Matt LaFleur is the youngest coach in the NFC North.
Amazingly, though, LaFleur is already the boss.
LaFleur, the 40-year-old coach of the Green Bay Packers, has taken the division by storm. LaFleur is off to a 7-0 start in the NFC North, which is a huge reason the Packers won the division in 2019 and are the early favorites in 2020.
“Obviously that’s the best way to ensure a playoff spot is to dominate your division,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “It is definitely the easiest way to secure a home playoff spot. It’s always very important.”
For more than a decade, Mike McCarthy and the Packers owned the NFC North. That’s a huge reason McCarthy eventually became the second-longest tenured coach in team history (12 ¾ years).
From 2006-2016, McCarthy’s Packers went a remarkable 49-16-1 in the division, a whopping .750 winning percentage. In that time, Green Bay won six divisional titles, went to the playoffs nine times and won the 2010 Super Bowl.
Green Bay hit rough times inside the division in 2017-18, going 3-8-1 overall. McCarthy went 3-6-1 against NFC North foes in that time before he was fired with four games left in the 2018 season, then interim coach Joe Philbin went 0-2 in the division.
When the Packers hired Matt LaFleur in Jan. 2019, he understood the fastest way back to relevance was regaining control of the NFC North. And to date, LaFleur has done just that.
LaFleur’s Packers went 6-0 inside the division a year ago, then the Packers downed NFC North rival Minnesota in Week 1. LaFleur will try staying perfect in the NFC North when the Packers host Detroit Sunday at noon.
LaFleur’s counterparts inside the division haven’t fared nearly as well. Chicago’s Matt Nagy is an impressive 10-3 (.769) against the NFC North with two losses coming to LaFleur, while Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer is 18-18-1 (.500) and Detroit’s Matt Patricia is 2-11 (.154).
Green Bay’s dominance inside the division was a huge reason it went 13-3 overall last year and reached the NFC Championship Game, and it could be key as the 2020 Packers aim to build on last year’s success.
“I think our division is always a really competitive,” Rodgers said. “Then again, the NFC North has always been characterized by a number of really strong defenses and elite players, especially on that side of the ball. We know that especially in two of our stadiums it can get really cold in the winter time. There was a premium on ball security and (to) dominate the line of scrimmage. We’ve done a good job taking care of the football over the years and we’ve won some really important games in some cold weather environments.”
If the Packers beat Detroit on Sunday, LaFleur will take sole possession of fourth place all-time in divisional wins to start a head coaching career with eight.
San Francisco’s Steve Mariucci ranks first with 12 straight wins in 1997-98, followed by Dallas’ Chan Gailey (10 in 1998-99) and New England’s Raymond Berry (nine in 1984-85). LaFleur is currently tied for fourth all-time with New Orleans’ Jim Haslett (seven in 2000) and Dallas’ Barry Switzer (seven in 1994).
The Packers’ current seven-game winning streak in the division is also tied for the fourth-longest in team history. McCarthy led the Packers to 12 straight wins in the NFC North between 2010-12, while Mike Holmgren (1996-97) and Mike Sherman (2001-02) compiled eight-game winning streaks inside the division.
LaFleur, who had never been a head coach at any level before the Packers hired him, has had remarkable success in close divisional games.
Green Bay’s seven NFC North wins under LaFleur have come by an average of 6.57 points per game. The Packers’ largest win was 13 points and five of the victories have been by one score, or less.
“I think it’s situational football and winning those tight games because there’s a lot of tight games in this division,” Packers safety Adrian Amos said. “A lot of games come down to the wire, come down to field goals, come down to two-minute drives, so it’s just executing late in games.”
In the Packers’ two wins over Detroit in 2019, they didn’t lead for a single second of regulation. In both cases, Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby banged home game-winning field goals as time expired.
“I mean, the fact that they were winning for literally 120 minutes out of 120 minutes, I mean it was pretty much a miracle that we were able to take both those games,” LaFleur said.
Green Bay and eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City were the only teams to go undefeated in their division in 2019. Along the way, the Packers swept the season series with Chicago for the 15th time in 26 years and swept the Lions for the 11th time in 20 years.
Green Bay also joined Denver, Indianapolis and Kansas City as the only teams to run the table in its division since 2011 when it accomplished that rare feat a year ago. That helped the Packers win their 13th divisional title since 1995.
It’s been a remarkable start for a head coach that much of Packer Nation had their doubts about. Those worries have largely vanished, though, thanks in part to LaFleur’s dominance of the NFC North.