In a game that saw them lose:
- Their top-three wide receivers
- Their best cornerback, their best pass rusher
- And a few starting offensive linemen
Still, the Green Bay Packers made a statement by beating the previously undefeated Arizona Cardinals in primetime on a short week.
That’s, like, a really big accomplishment.
Sure, there were some hiccups along the way, and the offense struggled without some of its most significant contributors. But Matt LaFleur coached his biggest regular-season game to date and proved that his 7-1 team is a true Super Bowl contender.
So why is LaFleur only the eighth-most likely pick to win Coach of the Year? LaFleur keeps breaking records and bringing his team to new heights. It’s baffling that he’s still considered an under-the-radar name.
Since his hiring in 2019, in a coaching class with juggernauts like Adam Gase and Freddie Kitchens, LaFleur has a staggering 35-9 record. Two of those losses are NFC Championship games. Because, as a first-time head coach, LaFleur went to back-to-back NFC Championships his first two years.
With Thursday’s win over the Cardinals, LaFleur is second in most wins by a head coach in his first 40 games in NFL history. You have to go back to pre-Super Bowl days to find better winning percentages than LaFleur’s.
Yet according to sportsbettingdime.com, Vegas odds put LaFleur at +2,000 to win Coach of the Year, tied with Mike Vrabel and Bill Belichick. Below his friends Zac Taylor, who just lost to the Mike White-led New York Jets, and Kliff Kingsbury, who he beat with practice squad players. He has lower odds than the man he replaced, Mike McCarthy, who is currently the favorite.
LaFleur has emerged as one of the league’s best play-callers, not just because of the Shanahan/McVay connections. He’s blended the core principles of the Shanahan system with some of Aaron Rodgers‘ favorite West Coast elements to create something unique. He’s masterfully adapted to overcome injuries to his best weapons.
But he has Aaron Rodgers! the detractors cry.
Yeah, Rodgers is really good at football. He’s the best quarterback to run a variation of this system. He won an MVP playing under this system. But history remembers how Rodgers was considered a sticking point in the Packers’ coaching opening. An uncoachable and egotistical aging quarterback coming off of injuries and poor seasons. The Cleveland Browns were a much better opening, and the Freddie Kitchens hire was a work of genius.
So it’s not like LaFleur just inherited an amazing roster and a Rodgers that was currently playing MVP-level football. The team was good enough to be better with a new head coach, but LaFleur’s culture and system were what turned the Green Bay Packers back into a name to be feared. Rodgers no longer had to play hero ball just to survive. In fact, by embracing the LaFleur system and trusting his head coach, Rodgers regained MVP status in Year 2 and played arguably the best football of his career.
By no means is LaFleur flawless. He’d be the first to tell you that. Thursday’s win was the best of the LaFleur era, but it still had issues. His red-zone play-calling left a lot to be desired, and he’s been quick to abandon the run in favor of empty sets. LaFleur’s clock management has been poor, and he’s inherited his quarterback’s disdain for keeping timeouts in the second half. These are all common trends in the LaFleur era. And, of course, he has yet to win the big game.
But Coach of the Year is regular-season-based, and no one has dominated the regular season like Matt LaFleur.
Matt Nagy, the butt of so many jokes around the NFL, has a COTY award, and LaFleur does not. That is criminal.
LaFleur and his Packer squad aren’t playing for the arbitrary regular-season awards, though. They don’t hang divisional championship banners at Lambeau Field. LaFleur has created a culture of brotherhood and victory, and they seek only the biggest prize every year. They haven’t gotten it yet, but they’re knocking on the door every year.
And maybe it’s better LaFleur and Green Bay remain underdogs. They were on Thursday when they beat the NFC’s No. 1 squad. LaFleur will have plenty of other opportunities to show what kind of coach he is, as this year’s Packers are shaping up to be a special team.