Analysis: More NFL teams could make coaching changes if they stumble early in the playoffs

It was a slow “Black Monday” across the NFL while everyone waits on Bill Belichick’s future with the New England Patriots.

The Washington Commanders, as expected, fired coach Ron Rivera after his fourth straight losing season. The Carolina Panthers fired general manager Scott Fitterer after finishing an NFL-worst 2-15.

The Atlanta Falcons didn’t even wait until Monday to fire Arthur Smith, releasing him late Sunday night, hours after a dismal 48-17 loss at New Orleans on a day that began with a division title still within grasp if Tampa Bay had lost.

The Commanders and Falcons join the Panthers, Raiders and Chargers in a search for a new head coach. Whether the Patriots join that list is the big question.

Belichick just completed his worst season in 29 years as a head coach. The Patriots went 4-13 and missed the playoffs for the third time in the past four years.

Belichick, of course, led New England to six Super Bowl titles during an unprecedented run of success across two decades before Tom Brady left the team after the 2019 season.

But the Patriots are just 29-38 since Brady left with only one playoff appearance in 2021. Mac Jones, who led them to a 10-7 season as a rookie, was benched for the final six games and it’s likely the team will pursue another quarterback in the offseason. New England owns the No. 3 pick in a QB-rich draft.

Belichick will meet with owner Robert Kraft to discuss the team’s next steps and his. The 71-year-old coach confirmed Monday he’s under contract and is open to relinquishing full control of personnel decisions.

Belichick is 27 wins away from passing Don Shula for No. 1 on the career list and is expected to pursue another coaching job if he doesn’t stay in New England. Several teams would be interested in a coach with his pedigree.

Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera walking away from the podium at the end of his news conference following an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024, in Landover, Md. Dallas won 38-10. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)


Still, despite Belichick’s resume, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh would probably be the most sought-after candidate.

For now, Belichick is still a Patriot.

“I’m going to do everything I can every day to do the best I can to help our football team,” he said. “That’s what I’ve always done. It’s never been any different for me in my career. I learned that lesson from my dad growing up. You work for the team that you’re working for and do the best you can for it, until somebody tells you different. So, that’s not going to change.”

Other prominent head coaches could end up losing their jobs if they lose in the playoffs this weekend.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Mike McCarthy’s future with the Dallas Cowboys is tied to how far the team goes in the postseason. The Cowboys finished 12-5 for the third straight season and secured their second NFC East title in two years along with the No. 2 seed. But they’re only 1-2 in the playoffs under McCarthy and haven’t reached the NFC championship game since the 1995 season.

If the Cowboys somehow lose to the Green Bay Packers (9-8) on Sunday or in the divisional round, Jerry Jones’ patience may run out.

Nick Sirianni might be under the most fire heading into the playoffs. The defending NFC champion Eagles lost five of six and went from 10-1 to 11-6 and having to travel to Tampa Bay for a wild-card game.

After falling just short in the Super Bowl against Kansas City last season, it was championship or bust for Philadelphia. Sirianni is 34-17 in three seasons with three playoff appearances.

Atlanta Falcons HC Arthur Smith faces reporters after his team’s 37-17 loss to the Chicago Bears after game Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023 (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

But a fickle fan base that didn’t want him in the first place and fell in love with him over a 26-5 stretch suddenly wishes he’s gone. A loss to the mediocre Buccaneers (9-8) next Monday night could force owner Jeffrey Lurie’s hand, although it would seem Sirianni has earned another season given his record of success.

“Ever since I’ve been here, whether it was we started off 2-5, whether it was that we won 16 games last year, whether it was we started off 10-1, whether it was that we’ve lost five of our last six because we’ve been through ups and we’ve been through downs, and he’s been nothing but supportive toward me the entire time I’ve been here,” Sirianni said. “Through any tough decision I’ve ever had to make, through any personnel, anything like that, anything with a game decision, Mr. Lurie has been nothing but completely supportive and willing to do anything in his power to help us win football games. And that’s what I respect so much about him. And so, man, I couldn’t thank him enough and be more grateful to have him as our owner and the leader of our organization.”

Don’t rule out a change in Buffalo if the Bills stumble in the playoffs. They overcame a 6-6 start and won five in a row to secure a fourth straight AFC East title and the No. 2 seed. But getting in isn’t enough for Buffalo. The Bills may need to reach the AFC championship game to keep coach Sean McDermott in charge. They’ll open the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-7) on Sunday.

“There’s more work to be done and more improvements to be had by our team,” McDermott said.


Read original Associated Press article here.

The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league consisting of 32 teams, divided equally between the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The NFL is one of the four major