That loud sound you hear is the hype train for the Ravens' offense chugging down the tracks. Clackety-clackety-clack!
Every day seemingly brings more praise for a unit that ranked No. 27 in the league last season.
Things are going to be different this year, or so goes the thinking. You've heard the rationales. Joe Flacco is healthy and dealing. The wide receivers are better. There's a surplus of quality running backs and tight ends. The coaches are figuring out how to utilize the most explosive player in this year's draft.
Brian Billick, formerly the Ravens' head coach, suggested this might be the best offense in the franchise’s history -- quite a statement from someone who knows the franchise's history so well.
It prompts an important question for anyone who follows and/or roots for the Ravens: Are you buying it?
Is the hype indeed indicative of better days looming for the offense? Or is it just overheated late-summer blah-blah?
The range of reactions runs the gamut, I'm sure. There are believers who like what they're seeing and have officially boarded the hype train. Then there are doubters who can't quite fathom how an offense that sputtered last year suddenly becomes so much better.
I tend to be a skeptic, having learned that you need to see improvement in September and October before you start believing anything you see in July and August.
Nonetheless, I find myself on the train. (Plenty of good seats available, by the way.) If forced to "buy or sell" the notion of the offense being a more positive force in 2018, I'm buying.
To be clear, I'm not necessarily as all-in as Billick or others making lofty suggestions. That's tantamount to a "zero to 60" change in one year, which, just on principle, is asking a lot. Stuff tends to happen, as with Friday's news about rookie tight end Hayden Hurst, who will reportedly miss several weeks with a foot stress fracture.
At the same time, I believe the talent is deeper and the ceiling higher for this offense compared to its recent predecessors. My eyes tell me it should be improved and more productive, possibly by a lot.
What do I like so much?
For starters, Flacco's health and level of play is truly a transformative development. He's so central to the offense's fortunes that if he's feeling loose and confident, good things almost surely will happen.
I'm not expecting a league-high passer rating like the 141.4 he has posted in two preseason appearances. But based on how he looks in practice and games, it's fair to expect a palpable uptick.
I also like that his three new receivers have different skillsets that seemingly mesh together nicely. It's a real group, as opposed to a set of individual pieces thrown together.
John Brown is a bona fide home run hitter who, if healthy, could provide a caliber of explosiveness the Ravens haven't seen in awhile. Michael Crabtree is a big, physical target who knows how to get open all over the field. Willie Snead IV is a classic slot receiver who can work the seams of a defense to move the chains.
Importantly, Flacco seemingly has a better on-field rapport with them than he had with Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin.
I like the fact that the running game is in its second season under Greg Roman after showing sizable improvement last year. That bodes well, as does the running back depth chart, which features three guys who can produce.
I like the fact that the organization drafted Hurst, who is seemingly exactly what Flacco missed so often last year, namely, a dangerous pass-catching tight end
Are there lingering questions about the offense? Of course. The line still isn't settled with the season opener now approaching. The depth up front is inexperienced. It's a cause for concern, but with Marshal Yanda returning, there's also reason for optimism.
It also remains to be seen how the coaches use Lamar Jackson and whether it works. Hurst's injury is a reminder that setbacks are always possible, although the team is deep in capable tight ends.
In the end, there are enough positives to envision the offense performing at a higher level in 2018. I can see what got the hype train rolling.