At this point last season, the Carolina Panthers were cruising into the playoffs with home field advantage and the league MVP in tow.
Flash forward to the final days of 2016, and the defending NFC champions are on the outside looking in, preparing for a game with infinitesimal postseason implications and dodging questions about the futures of both players and staff.
Despite struggles on both sides of the ball this year, Panthers coach Ron Rivera suggested Friday that he doesn't anticipate any major staff changes come Black Monday or beyond.
"Remember, this is the same group that was 15-1," Rivera told reporters, per the Charlotte Observer. "The same group that led the league in scoring. In the last five years we've had a top-10 defense (four times)."
Names that could have been on the proverbial chopping block in Charlotte include offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey, who oversaw a major statistical regression from Cam Newton this season. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is also expected to interview for open head-coaching positions.
Rivera's assurance that the gang will get back together for the coach's seventh season in Carolina is a sign that he sees the Panthers' disappointing follow-up to their Super Bowl run as an outlier. But is there any guarantee that Rivera is still in Charlotte when the coaching carousel slows to a halt?
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported last Saturday that Rivera is a name to watch regarding the open Los Angeles Rams' job. If Rivera were to return home to California, Rapoport reports he could be joined by currently unemployed offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
"Hah, please. No, no, no," Rivera added. "I'm not gonna talk about that because I've got nothing to do with that. I don't have any desire to talk about or get involved with something like that."
Regardless of what happens this Sunday against Tampa Bay, the talent dynamic in Carolina will be something to watch this offseason. Rivera has cultivated a bevy of talented coaches and players, but how many from the 2015 Super Bowl-bound unit will remain in the facility by the time training camp begins in 2017?