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Browns on the cusp of playoff contention

Five thoughts as the Browns appear to be heating up with a 41-24 win over the Dolphins

A DANGEROUS THING: It’s that strange feeling, nearly foreign to Browns fans at this time of the year.

Hope.

Yes, it’s been there before, but more in a vague sense.

Browns fans were hopeful last year when Baker Mayfield was throwing touchdown passes and the team was winning meaningless games.

But that was for the future; hope of what Baker, and the Browns, could be.

But after the Browns beat the Dolphins Sunday, that hope became a real thing.

For this season.

Because here is the reality: If the Browns go to Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers, they will be in the playoff chase.

And that’s why the hope is there.

Now, do I expect the Browns to make the playoffs? No, because I think they’d have to win out to make the playoffs. But 9-7 is certainly possible.

And that would at least likely keep the Browns in the playoff conversation until the end of the season.

Now, when I mentioned this on Twitter, my friend Vince Guerrieri responded with the line from Morgan Freeman’s character from Shawshank Redemption:

“Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

As a Browns fan, I have known this since 1987.

JARVIS: Somewhat lost in all the discussions about Odell Beckham and how much he’s getting the ball is how well Beckham’s running mate, Jarvis Landry is playing.

Landry had one of the best games of his career against the Dolphins Sunday, catching 10 passes, two touchdowns and recording 148 yards.

Landry doesn’t have the jaw-dropping skill set of Beckham — almost no one does — but he can catch anything, and he clearly has Mayfield’s trust.

And though he played it down after the game, Landry wanted to have a strong showing against the Dolphins, his former team.

For the season, Landry has 843 receiving yards and five touchdowns. With numbers like that, it’s tempting to say he’s the Browns best player.

But there’s this other guy…

THE LEAGUE’S BEST RUNNING BACK: Once, in a documentary about the 1985 Bears, that team’s coach, Mike Ditka, talked about Jim McMahon, the squad’s quarterback.”

“Joe Montana,” he said, ” was perfect for the 49ers. Jim McMahon was perfect for us.”

That’s how I feel about Nick Chubb.

I’m sure an argument can be made for other tailbacks being the best in the league. The Panthers’ Christian McCaffery, the Vikings’ Dalvin Cook and the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott certainly have a case.

But I’d take Nick Chubb over all of them.

I just think Chubb is perfect for the Browns. On a team where there are so many brash players, it’s nice to have a guy who is a counter to that. Chubb doesn’t showboat, doesn’t complain, and seems to have little interest in stats.

He also happens to be the Browns best player.

In fact, I’d argue Chubb is the best Browns running back I’ve seen.

Jim Brown, Marion Motley and Leroy Kelly were all before my time. Kevin Mack was my idol back in the ’80s, and Earnest Byner was a tremendous runner and pass catcher.

I just think Chubb is better than all of them. Or, rather, he’s playing at a higher level at this moment.

Through 11 games, Chubb has 1,117 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns. And now, he has some help, since Kareem Hunt — another one of the league’s best backs — has joined him.

I find myself screaming during the games at Freddie Kitchens, because I don’t think the coach has realized that Chubb — not Mayfield — is the Browns best asset.

But the fact is, Kitchens is getting the ball to Chubb. I guess the second-year back has been so good that it never seems like he’s getting it enough.

Averaging five yards a carry will do that.

JOE’S SHOW: What has gotten into Joe Schobert lately?

The linebacker has four interceptions in the last two games, and seems to be in the middle of everything.

He helped the Browns defense to a steady showing Sunday against the Dolphins.

Yes, I know the Dolphins are tanking. But anytime you remove three starting linemen from a defense, there’s bound to be problems.

But for the most part, Schobert and the defense held things together. Chad Thomas played very well at the end spot, Bryan Cox — signed off the street after the suspensions to Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi — even had a sack.

Denzel Ward is back to playing at a Pro Bowl level at corner.

After the last three games, I think defensive coordinator Steve Wilks deserves some credit. During the three-game winning streak, Cleveland has allowed 47 points. And Miami’s last touchdown Sunday was meaningless.

HISTORY: The Browns are a two-point favorite to win in Pittsburgh Sunday.

Granted, that’s not a lot, but it is notable for one reason:

The majority of betters are expecting the Browns to sweep the Steelers this year.

The last time the Browns took both games in a season from Pittsburgh was in 1988, when the Browns outscored the Steelers 50-16 in the two contests.

I remember it because after the second game — which the Browns won 27-7 — my grandmother called me and was upset the Browns didn’t win by more.

It was a different time.

I guess, deep down, we’re hoping this is the start of a different time, too.

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