The Patriots soon must answer the looming question of who will replace Matt Patricia and Josh McDaniels as their exits look like near certainties.

On defense, there’s a very good candidate to take over already on the staff once Patricia leaves. That would be Brian Flores, who has coached the linebackers and defensive backs in recent seasons. He’s respected around the league and most certainly in Foxborough, where he’s worked himself up the ranks.

But suddenly, there is concern that Flores might be a leading candidate for the Arizona Cardinals’ head-coaching job. He interviewed there and made a fine impression we hear, and with some of their other candidates appearing to lean toward other jobs, Flores might have a real shot there.

The Cardinals have interviewed several candidates: Patricia, Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher, Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak, Atlanta Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and two Philadelphia Eagles coaches, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

Patricia feels locked in with the Lions. Shurmur has emerged as the New York Giants favorite. Both of those moves could be done soon. Bettcher was the stated preference for outgoing head coach Bruce Arians, but that’s no sure thing. Munchak, Armstrong and Wilks are all done with the playoffs, with DeFilippo and Schwartz both coaching in the NFC championship game Sunday, just as Flores will be with the Patriots in the AFC title game a few hours up the road.

The Cardinals’ brass has kept things close to the vest with their search. There has been a feeling in league circles that their opening is considered one of the least desirable of the ones that opened this offseason, and the lack of a defined starting quarterback is a big reason why. That might be a big reason why they could end up choosing a first-time head coach, such as Bettcher or even Flores.

If Flores leaves, don't look past the possibility of Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano coming to New England. He and Bill Belichick have a good relationship, as does Belichick with Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer. We hear Schiano wants to be a head coach again, and this type of promotion would serve him well along that path in a few years.

On the other side of the ball for the Patriots, we’ve written recently about in-house candidates to take over for McDaniels, and that course would make sense with Brady expected back in 2018. Two names on staff now that we’ve heard mentioned: receivers coach Chad O’Shea and assistant QB coach Jerry Schuplinski.

The in-house route also makes more sense now that Brian Daboll, a former Patriots assistant for two different stints, left the Alabama offensive coordinator job to take the same title with the Buffalo Bills. Had Daboll sensed that he was in line to replace McDaniels, we suspect he might have taken that job instead.