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Rookie head coach Matt LaFluer makes great first impression with Green Bay Packers and their fans

Steve Brownlee

I kind of like Matt LaFleur’s chances of retaining his head coaching position in Green Bay after the Detroit Lions begrudgingly — I hope as a Lions fan begrudgingly — announced they would keep head coach Matt Patricia this week.

Especially considering LaFleur is in his first season and has the Packers at 11-3, while Patricia is in his second campaign and has “led” Detroit to a 3-10-1 mark.

The latter record is a half-game “behind” a trio of 3-11 teams that are vying for the overall No. 2 pick in next spring’s NFL Draft, all trailing Cincinnati’s underwhelming 1-13 record.

Remember, a year ago the two Great Lakes teams finished a half-game apart with Detroit at 6-10 looking up at Green Bay’s 6-9-1, a record bad enough to earn coach Mike McCarthy a train ticket out of town a month before the season was over.

There’s something odd about LaFleur and Patricia’s records, and has been true about a number of specialists who became head coaches — their teams’ weakness has been where they specialized on offense or defense.

LaFleur’s Packers have been in an offensive funk for much of the season despite his prowess as an offensive guru, while Patricia’s Lions have been bouncing around 31st in the league on defense this season despite him being the defensive expert behind Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

They are far from alone, however.

If you remember, coach Brian Billick’s Baltimore Ravens were a defensive juggernaut with linebacker Ray Lewis leading the way to a Super Bowl win in 2000. They allowed what is still a record 10.3 points per game over the 16-game regular season.

That’s despite Billick making his name as offensive coordinator with Minnesota two years earlier, when quarterback Randall Cunningham led the Vikings and receiver Randy Moss played as a rookie on a then-record 556-point season.

I always remember the Ravens during that Super Bowl-winning season famously going five straight games without scoring a touchdown — and winning two of them. That stretch began with 12-0 and 15-10 wins and was followed by 10-3, 14-6 and 9-6 losses.

Immediately after that, they started scoring TDs again and reeled off 11 straight wins right through the Super Bowl XXXV 34-7 whumping of the New York Giants.

These teams seemed the opposite of their head coaches. Maybe that’s because the coaches inherited teams that weren’t good on the side of the ball they were hired to fix, or maybe they thought they could “coach up” their speciality with lower-quality and cheaper-to-pay players.

Whatever it is, just keep a watch on these teams as we wind down the season:

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Saturday, 1 p.m.

Houston at Tampa Bay — The Texans were taken out to the woodshed two weeks ago at home against Denver to give up the undisputed top spot in the AFC South, then turn around and administer a good ol’fashioned whupping on Tennessee to retake the lead. I can only think the second-to-last week of the season will get their attention. Texans, 30-22.

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Saturday, 4:30 p.m.

Buffalo at New England — Just how far have the Patriots fallen? The Pats’ offense could only score 16 points on KC’s bend, break, spindle and mutilate defense two weeks ago, then put up a 21-point win on the No. 1 draft-pick Bengals last Sunday. Playing in Buffalo-like weather, I’ll take the Bills, 15-12.

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Saturday, 8:15 p.m.

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco — If the Rams decide to bounce back, they’ll be bouncing against a wall of granite otherwise known as the San Fran defense. 49ers, 29-20.

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Sunday, 1 p.m.

Jacksonville at Atlanta — They were jumping ship at midseason in Atlanta, but the ship refused to sink and the players have returned. They’re now jumping ship in Jacksonville, and until Tom Coughlin exits, they may stay away. Oops, late-breaking news, Coughlin got fired, but it seems more like that will help the Jags next season. Falcons, 24-19.

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Baltimore at Cleveland — Talk about jumping ship. Even if the Browns rally and circle the wagons due to recent adversity, the Ravens aren’t about to forget their last loss — a 40-25 setback at home to Cleveland on Sept. 29, which was followed by 10 straight wins. Baltimore has gone from 2-2 to 12-2 in that time. Ravens, 40-15.

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Carolina at Indianapolis — Two middling teams hard to figure from week to week. Call me a homer. Colts, 23-20.

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Cincinnati at Miami — Since college football was always “afraid” to put the two worst teams out on center stage in a Toilet Bowl encounter during bowl season, maybe the NFL could delay this matchup till the wild-card round of the playoffs. They can tout this matchup as comedy relief.

Alas, I have to pick it this week instead. Hmmm … Dolphins, 26-24.

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Pittsburgh at New York Jets — As much as the Jets should be playing looser with nothing to actually play for, here’s hoping coach Mike Tomlin has Pittsburgh pointing in the right direction to secure a wild-card berth. Steelers, 29-22.

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New Orleans at Tennessee — I just don’t see the immediacy for the Saints being one of four NFC teams tied with the conference’s best record at 11-3.

Especially compared to Tennessee, which is tied for the final AFC playoff spot and yet just one game out of the division lead. Plus they’re at home facing a N’awlins defense that’s been torched too often lately. Titans, 33-24.

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New York Giants at Washington — This game between 3-11 clubs probably won’t decide the No. 1 draft pick. But it’s got to be pivotal in deciding who’ll be No. 2. Giants, 23-19.

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Detroit at Denver — You want to pick the Lions on the road? Especially in the mile-high, thin air of Denver? Sounds like a ready-made excuse for Patricia & Co. Broncos, 34-27.

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Oakland at Los Angeles Chargers — Oakland is just one of those teams that can tweak the noses of a buttoned-up, nervous-nelly team like the Chargers. Raiders, 30-20.

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Dallas at Philadelphia — This is the pre-wild-card round, pretty much an elimination game to determine the winner of the NFC East, aka NFC Least.

I’m hearing that Dallas QB Dak Prescott is nursing a sore shoulder, though a cortisone shot is supposed to help him get through this game. Apparently there isn’t enough cortisone in the state of Pennsylvania to treat all the Eagles’ banged-up offensive personnel. Cowboys, 17-13.

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Arizona at Seattle — Unlike the Saints on the road, I think the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll will embrace trying to take over the best record in the NFC at home. Plus Seattle’s alternative is a No. 5-seeded wild-card position. Seahawks, 33-22.

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Sunday, 8:20 p.m.

Kansas City at Chicago — Maybe, or maybe not, the Chiefs’ defense will make Bears’ QB Mitch Trubisky look pedestrian. Either way, he’ll still look that way when stacked up next to KC QB Patrick Mahomes. Chiefs, 28-18.

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Monday, 8:15 p.m.

Green Bay at Minnesota — Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers may be called on to win this game by himself. But now with Vikings running back extraordinaire Dalvin Cook likely out, and even his backup, Alexander Mattson, probably not playing, it looks like Minnesota QB Kurt Cousins is also supposed to win this game by himself.

I’ll trust Rodgers way before I ever trust Cousins. Packers, 32-25.

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Last week — 12-4, 75 percent. Season — 147-76-1, 66 percent.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

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