A first look at the Saints versus the Patriots

NEW ORLEANS - One of the things that will make this Sunday's meeting between the unbeaten New Orleans Saints and the once-beaten New England Patriots so interesting is the fact that both head coaches, Sean Payton of the Saints and Bill Belichick, served as assistant coaches under Hall Of Famer Bill Parcells.

And, clearly the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. Add in one more former pupil, Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants, and teacher and students have won eight Super Bowls. That's almost one-fifth of all of them ever played. Parcells won the Lombardi trophy two times, Belichick has won three, Coughlin two and Payton one. Only four other active coaches have led their teams to the big game.

While Coughlin's Giants are off to a miserable 0-5 start, both the Saints and the Pats are doing fine heading into this weekend.

Of course, behind every Hall of Fame-bound coach is a Hall of Fame-bound quarterback. Payton was Parcells' prize offensive student, which shows in the Saints high-test offense, third most prolific right now behind Denver and Philadelphia, and consistently right near the top of the league since he and Drew Brees joined forces in 2006.

Of course, Belichick has Tom Brady to work with in New England. All you need to know is in Belichick's first season in New England, the team went 5-11. The next year? Eleven-5 en route to the franchise's first Super Bowl championship.

Payton may be a bit more of a riverboat gambler and Belichick a little more understated, but both - just like Papa Parcells - always play it close to the vest.

So Sunday's game will be fun to watch, but the coaching chess match will be worth the watch itself.

Little Belichick trivia for you. Through his first 100 games as a head coach, much of that in Cleveland, he was a below-average 42-58. But things changed in game two of the 2001 season.

Big money Pats QB Drew Bledsoe, a nine-year starter in the league, was hurt in a game with the Jets and replaced by a sixth-round draft choice out of Michigan.

New England lost that game, but went on to win the Super Bowl led by new quarterback Tom Brady.