Browns on cusp of breakthrough? Next three games will tell

BALTIMORE -- The Cleveland Browns’ 0-2 start is not a shock, given where the team is and the opponents they've faced.

The NFL gave the Browns the two best teams in the AFC North to open the season, two teams that presented unique challenges to a rookie quarterback.

Things change starting Sunday, though, as the Browns travel to take on the 0-2 Indianapolis Colts. Following that, the Browns face the Cincinnati Bengals and the New York Jets, both also winless. The Jets have given up 66 points, the Bengals have scored nine and the Colts have been outscored 62-22 in two games. These three teams have the three largest negative point differentials in the AFC.

If ever the time has arrived to show that the Browns are an improved and growing roster, this is it.

Losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens is one level of losing.

Losing to winless and struggling teams -- that’s another thing entirely.

Fans have been frustrated but patient since the Hue Jackson-Sashi Brown-Paul DePodesta era started. They lived through 1-15 and jammed FirstEnergy Stadium for the opener. They are excited about DeShone Kizer and the young defensive players (though they have yet to see Myles Garrett).

In the opener, Kizer provided some hope and brought generally favorable reviews.

In the second game, though, he was solely responsible for four turnovers in a game in which it was tough to find a positive. He even left the game for about one quarter with a migraine that he said he treated with a series of medications.

The Browns did not act like this migraine issue would linger, but they will be dealing with injuries to linebacker Jamie Collins (concussion) and receiver Corey Coleman (hand). The team is not specifying Coleman’s injury, but it’s serious enough that cleveland.com reported the team believes Coleman has a broken hand for the second consecutive season.

That situation will play out.

What won’t play out is fans’ patience. In this particular rebuild, the Browns promised a commitment to youth and the draft. This preseason, they also promised they had an improved roster. Eight days ago, Jackson ticked down the reasons for the expected improvement -- starting with the defense he called “legit” and going through a running game he said would be successful.

With those foundations, Jackson said the Browns had reason to believe.

But there is still a level of frustration with losing, and Jackson has to be carrying that internally. His Browns teams have lost 17 of their 18 games.

At some point, wins must follow, not only to validate what’s being done but to engender some true hope aside from words and promises. Nobody expects this young Browns team to challenge the New England Patriots, but nobody expects them not to win any games either.

No doubt the Colts, Bengals and Jets will look on the Browns as a chance for them to get a win. But if the Browns are ever going to get past this hump of losing, this three-week stretch is a big chance to right themselves.

Three wins in a row would be a dream.

Winning two of three would validate the optimism.

Winning one of three would lead to grimaces and teeth-gnashing.

But if the Browns lose all three, they could find a new level of ugliness and frustration from fans sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Rarely has a losing team faced such an important stretch this early in the season. The Browns cannot let this opportunity pass by without taking advantage.