NFL AM: Questions Abound For Championship Sunday Losers


Where Do They Go From Here?

The New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals will not be advancing to Super Bowl 50, and their primary focus will be on getting back to the same position next year.

How likely is that to occur?

It would appear that the Patriots are closer than their fellow NFC runners up.  New England will enter the 2016 season as the favorite once again to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

As great of a season as Tom Brady had in 2015, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be on top of his game at the age of 39 next season.  As great as the Patriots offense looked during the regular season, they bogged down during the stretch and aside from Rob Gronkowski, they had nobody that commanded any respect from opposing defenses.

Unless New England can find a complement in the passing game to Gronk that can beat man coverage downfield, they’re going to have to dink-and-dunk their way to another title.  That gets really difficult with a 39-year old quarterback.

With Brady, Gronk and one of the best linebacking corps in football, the Patriots are still the best team in an AFC East that they’ve won 13 out of the last 14 years.

How do the other teams in the conference stack up?

The Broncos will likely have to start over (somewhat) with Brock Osweiler, assuming they re-sign him.  Pittsburgh has the offense to compete with anyone, but they still have to rebuild a defense that was atrocious last season.  Cincinnati has the roster to compete with anyone, but major questions abound about both Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton and their ability to win in the postseason (because they haven’t).  The AFC South will likely be a mess again next season, even with Andrew Luck back for the Colts.

Meanwhile in Arizona, the Cardinals took a step forward in 2015, but their 49-15 loss to the NFC Champion Panthers washes away a lot of the accomplishments.

So where does that leave the Cards?

First of all wondering if Carson Palmer can take them to where they need to go.  Palmer had a wonderful season, MVP worthy in most years.  Unfortunately, he was shaky in the team’s Divisional Round win over Green Bay and he absolutely imploded in the NFC title game as he turned the ball over six times.  Palmer doesn’t have a lot of postseason experience as he’s played on some bad teams in his career, and this postseason sample size doesn’t engender much faith.

The Cardinals have great weapons all over the football field, and they found a weapon in rookie running back David Johnson.  Still, if they don’t have the right trigger man they won’t be anywhere in January, assuming they make it that far.

Arizona needs to improve the back end of their defense and hop that Tyrann Mathieu can come back from his torn ACL and Patrick Peterson can return to Pro Bowl form.

As far as the competition in the NFC, it appears that the Panthers aren’t going anywhere and will likely be contenders for the foreseeable future.  Green Bay will have a healthy Jordy Nelson next season and their offense should be back to what it was before 2015.  Seattle played better football than Arizona down the stretch, and they will have Jimmy Graham healthy.

This may have been the Cardinals last, best shot at getting to another Super Bowl.

ICYMI Over The Weekend

The San Francisco 49ers fired defensive coordinator Eric Mangini over the weekend.  The former New York Jets and Cleveland Browns head coach is considered one of the finer defensive minds in the NFL and was recently one of the hotter coaching candidates.

It’s difficult to put a ton of blame on Mangini for the 49ers defensive woes as they had an exodus of talent due to retirements and sackmaster Aldon Smith’s departure.

San Francisco finished 18th in scoring defense in 2015.

With one coordinator let go, another gets a job.

New Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter has named former University of Southern Mississippi head coach Todd Monken as his offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach.

Koetter and Monken worked together in Jacksonville and in 2007 helped lead the team to an 11-5 record and a postseason appearance and victory.  The Jaguars haven’t seen the postseason since.

“I am very excited to add a coach with the type of experience and tenacity that Todd brings,” said Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter. “I have always been impressed with his approach to the game as well as his ability to teach concepts and get the best out of his players. During his more than 25-year coaching career, he has made a name for himself as a very successful offensive coordinator and head coach on the collegiate level. Todd also happens to be a terrific receivers coach with a proven track record of helping his players reach their true potential. We are fortunate to have him join our staff.”

The East-West Shrine Game took place Saturday and the West Squad led by Oregon’s Vernon Adams defeated the East squad, 29-9.

Adams completed six of his nine throws, for 191 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first half.  Although he was named the game’s MVP, his draft stock rose just slightly, as he lacks the frame to be an NFL quarterback.  A position switch is necessary if Adams is to play on the next level.

Illinois wide receiver Geronimo Allison capped a solid week of practice by catching six passes for 68 yards and a pair of touchdowns.  He has good size and speed and displayed great hands in the game.

Stoney Brook defensive end Victor Ochi was virtually unblockable by the West team offensive tackles, and he may vault himself into a Day 2 selection assuming he tests well.

About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.