The most impressive aspect of the New England Patriots reign at the top of the league has been how different each team has been on a year to year basis. The team from 2001 was different from 2003 and 2004, which were different from 2007, 2011, and 2014.
Quarterback Tom Brady has been on all six teams to reach the Super Bowl. Left tackle Matt Light was on the first five. Linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel, and defensive lineman Richard Seymour were on the first four, Vince Wilfork on the past four.
Those five starters are the only real links between the Super Bowl teams over an extended period of time. There were some starters who linked the 2001-2004 teams- guard Joe Andruzzi, linebacker Willie McGinest, and cornerback Ty Law-, and some that linked the 2003-2007 teams- center Dan Koppen and safety Rodney Harrison- but in the grand scheme of team building, there are very few connections year over year.
The lead running back went from Antowain Smith (2001), to Kevin Faulk (2003), to Corey Dillon (2004), to Laurence Maroney (2007), to BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2011), to LeStevanas Grountley or Shane Vereen (2014).
While some positional concepts remained consistent on offense (from Troy Brown to Wes Welker to Julian Edelman), those receiving the passes were always different.
Wide receiver David Patten and Troy Brown yielded to David Givens and Deion Branch, Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth, Deion Branch again and Aaron Hernandez, and Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola.
Tight end Jermaine Wiggins passed the role to Daniel Graham, Ben Watson, and Rob Gronkowski.
Outside of Matt Light, the offensive line was basically different every single season, with Andruzzi flipping from right guard to left guard, Dan Connolly moving from center to left guard, and Nate Solder heading from right tackle to left tackle. In fact, the right tackle position featured a different starter every single trip to the Championship.
The New England franchise that continued to remodel and retool the offense based upon the players available on the market and it has managed to achieve extended success no matter who lined up with Brady and Light.
The defense has flipped from the 4-3 defense in 2001, to the 3-4 from 2003 to 2007, back to the 4-3 in 2011, and back again to the 3-4 for a large part of 2014. Bill Belichick continued to collect players that could be obtained at a discount and plugged them into whatever scheme worked best at the time.
It's fair to say that the defense was consistent for the Championships between 2001 to 2007, as Seymour, Bruschi, and Vrabel were on all four, while McGinest, Law, and Harrison were on three. That's over half of the defense sticking together for a large chunk of time.
But when looking at the roster from 2007 to 2014, it's impressive to see all of the turnover on the roster.
The defensive line had Wilfork for all three, but the big men around him changed from Richard Seymour and Ty Warren, to Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick, to Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga.
The key pass rushers went from Adalius Thomas to Mark Anderson and Andre Carter, and over to Chandler Jones.
The linebacker pairings were different, from Bruschi and Rosevelt Colvin, to Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo, to Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower.
The team basically fielded entirely different secondaries every season, too, as Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs led to Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington, and then to Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Safety featured Harrison and James Sanders, to James Ihedigbo and Pat Chung (at free safety), and then to Chung (at strong safety) and McCourty (at free safety).
Wilfork is the only link for all of these defenses, and Rob Ninkovich adds some value between 2011 and 2014. But these defenses have evolved over time, with players coming or leaving, and schemes changing every season.
The way the Patriots roster is able to turnover for every single run, with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick as the only constants, is a testament to both their ability and their willingness to adjust. Belichick has done a tremendous job of not just acquiring talents, but plugging them into the line-up and producing at a high level. Brady has taken a different grouping of players on offense to the highest level every single time.
As the team heads into 2015, the most striking difference from teams past is the fact that there won't be much turnover. If the Patriots can extend McCourty and restructure Revis (both the top priorities of this off-season), then the only real turnover could happen at offensive guard, where the team should look to improve over the play of Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell.
The other offensive and defensive players are under contract; any changes will be due to attempts to improve, instead of sustaining losses to free agency. This is a team that will be returning essentially a full Super Bowl roster and one that gets to play the AFC South.
Next year will be a good year, and for the first time ever it will be consistent.