If you base your answer on what the four remaining playoff teams have done during the course of the 2008 season, it would be difficult to argue against the Arizona Cardinals. A month ago, the Cardinals were a mess, in the midst of four defeats in a five-game stretch. Only the fact that the most hapless franchise in NFL history plays in the NFC Worst gave the Cardinals a chance to make the playoffs in the first place.
But surprises - good and bad - are usually based on expectations, and nobody outside The Castle thought the Ravens would be playing football in January, let alone going to the AFC championship game in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
This was supposed to be a team built around a rookie head coach and a solid, if aging, defense. This was supposed to be a season in which the team's quarterback was going to be either Troy Smith or Kyle Boller, not an unflappable rookie named Joe Flacco. This was supposed to be a franchise that was distancing itself from what happened in the 2000 season, not retracing the steps back to Raymond James Stadium for another Super Bowl.
I know few believed the Cardinals would still be standing, but they played in a division easier than the Big 12 South with a quarterback, Kurt Warner, who has a Super Bowl ring, and a freakish wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, who could be the best in the NFL.
When the season began, the Ravens were one of two teams with 100-1 odds of winning the Super Bowl. The other team was the Detroit Lions. That's called a surprise, folks.