No one expects the Spanish Inquisition, and, after a putrid 2007 season that ended with a record of 5-11, no one expected that the Ravens would even approach mediocrity.
The coach was new, the quarterback situation was a big, fat question mark and defensive end-linebacker Terrell Suggs, the team's franchise player, skipped training camp because of a contract dispute. Finally, everyone wondered about the mental state of linebacker and team anchor Ray Lewis, 33 and in the final year of his contract.
For Ravens fans, it was shaping up as an arduous journey - like Odysseus on his Odyssey, minus the Cyclops. Oddsmakers set the chances of the Ravens' getting to the AFC championship game at 40-1.
But, surprise! Rookie head coach John Harbaugh injected discipline and purpose into his team. Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan built a squad of swarming hornets led by Lewis and safety Ed Reed that made opponents flinch. New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron never gave rookie Joe Flacco more than he could handle, and the quarterback responded by maintaining an even strain.
The Ravens dropped three of four preseason games but opened the season with two wins, albeit against the subterranean Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. Three losses followed, but that was the last time the Ravens dropped consecutive games. Over the last 11 regular-season games, Baltimore went 9-2, with Flacco throwing 13 touchdown passes against five interceptions.
Two playoff wins, and here we are, just a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers needed for a trip to the Super Bowl.
Tomorrow: Must-have tchotchkes will make you part of the Purple Passion.