What if Mathew Stafford plays the second half of this season the way he played the first half of last season?
What if the Detroit Lions build off Sunday's 30-27 win over the Washington Football Team and keep winning home games and beating teams with losing records?
Those two items are at the top of the "What If?" list in this week's Monday Countdown.
This is not a prediction column on how the Lions will make the playoffs, or a blueprint on what they need to do to make the postseason. It's just a look at how some things need to happen for them to have a chance.
There is also the view from wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. on why the Lions are successful so often at making late-game rallies, takeaways for the Lions on offense, defense and special teams, and what's trending – up, down and staying even.
We start with Stafford:
1. The second half: There was talk among the national media last year about Stafford playing at an MVP level in the first half of the season.
Through eight games, he had thrown for 2,499 yards with 19 TDs and only five interceptions. Of course, his season ended because of a back injury sustained in a Game 8 loss to the Raiders.
Although the Lions' record for the first eight games this year was similar to last year's – 3-5 vs. 3-4-1 – his stats are not close. He's thrown for 2,127 yards with 14 TDs and seven interceptions.
His passer rating for the eight games last year was 106.0 compared to 92.4 this year.
Against Washington, Stafford passed for 276 yards, three TDs, no interceptions and a passer rating of 127.8.
What if he continues to play that well?
2. The schedule: They are halfway through what was supposed to be a soft spot in the schedule. In other words, they were winnable games against opponents with losing records.
It did not start well, with a 34-20 road loss to the division rival Vikings, who had a 2-5 record going into the game.
On Sunday the Lions got on the winning side of the ledger against a Washington team that was 2-6 going into the game, and 2-7 coming out.
Next up for the Lions is Sunday's road game against the Carolina Panthers, who are 3-7 with a five-game losing streak, followed by the traditional Thanksgiving Day game against the Houston Texans, who are 2-7.
What if the Lions take advantage of teams that are near the bottom in their division?
The opportunity is there – as it was other times when they failed to take advantage of it.
3. Home field: The Lions snapped a seven-game losing streak at Ford Field. What if they reverse form and start winning at home?
They should be favored to beat the Texans in their next home game, but the next three – Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Minnesota – will be considerably tougher.
4. 16 seconds: That's how much time was left in regulation when the Lions got the ball at their 25 with the score tied.
Jones had no doubt that the Lions had time to score. The reason? Stafford.
"Most definitely," he said, the excitement of the game and its ending still in his voice.
"I mean, we had three touchdowns. If you know anything about that guy Number 9 (Stafford), he literally can make any throw – get there and get it to you quick."
A 10-yard pass to rookie wide receiver Quintez Cephus, a 15-yard penalty against Washington for roughing the passer, and a nine-yard completion to Jones moved the Lions 34 yards to Washington's 41 in 13 seconds.
From there, Matt Prater boomed a 59-yard field goal to win the game.
5. Takeaways, offense:
- The pendulum has swung in rookie D’Andre Swift's direction for who takes over the workload in the running-back rotation. The way he performed Sunday, it shouldn't swing back. He had 16 of the 21 carries and gained 81 yards. He added five catches in five targets for another 68 yards and a TD on a nifty 15-yard run after the catch.
- The offensive line's most obvious contribution in a solid performance was giving up only one sack on 34 drop backs to a Washington team that had 27 sacks in the first eight games. It also cleared a path for 105 yards rushing on 21 carries – an average of 5.0 yards per carry.
- If there's a scale for reliability, Jones scores high on it. Game in, game out, he does his job, no matter how many or how few targets he gets. On Sunday he had eight catches on 10 targets for 98 yards and a TD. And his nine-yard catch, and going down to stop the clock, gave the Lions time for Prater to kick the winning field goal.
6. Takeaways, defense:
- After giving up 275 rushing yards a week ago to the Vikings, Washington managed just 84 yards on 26 carries, for an average of 3.4 yards per attempt. However, all three of Washington's touchdowns were on runs.
- The defense couldn't get off the field in the second half. Washington ran 44 offensive plays in the second half and gained 22 first downs – one more than the Lions had for the entire game (21).
- Washington QB Alex Smith was sacked only twice, but the Lions got to him for eight hits on his 55 pass attempts. He did not have a TD pass.
7. Takeaways, special teams:
- Who's excited about Prater's 59-yard game-winning field goal? Not Prater, apparently. He was cool as ever when he went out to make the kick. He described the process this way: "The same as any other kick. Just go out and swing hard and hope it goes straight type thing."
- Lions punter Jack Fox hasn't given opposing return men much to work with, and it was the same way Sunday. He punted four times for a gross average of 47.8 yards. Washington returned one punt for no gain and had fair catches on the other three. That left Fox with a net of 47.8, the same as his gross.
- The Lions have been outstanding on coverage, but Danny Johnson burned them for a 46-yard kickoff return.
- Up: Swift. A legitimate dual threat – running and receiving. The Lions have their back of the present and future.
- Down: Washington rallying from a 24-3 deficit to tie the game.
- Even: Prater and Stafford. They did, again what they do best – come through in the clutch.