Every year, various publications release their own NFL awards, recognizing outstanding play and performance around the league. Of these agencies and publications, the NFL recognizes the selections of The Associated Press (AP) when officially naming their winners each year. For the most part, we know how it goes. MVP has turned into the “quarterback of the year” award. Offensive Player of the Year has turned into the “should probably be the real MVP” award. Coach of the Year usually goes to a head coach who kept their team competitive despite injuries, player departures, strength of schedule, etc. If this is indeed the criteria for this award, why aren’t more people talking about Green Bay Packers HC Matt LaFleur?
The Cleveland Browns lost star RB Nick Chubb to a devastating knee injury early in the season, and the injuries didn’t stop there. After a season-ending shoulder injury to preferred (for some) starter Deshaun Watson, the Browns have started four other quarterbacks this year: Dorian Thompson-Robinson, P.J. Walker, Joe Flacco, and Jeff Driskel. Despite the loss of Chubb, plus the carousel of faces at the most important position on the team, the Browns managed to win 11 games this season and the team made the playoffs as the AFC's fifth seed.
The Houston Texans were a very bad football team in 2022 (and in 2021, and in 2020). After trading away the guy with the shoulder mentioned above, the team was left with a huge question mark at the quarterback position. Houston’s win in Week 18 last season brought their record to 3-13-1, and they lost the #1 overall pick as a result. HC Lovie Smith was fired, and suddenly the Texans found themselves needing a new coach and quarterback. Enter stage left: DeMeco Ryans and #2 overall pick CJ Stroud. After starting the season 0-2, the team finished with a record of 10-7, which was good enough to win the division and make the playoffs as the fourth seed. On their way to winning the AFC South, they’ve also put the entire league on notice, because it looks like Stroud might be the league’s next young star.
So, to recap: despite injuries, despite losing faces of the franchise, despite poor performance the season prior, Kevin Stefanski and DeMeco Ryans have led their teams to the 2023 playoffs. This...sounds familiar.
The 2022 season was certainly an eye-opener for fans of the Green Bay Packers. After trading away star WR Davante Adams, the team was left with Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, and rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, among others. After a 3-1 start, the team started losing. Five in a row, in fact. It was then revealed that QB Aaron Rodgers was playing through a broken thumb. Suddenly, fans around the league were saying “I told you so.” Without a healthy Aaron Rodgers, the Packers were not a good football team. The team ended up finishing the season with a record of 8-9, missing the playoffs by one game after a lackluster performance in a loss to Detroit. Green Bay then traded away Rodgers himself on April 26, 2023, the day before the NFL Draft. As expected, the team went offense-heavy, selecting five pass catchers for their new starting QB Jordan Love. The team was officially the youngest in the league, and HC Matt LaFleur had his work cut out for him.
After a commanding 38-20 win in the 2023 season opener against Chicago, the weeks following were a bit rocky for the Packers, as expected. The offense clearly needed more time to mesh, despite Jordan Love’s heavy involvement with his group of weapons during the offseason. Not only did they need more time to develop chemistry, but they needed to get healthy. Every week, we saw a miles-long injury report. Starters on both sides of the ball missed heavy time this season, including (but not limited to) WR Christian Watson, RB Aaron Jones, OL David Bakhtiari, TE Luke Musgrave, CB Jaire Alexander, LB De’Vondre Campbell, and S Darnell Savage.
Despite the slow start and the injuries, something clicked at about the halfway point for the Packers. In consecutive weeks, the team came away with impressive wins against the Los Angeles Chargers, Detroit Lions, and Kansas City Chiefs. Finding themselves in control of their own playoff destiny, they also came out on top in must-win games against the Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings, and Chicago Bears. Against all odds, the Packers ended the season 9-8, and the youngest team in the league earned themselves the final playoff spot in the NFC.
Matt LaFleur’s head coaching career began with three consecutive 13-win seasons. Though LaFleur found himself in consideration for COTY during these seasons, Aaron Rodgers was largely credited as being the reason for this successful stretch, and rightfully so! He was named MVP two years in a row, and was putting up career numbers at the ripe age of 37. That kind of play can’t be replicated, unless you’re one of the most talented players the league has ever seen. When you lose a player like Aaron Rodgers, outsiders’ expectations for your football team dip considerably.
So why, despite injuries, despite losing faces of the franchise, despite poor performance the season prior, is Matt LaFleur not getting more credit for the Packers’ success this year?
Jordan Love has looked wonderful for much of this season, but we cannot keep ignoring the value of LaFleur’s leadership. After all, it’s been pretty much the only constant this year. If the head coach’s seat gets warm when the team fails to win, why isn’t he getting more recognition when the team finds success during one of the biggest transitions of their franchise’s history? JUSTICE FOR MATT LAFLEUR.