No one expected Cleveland to be 9-5 and in playoff position with two games remaining after last season's 4-12 finish. Tampa Bay, also 4-12 in 2006, was not supposed to win the NFC South.
And no one expected Brett Favre, at 38, to play like he was 28 and lead his young Green Bay teammates to a 12-2 record.
But for every pleasant surprise, there are disappointments.
Start with Baltimore, 13-3 in 2006, 4-10 in 2007 and loser of eight straight, the most recent to the previously winless Dolphins.
The Ravens knew they were playing badly heading to Miami last week.
``It's a must-win because if we go down there and lose ... it could get really ugly around here,'' defensive back Corey Ivy said.
It's ugly.
In no particular order, the NFL's most disappointing teams.

-Baltimore (4-10). Blame age. Blame injuries. Most of all blame the lack of a healthy and capable quarterback finally catching up to the Ravens.
Brian Billick has a vote of confidence from owner Steve Bisciotti. After all, Billick coached the Ravens (without a QB of note) to a Super Bowl win after the 2000 season and to 13-3 last season. On the other hand, take away a 27-24 loss to New England that should have been a win, and the Ravens have been awful.
So maybe Billick should go into television and get ready for another job. He's been in Baltimore for nine seasons. Other than Mike Shanahan, Jeff Fisher and Bill Cowher, few coaches stay with the same franchise that long.
Then there's the QB thing. The Ravens tried to sneak Derek Anderson onto the practice squad two years ago, but Cleveland grabbed him and now he's one of the NFL's most pleasant surprises. On the other hand, if Anderson was in Baltimore, the Ravens might still be 4-10.

-Denver (6-8). Expectations are always high for a franchise whose last sub-.500 season was 1999, the year after John Elway retired. The Broncos brought 19 defensive linemen to camp, which means they had none. So Denver is 29th against the run.
Jay Cutler is a second-year quarterback and most second-year QBs are erratic. The good news: the development of WR Brandon Marshall, who sometimes looks like a Moss/Owens clone.

-Chicago (5-9). At one level, the fall from the Super Bowl isn't surprising. When Seattle made the playoffs last season, it was only the second Super Bowl loser to go back this century. One problem has been injuries. Mike Brown and Nathan Vasher were hurt early, Brian Urlacher is playing hurt, and with Tank Johnson gone, the middle of the defensive line has been thin.
The biggest mistake may have been keeping running back Cedric Benson over Thomas Jones. A scout who watched tapes of Benson at Texas and compared them to tapes from this season says the falloff is dramatic.
And, as always in Chicago since Sid Luckman and maybe Jim McMahon, there's no QB. It's worse than Baltimore's history because the Bears have been around a lot longer.

-New York Jets (3-11). This was a playoff team last season. They've been playing good teams close, beating Pittsburgh and staying with New England and Cleveland. But they can't stop the run, and despite getting Jones from Chicago, they don't run very much. That might be because the offensive line has regressed since Pete Kendall was traded to Washington after a contract dispute. The Jets have used several players at left guard in an unsuccessful attempt to replace Kendall's solid production at the position.
Kendall's departure might be a symptom of a deeper problem. GM Mike Tannenbaum is a money man, not a football man, and has been given control of much of the operation by owner Woody Johnson.

-Cincinnati (5-9). ``I think sometimes some of our problem is we don't always have a team attitude,'' defensive end Justin Smith said two weeks ago. ``I think the best teams really don't care about statistical rankings. They care about winning. And we're not there yet.''
Carson Palmer isn't having much of a year, and there's definitely a carry-over from the 2006 arrests. Perhaps the most important missing man is Odell Thurman, who has been suspended for two seasons and would fill a huge hole at the weakest position, linebacker.

-San Francisco (4-10). The 49ers committed $80 million alone to CB Nate Clements during a busy offseason that fueled playoff expectations.
But that depended on the continued improvement of third-year QB Alex Smith. Instead, Smith played badly, then hurt his shoulder. The departure of offensive coordinator Norv Turner for San Diego is often cited, although that is too simplistic. A weak offensive line and injuries to RB Frank Gore haven't helped and the 49ers' 191 points are last in the NFL.
Mike Nolan might not survive as coach, but the real blame belongs at owner. The 49ers have not been the same since Denise DeBartolo York and her husband, John, took over active ownership when her brother, Ed DeBartolo Jr., was forced to abdicate because of legal troubles.

ose kinds of injury hits.

- Philadelphia (6-8). The Eagles were preseason favorites in the NFC East, ahead of Dallas. The hypercritical Philly fans blame coach Andy Reid's personal problems - his sons' drug convictions - and Donovan McNabb's relatively slow recovery from knee surgery.
But last week's 10-6 win in Dallas and the Eagles' near-win in New England demonstrate they are probably as good as the Giants and Redskins, division opponents in playoff contention. The one major weakness is the lack of a No. 1 wide receiver, but that's been the case almost every year other than 2004, when they had a team-oriented Terrell Owens and went to the Super Bowl.

- New Orleans (7-7). Preseason Super Bowl hopes were probably too optimistic.
A weak secondary hurts the Saints. And Deuce McAllister's injury forced Reggie Bush into being a full-time running back, which is not his strength. The Saints remain in contention only because the NFC is weak.
Sean Payton isn't coaching as well as last season, as the aborted reverse that probably cost the Saints a win against Tampa Bay demonstrates.

- Atlanta (3-11). Michael Vick. Bobby Petrino. Bill Parcells (for 12 hours).
A quarterback in jail. A head coach who fled his team and left form letters for the players. And a prospective GM who agreed to a job, then went south.
Not a good season for Arthur Blank.

-Miami (1-13). No real expectations, but no one thought it would take 14 games to get a win. The problems go back two decades. Even Don Shula drafted poorly, lucking into Dan Marino in 1983, but otherwise getting a lot of first-round duds. The Dolphins have spent the eight years since Marino retired searching for a QB. Add in their version of Petrino: Nick Saban.
It might have helped if they had held on to Sage Rosenfels and kept the two first-round picks Dave Wannstedt surrendered for Ricky Williams.

-Detroit (6-8). Jon Kitna and Roy Williams predicted 10-12 wins. That looked pretty good when the Lions were 6-2, but not after six straight losses. Even Matt Millen isn't entirely to blame. Go to the top, the Fords, who have been producing losers for decades.
They haven't done well lately in the car business either - William Clay Ford is Edsel's son, which might be relevant.
DIRTY DOZEN: The top six and bottom six teams in the NFL based on current level of play.
1. New England (14-0). Need to be wary in the playoffs.
2. Indianapolis (12-2). Might be one of New England's playoff problems. Better built for winter than in the past.
3. Green Bay (12-2). Dreaming of a white January at Lambeau.
4. Dallas (12-2). Remains to be seen how much last week's loss hurts.
5. Jacksonville (10-4). How can this team have no Pro Bowlers?
6. Minnesota (8-6). Seven Pro Bowlers indicate there's talent.

27 (tie) New York Jets (3-11). Competitive doesn't always cut it.
27. (tie) Oakland (4-10). Just let JaMarcus play it out.
28. Kansas City (4-10). Need a QB. And a lot of other things.
29. Detroit (6-8). Back to the depths.
30. Miami (1-13). Just had its own Super Bowl.
31. Atlanta (3-11). What could Tuna have done with this mess?
32. Baltimore (4-10). The Dolphins were winless. The Ravens lost to them.

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