Power Rankings: Preseason: No. 29. This week: No. 23.
Where they stand: Although not in great shape at 3-5, the Browns feel much better about themselves after back-to-back quality wins over the New Orleans Saints (6-3) and New England Patriots (6-2). Cleveland must be kicking itself for blowing fourth-quarter leads in early losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens. Winning those games would have put the Browns in much better position. Cleveland is a tough team, but it lacks game-breaking talent. But when the Browns play smart and efficient football, they are hard to beat.
Falling: Veteran quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace could find themselves on the bench for the remainder of the season. Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy has accounted for two of the Browns' three wins this year. Ankle injuries to Delhomme and Wallace opened the door for McCoy, who has taken advantage. Delhomme is making $7 million, but he has thrown four interceptions and just one touchdown pass in limited playing time. Wallace is just 1-3 as the starter. Cleveland's receivers haven't made many big plays and must step up in the second half.
Rising: Running back Peyton Hillis arrived in Cleveland with little fanfare in an offseason trade with the Denver Broncos for quarterback Brady Quinn. It was new president Mike Holmgren's best move as Hillis has rushed for 644 yards and seven touchdowns. McCoy's stock is obviously rising with consecutive wins over Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Head coach Eric Mangini also is making a case to continue coaching the Browns beyond the 2010 season. Mangini's entire body of work will be judged by Holmgren at the end of the season.
Midseason MVP: Hillis is the clear choice. He makes Cleveland's offense go and has three 100-yard games this season. Hillis wears down defenses, moves the chains and protects McCoy from having to do too much.
Outlook: It's doubtful the Browns can make a late playoff surge, especially in the tough AFC North where they trail the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. But the Browns appear to relish their role as spoiler and can be a tough out for playoff contenders in the second half . If Cleveland can remain hot and finish 8-8, that would be considered a successful year. In the offseason, the Browns could add several more pieces via the draft and free agency to make a major push in 2011.