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NFL: Can the Cleveland Browns become playoff contenders?

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The acquisition of Paul Kruger is a major reason why the Browns have been successful.(November 2, 2013 - Source: Jason Miller/Getty Images North America)
The acquisition of Paul Kruger is a major reason why the Browns have been successful.(November 2, 2013 – Source: Jason Miller/Getty Images North America)

The Cleveland Browns exceeded expectations for the first 9 weeks of football. No sane, logical Browns fan could ever say “This team WILL be 4-5 for the first 9 games”. The defense was expected to shine given the free agent acquisitions of players such as Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant, and Chris Owens.

However, it’s only fair to take into account all the things working against the Browns this season. The first test was the fan base sharply criticizing the team over the Trent Richardson trade which certainly helped the team instead. The second test was the Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron trade rumors. The third test was the season ending injury to Brian Hoyer. Add that with several subpar performances from receiver Greg Little and there is a recipe for a disastrous season that makes the fans who want a top draft pick really happy.

The tests of adversity did not break this team.  In fact, the Browns have not even bent. The upset against Ravens on Sunday night was huge. The three game winning streak against the Minnesota Vikings, Cincinnati Bengals, and Buffalo Bills was a giant leap for a team expecting make one small step in the right direction. It should also be noted that the AFC North is performing at a substandard level so far this season which could contribute to the Browns winning the AFC North.

Fans of all team can certainly claim the Browns are overachieving and they may not be done yet. The Bengals defense is effective crippled by the loss of Geno Atkins. The defending Super Bowl Champion Ravens are failing miserably. The aged Pittsburgh Steelers are the only team fulfilling expectations, they are in the cellar which is not likely to change.

The Browns are looking to get a needed win in Cincinnati on Nov. 17th. After that, they take on Pittsburgh on Nov. 24 in Cleveland. The Ravens assisted the Browns today with a huge victory over Cincinnati.

Cleveland is in control of its destiny. If the Browns win the next two games, improving to 6-5 overall and 3-1 in the AFC North, they can effectively put themselves in the playoff hunt.

Even still, it’s important to manage expectations. The Browns have a tendency to fall short of making the playoffs. This could be a surprise in the making much like the 2002 Browns that defeated Michael Vick’s Atlanta Falcons to finish 9-7 and nearly advance the AFC Division Playoffs. They almost defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers but a late rally led to another typical Cleveland heartbreak.

Is heartbreak in order or will the 2013 Cleveland Browns prove resilient and make a shocking trip to the big dance, the NFL playoffs?

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