At 2-7, the Cleveland Browns may not be headed for an AFC North division crown or a playoff spot, but this is a better football team than most people realize.
Yes, Cleveland is a long way away from becoming a true contender, but the youngest team in football has shown the ability to grow and learn from mistakes already this season.
Brandon Weeden has made plenty of mistakes, but only two of his 12 interceptions have come in the last three weeks. Question marks are everywhere about the long-term validity of the 29-year-old signal-caller as a franchise QB. However, he has improved tremendously over the course of this season.
The team's other top rookie, Trent Richardson, has shown exactly the type of burst and talent that Cleveland anticipated when they drafted him. Yes, he has battled through nagging rib injuries all season, but Richardson has gone for more than 100 yards rushing in each of the Browns' last two games.
Four of Cleveland's seven losses this season have come by a touchdown or less, and three of those losses were on the road.
Expectations were extremely low for the Browns entering this season, and there is no way to believe they have not played to the best of their ability.
Josh Gordon has emerged as a legitimate downfield weapon, more than making up for the failures of Greg "no hands" Little. Gordon has 19 catches for 417 yards and four touchdowns. Plus, the return of Mohamed Massaquoi makes the Browns' passing game a little more potent.
Does Cleveland have issues? Obviously. The team ranks 23rd against the pass and 26th against the rush. They have forced only five fumbles and have turned the ball over 17 times themselves.
However, the Browns are growing and evolving. Head coach Pat Shurmur will undoubtedly be evaluated when the season concludes, but the new ownership has to be at least mildly happy with the effort and production of Cleveland's on-field product.
There is plenty of room for improvement, and at 2-7 this is still not a good team. Still, Cleveland finds ways to stay in ball games and is not a pushover on anyone's schedule. The Browns have held teams to three field goals in the last six quarters and are becoming a formidable matchup on a weekly basis.
Cleveland may finish with only four or five wins this season, but that is a record that is not indicative of the potential and talent on this team. The Browns are getting better. That fact may not readily jump out at viewers of their games, but it is slowly happening.
Pay attention, because Cleveland is better than you realize.