Big opportunity awaits Detroit

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It could have been much different in Detroit this week.

Sure, some of this is just the way of the NFL, where every game has a feeling of dire consequences of a win or a loss, especially when a team is in the playoff picture.

For Detroit, had one or two things gone differently Sunday, resulting in a win instead of a last-second 27-24 loss, the Lions would have had some cushion. They would have been 5-2 with the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys visiting before an off week.

But the Lions lost to the Bengals and are 4-3. Obviously 5-3 looks a lot better than 4-4 heading into the bye week if things don't go the Lions' way against the Cowboys.

"Much better," left guard Rob Sims said. "Definitely if you get this win, everybody knows we've got the break after that. There's a feeling of getting something accomplished, especially for the month of October.

"If you don't get it done, that's a long time to wait before you can get it right."

Momentum is key here, too. Detroit could feel good about its September, going 3-1 including a win at Washington. It could have positive feelings about October as well if it wins Sunday, because a 2-2 month including another road win isn't bad.

The back half of the schedule features teams with a combined record of 18-34. None of the teams the Lions will face in the second half outside of the NFC North have a winning record right now.

So the opportunity is there for Detroit to have a playoff team, to make a strong run and perhaps even win its first NFC North divisional title. With that would come a playoff home game.

Right now, though, there are a lot of ifs. A win Sunday could allay some of that because it would give the Lions positive thoughts to hold on to for two weeks. And it would also give them a tiebreaker edge over Dallas, which as of now is the only NFC East team even in a potential wild-card playoff picture if it were to not win the divisional title.

"They are all crucial, but an NFC game, obviously, would mean a lot," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "You never know who is going to be there at the end of the season vying for spots to get into the second season and we're not looking ahead but any time you play a team in your same conference, you need to make sure you're playing your best football."

The Lions haven't done that this year, although they have come close at home at varying points. Detroit's defense pressured Jay Cutler well and intercepted him three times in a home win against Chicago. Its offense has looked good for a half against Minnesota and then again against the Bears.

And other than his last kick against Cincinnati, Sam Martin has been one of the better punters in the league.

So the pieces are there. The Lions have all the potential and the favorable schedule to make a playoff run. But momentum and confidence are tricky. Lose either one for an extended period of time and they become more and more difficult to get back with each passing week.

So this week is a big deal. To keep from having a losing streak. To not lose two straight games at home. To give positive vibes heading into a bye. And most of all, to continue to try and make a run at the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.