The Cleveland Browns are 0-12 in 2017 and have just four wins over the past three seasons. (David Richard/Associated Press)

The Cleveland Browns are a torturous franchise for their fans to support. They have yet to win this season (0-12) and dating to 2015 own a woeful 4-40 record. It’s been so bad that Chris Gibilisco of Fox 8 Cleveland started a petition to honor the Browns’ record as the worst stretch in NFL history “either with a plaque or special exhibit at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.”

Not only is it embarrassing for coaches, players and fans, it is also a blight on the league, which stressed the importance of maintaining parity during the last collective bargaining agreement.

“When you come into a season, every fan thinks that their football team has a chance to win the Super Bowl, and that’s what I believe the 32 clubs are working toward,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell explained on a phone call with Kansas City Chiefs ticket holders in 2011.

Every fan … except for those who cheer at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.

Since 2011, the Browns have won a league-low 24 games, with just four of those wins coming in the past three years. If you look at the three-year average for each team since 2011, the Browns have both the fewest and fourth-fewest wins for those time frames.

The three other teams featured on that list — the Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders — have at least had some success over recent years. This year, the Jaguars are 8-4 with a share of the AFC South Division lead and boast the league’s top passing defense. The 49ers made the playoffs each year from 2011 to 2013, including a Super Bowl appearance in 2012. The Raiders were a playoff team last season and are in a three-way tie for the AFC West lead.

Over the past three seasons, the Browns rank last or second to last in:

  • Points scored per drive, 1.4
  • Points allowed per drive, 2.2
  • Turnover rate, 16 percent
  • Red-zone efficiency, 45 percent
  • Red-zone defense, 64  percent
  • Passer rating, 75.1
  • Passer rating allowed, 102.1

Surprisingly, there is a bright side in all of this: The Browns appear to be improving, even if that isn’t reflected in their win-loss record.

Based on their points scored and allowed, we would expect a team with Cleveland’s point differential in 2017 (minus-132) to be 2-10 or 3-9, not 0-12. Of course, the other way to look at that is that the Browns are falling short of even those low expectations. And there are more reasons to believe the Browns should be better than they’ve shown in the win-loss columns.

According to the game charters at Pro Football Focus, this roster has higher-graded talent than nine other teams in the NFL this year. In order, those teams are the Denver Broncos (3-9), Washington Redskins (5-7), 49ers (2-10), Indianapolis Colts (3-9), New York Jets (5-7), New York Giants (2-10), Houston Texans (4-8), Miami Dolphins (5-7) and Arizona Cardinals (5-7).

Cleveland’s offense is a mess — it ranks second to last per Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent — but its defense has been solid. Overall, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has his unit ranked 16th in DVOA, with the league’s top run defense. His defensive line is stopping 29 percent of opposing rushers at or behind the line of scrimmage; only the Philadelphia Eagles have been better (33 percent).

Maybe it’s no coincidence that the defense turned around after the team selected defensive end Myles Garrett with the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft. He’s ranked the 23rd-best edge rusher per PFF with the 10th-highest “Pass Rushing Productivity” rating — which measures pressure created on a per-snap basis with weighting toward sacks — from the right side.

With 13 picks in the 2018 draft — including five in the first two rounds — and nearly $59 million in available salary-cap space, the offense almost certainly will improve with investments in a franchise quarterback and other supporting cast members.

What the Browns have built to date, though, clearly hasn’t worked. So it’s unsurprising the team announced it had relieved Sashi Brown of his duties as the team’s executive vice president of football operations.

His successor will be tasked with salvaging one of the worst-performing franchises of the NFL’s current era.

Read more on the NFL:

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‘Pride in protecting’ Kirk Cousins pushes Redskins tackle Trent Williams through injury

The Chiefs are suspending Marcus Peters for his antics during loss to the Jets