Belichick masters interchangeable parts

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Coach of the year talk generally is reserved for sheer domination or a remarkable turnaround.

Why in the world would I even mention Bill Belichick, whose New England Patriots might finish with six fewer victories and fail to make the playoffs a year after reaching the Super Bowl?

Although rookie coaches Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons and Tony Sparano of the Miami Dolphins will get the most attention -- and deservedly so -- I've been saying for months Belichick is doing the best job of his coaching career. Thanks to the Elias Sports Bureau I have a compelling statistic to support my claim.

The Patriots this year have used 42 starters. That's nearly two full offensive and defensive units and only three fewer players than a game-day active roster.

Yet even with all these interchangeable parts, the Patriots have won 10 games and still could reclaim the AFC East title on Sunday. Eli Whitney would be proud.

Only three teams have fielded more starters, and they've managed seven victories combined. The Seattle Seahawks (4-11) have started 46 players. The winless Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals (3-11-1) have started 45 players.

But what makes New England's success even more absurd is that they've lost star players for extended periods. The list includes Tom Brady, Laurence Maroney, Adalius Thomas, Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi.

Stability with the starting lineup indicates a team's health and satisfaction with its players.

As you might guess, the teams that have used the fewest starters have the best records.

Of the 10 teams that have used 35 starters or fewer, all of them have winning records. Just the Washington Redskins have been eliminated from playoff contention heading into the final week.

The only teams aside from the Patriots to field more than 35 starters and have double-digit victories are the Indianapolis Colts (37 starters, 11-4) and Sparano's Dolphins (39 starters, 10-5).