasn't his starter, including his record with the Cleveland Browns and in 2000 when Brady was third string on the Patriots.

That, some say, shows the value of Brady.

"I would normally say it's the coach," Smith said. "But I have to go with Brady on this one. He's cool, and if they need something at the end of the half or the end of the game, he will go get it."

"In this league, you have problems without the quarterback," Oakland Raiders safety Reggie Nelson said. "It's close, but I think it's Brady."

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"It's Brady," Weddle said. "He's a once-in-a-lifetime payer. Coaches come and go, but great quarterbacks are hard to find. You are talking about something at quarterback that might never be done."

What makes him so great? His mind, his attention to detail and his ability to decipher what you do as well as any quarterback who has played the game.

Tom Brady is gunning for a record fifth Super Bowl victory. USATSI

Peterson said it was the "it" factor that makes Brady so good.

"He has that killer instinct, that championship mindset," Peterson said. "There's only a couple people in the world that have that it factor: Michael Jordan, Tiger [Woods] and Kobe [Bryant] and now LeBron James. Those guys have that it factor and the killer instinct. Tom does too. That's what makes him so great."

His brain is a weapon on the field as well. That's a must for any quarterback, but Brady is as smart as any passer in the game.

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"You can't make a mistake against him," Weddle said. "There were times in our game [this year] where I made him check out to a different play and made him throw it away. The one time I made the mistake, it was a touchdown. He made us pay big time."

That play came in Week 14 with the Patriots leading the Ravens 23-20 with 6:38 left in the game. On a first-and-10 from the Patriots 21, Brady had three receivers, one back and one tight end. He was in the shotgun with an offset back. The Patriots motioned Chris Hogan from the left to the right.

Weddle was the safety in the middle of the field. Let him take it from there.

"I was on the right side and I was the post player," Weddle said. "I just settled on the play action. Hogan went straight up the seam on the other hash. I should have been on the post."

Here's a look at the play.

That's what makes Brady so tough.

"We had a tremendous read on the lineman that was like a 100-percent when a certain lineman did a certain thing. He blocked down. I just settled down and Tom saw it," Weddle said. "Hogan saw it too because he was supposed to run an out cut, but he kept running because I wasn't there. Tom saw it. Other quarterbacks don't see it."

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Here's another look at how quickly Brady read Weddle and found Hogan.

Smith, another elite safety, can relate to the experience.

"It was like playing a coach on the field," Smith said of facing Brady. "He had an answer for everything we did."

Other players insist it is Belichick who makes it all work.

"He organizes the whole team and they still win games," Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "But you're not winning Super Bowls without Brady. They'd still be a winning team though. I would say Brady is more important to winning Super Bowls, but they will win games with Belichick, but Brady puts them over the top to win Super Bowls."

So it's Brady then?

"I guess to win Super Bowls it is," Harris Jr. said.

Isn't that the ultimate goal?

Other players couldn't decide between one or the other.

"You have the guy off the field who orchestrates everything and the guy on the field who orchestrates everything," Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "You need them both."

"It's Brady. He's a once-in-a-lifetime payer. Coaches come and go, but great quarterbacks are hard to find. You are talking about something at quarterback that might never be done"-- Eric Weddle

Seattle teammate Michael Bennett echoed that thought.

"I can't pick one or the other," he said. "You can look at teams with seven or eight Pro Bowl players, and they aren't playing for a Super Bowl all the time. But Belichick is a lot of the time. He gets the most out of his players. But look at the quarterback. He misses four games and still breaks a lot of records. That's too hard to pick."

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Even a quarterback, who you would think would lean to Brady, couldn't decide.

"The two of those guys, those have been the two consistent guys throughout their entire run," New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "I think Josh McDaniels has been a huge part of that as well. He departed for a while as a head coach and came back, but the two consistent pieces for the last 17 years have been Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. And you've got one on each side of the ball -- you've got the guy who's pulling the trigger on offense and then you've got the guy who's scheming up a lot of the stuff on defense, but also creating the team environment that builds the mindset by which they go out on game day and perform the way that they do. So they're both as valuable.

No, I would never try to pick one over the other."

Brady or Belichick?

You pick. I'd go with the great quarterback, but as some of these players say, it's so hard to pick one or the other.

"Let's just say they are great together," Wagner said.

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