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NFL Power Rankings 2012: Browns moving near top 20 thanks to win streak

The Cleveland Browns have won three straight thanks to a strong defensive effort, and although the postseason is still a longshot, there's optimism about a team with young talent.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns might be 5-8, but they're hypothetically still in playoff contention, and rising rapidly in most power rankings after reeling off three straight wins.

The Browns probably won't make it to the playoffs -- they'd have to win out against one team that's already clinched a berth and two others that are in the hunt for the postseason as well -- but the fact that they're there after starting out 2-8 is a sign for optimism. This team has already won as many games as any Browns squad since 2007, Trent Richardson will be good for years to come, and although Brandon Weeden isn't exactly young, he has 3,000 yards passing as a rookie, and the defense has held opponents under 20 points three straight weeks. With all those things combined, people have nice things to say about the Browns. Joel Thorman of SB Nation was rather pessimistic about the team in his Week 15 NFL Power Rankings, putting them at No. 27, but admitted there were good signs:

What if I told you the Browns were one of the five most underrated teams this year? It's true.

Most had Cleveland somewhere around the No. 20 mark: ESPN and FOX have them right there, while NFL.com and CBS put them one spot lower at No. 21.

Photographs by spatulated, Triple Tri, and chrischappelear used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.