Matt Shepard: Colts and fans are playing with house money

DETROIT - Games like Sunday's against the Colts can often -- at times -- be a revealing sign for a team like the Lions.  It would be easy for a 4-7 club, highly unlikely to make the post season, to lick the stamp on a disappointing and demoralizing three game home stretch. 

Detroit's losses to Green Bay and Houston, as well as both games to Minnesota [including] the game in Chicago, and the contest in Tennessee, are perfect examples of just how slim the margin of error is in the NFL. 

Last season, Detroit won five games by seven points or less and that propelled them to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth for the first time since 1999. 

This year, the Lions have five losses by seven points or less -- and another by eight points -- that has left them 4-7 and with virtually no shot at repeating as post-season performers. 

Look at the Lions opponent this week -- the Colts. Indianapolis notched just two wins last season, but they own seven already this year, including wins in five of its last six. 

They have found a way to win the close games, six by a touchdown or fewer, and now have their franchise quarterback. Andrew Luck was taken first overall out of Stanford and has been everything the Colts and scouts thought he would be. 

The seven wins are tied for most by a rookie; he's thrown for 300-yards or more five times -- an NFL rookie record; his 433-yard performance in week 9 against Miami is an NFL rookie record, and he leads all AFC signal-callers in rushing yards.

His interim head coach Bruce Arians says Luck's control of the huddle reminds him of Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, and that his work ethic helps separate him from other quarterbacks in the league. Of course, the Lions pride themselves on their No. 1 guy possessing the same traits that help make an elite quarterback. 

One will lead their surprising team to victory Sunday. 

If it's Luck, it builds on his early legacy in Indy and helps Colt fans deal with the loss of their legendary quarterback Peyton Manning. If it's Matt Stafford, it makes Lions fans wonder just how close this year was to being another step toward being a consistent contender. 

The biggest difference though comes for the team that loses and how the setback is received. The Colts and their fans are playing with house money right now. Sure they want to make the playoffs, but they've been the biggest pleasant surprise in the NFL and no matter what happens from here on out, it's been a positive 2012 season. 

If the Lions stumble to a fourth straight loss and eighth overall, then questions will persist about whether or not this team got lucky last year or if they are just a victim of what the NFL has become: pure parity-like it or not.

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