History favors the Detroit Lions as they restart the season after a bye week. So does head coach Jim Caldwell's history, and not just in his two-plus seasons with the Lions.
As head coach of the Colts, and offensive coordinator of the Ravens, Caldwell had a significant role with teams that won late.
This week's Monday Countdown looks at Caldwell as a closer. There's also a look at the Lions' history after the bye week, high marks for some Lions from Pro Football Focus and where offensive tackle Taylor Decker is being graded with the rookies and veterans.
There's also a look back at how Matthew Stafford used all of the field in the tying drive that set up an overtime victory in the last game before the bye, praise for Stafford's work from a respected analyst and former player, a pick for the best of Stafford's comebacks and a comment on a misconception about the Lions.
There's also what I think will be the Lions' most watched development after the bye, and a prediction on the playoff race.
We start with Caldwell's resume:
1. Caldwell closes: Caldwell's teams have finished strong in four of his five seasons as a head coach in the NFL. It was the same story in 2012 with the Baltimore Ravens, when he got a late-season promotion to offensive coordinator.
What he did in Detroit his first two seasons continued that pattern.
There is no guarantee of a repeat performance as the Lions resume their playoff push in Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but here are the stats on how Caldwell's teams have finished:
Lions 2015: 6-2 in the second half after a 1-7 start. They might have gone 8-0 had it not been for the Hail Mary loss to the Packers.
Lions 2014: 5-3 in the second half, with a four-game winning streak, to finish 11-5 and make the playoffs as a wild card.
Ravens 2012: Only 1-2 in the last three games after taking over as coordinator, but an average of 31 points in a 4-0 run in the playoffs helped make the Ravens Super Bowl winners.
Colts 2011: In a 2-14 season, the Colts were finished, period, by midseason – and probably when they started the season with Peyton Manning out for the year. Caldwell was fired after the season in a general house-cleaning by owner Jim Irsay.
Colts 2010: The Colts won their last four to finish 10-6 and make the playoffs. Three of the four wins were by four points or fewer. Sound familiar?
Colts 2009: No need for a late-season win streak in his first season as head coach after succeeding Tony Dungy. The Colts were 14-0 and lost the last two games when they followed their plan to rest veterans. They made it to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Saints.
2. Lions after bye: It's natural to think they might be flat after the emotional overtime victory over the Vikings in their last game before the break. Their history says that's not the case.
The Lions have won their last four games after the bye, and Matthew Stafford has a 5-2 win-loss record as a starter in the first game after the bye.
3. Middle man: Stafford's 27-yard pass to Andre Roberts in the drive to tie Minnesota was another example of how he's not afraid to work the middle of the field. Not every quarterback does that, and Fox Network analyst and former Cowboys fullback Daryl Johnston was impressed with how the Lions took a shot down the middle to set up Matt Prater's tying field goal.
"That is so well done," Johnston said after Prater's kick. "I cannot tell you how difficult that is – the aggressive play by Matthew Stafford in that situation, the confidence with everybody on the offense.
"He takes a shot in the middle of the field. Minnesota is going to allow you the middle of the field because you don't have any timeouts left."
4. A vote for Stafford's No. 1 comeback: The latest is always the best, but a personal favorite is the 31-30 win over the Cowboys in Game 8 of 2013. The Lions got the ball at their 20 with 1:02 left and needed a touchdown and extra point to win.
Three big throws – 17 yards to Calvin Johnson over the middle (of course), 40 down the left sideline to Kris Durham and 22 to Johnson to the one-yard line made it first and goal.
After the Lions had hustled to the line of scrimmage, Stafford set up to spike the ball to stop the clock. Instead of a spike, there was a dagger in the heart of the Cowboys.
When he saw the Cowboys were on their heels, Stafford took the snap and jumped over the line into the end zone with 12 seconds left.
5. Comeback reaction: A lot of the negative labels attached the Lions are well deserved, but the one expressed often after the comeback win over the Vikings that "it's the kind of game the Lions usually lose" is off the mark.
It gave Stafford his 25th comeback win in games in which the Lions were tied or trailing in the fourth quarter. In short, under Stafford it's the kind of game the Lions usually win. They've found numerous other ways to lose, but not on failed comebacks in the fourth quarter.
6. Grading out: Pro Football Focus gave cornerback Nevin Lawson the highest grade of any Lion in the last game. With Darius Slay out with an ankle injury, someone had to step up to fill the void in the secondary. Lawson, who starts opposite Slay, did that.
Others: Golden Tate – for obvious reasons (11 catches and the winning TD, in case it's not obvious to everyone) -- rookie tackle Taylor Decker and Stafford were rated 1-2-3 on offense. Defensive end Kerry Hyder and safety Glover Quin were 2-3 on defense behind Lawson.
7. Young tackle grades: According to the Pro Football Focus grades, Decker and Jack Conklin are outperforming their draft position in relation to where the offensive tackles were taken in this year's first round. Four tackles went in the first round, in this overall order: 6. Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame, by Baltimore; 8. Conklin, Michigan State, by Tennessee; 13. Laremy Tunsil, Mississippi, by Miami; 16. Decker, Ohio State, Detroit.
In the grades of all tackles through Week 9, Conklin is 10, and No. 1 among the rookie tackles. Decker is 17 and second among rookie tackles. Stanley is 66. Tunsil is 33 in a position switch to guard.
8. Tackles, young and old: In the ratings with all players at their position, not just rookies, Conklin and Decker are rated high because they're playing like veterans – good veterans at that. That's reflected in how high they're graded.
With 32 teams and two starters at tackle per team, that's at least 64 starting tackles – not including injury replacements.
Conklin is a top 10 tackle, and Decker basically rates in the top quarter of players at his position.
In fairness to Stanley, he missed four games with a foot injury sustained in Game 3 and has started all four games he has played in. However, the grades are for the games he played, and they are what they are.
9. Watch list: No. 1 will be if and when linebacker DeAndre Levy returns to practice. No. 2 will be how effective he is. There is no easy answer. Levy has played in one full game this year and less than one half of another last year.
10. Playoff prediction: If the Lions win the next two – home games against the Jaguars and Vikings – they'll make the playoffs. Lose one, and it's still possible but a much longer shot.