And now for something completely different, as the old Monty Python catchphrase goes.
We're calling them the Vibe Rankings - an up-to-the-minute reading of each team's mojo factor as NFL training camps spring to life. Don't think of them as another version of our NFL Power Rankings per se, but more like an attempt to divine and quantify how each team is entering camp in terms of a sense of momentum, focus and drive. Combined, of course, with some reasonable expectation of following through and riding those positive vibes to success.
Without further build-up, the tea leaves, please. As always, a reminder, this is my reading of the late-July mojo of each team. Your results may vary...
1. Philadelphia Eagles
Unless Carson Wentz's rehab from knee surgery hits a speed bump this preseason - and he's not on PUP to start camp - what's not to like about the position the Eagles find themselves as they begin defending their Super Bowl title? And even then, Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles is there to again save the day. One quibble? It'd be nice if Philadelphia could stop the backward-looking running commentary on the Patriots, the guys they vanquished in Minneapolis. Let it go. Your victory speaks for itself, but you keep interrupting it.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are good, they know they're good (and keep telling us), and now it's a matter of proving they know how to handle success and follow up on their trip to the NFL's final four last season. The best development was that both of Jacksonville's lines improved this offseason, and other than the recent one-game league personal-conduct policy suspension of defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., there have been few hiccups of note in Coughlin-land.
3. Los Angeles Rams
The elephant in the Rams locker room is of course the matter of when All-World defensive tackle Aaron Donald will finally get his long-awaited contract extension? But logic says it has to be coming soon, before he misses another entire preseason, right? With running back Todd Gurley and new receiver Brandin Cooks extended recently, the only blip in the Rams' full-bore win-now mode is executing a new deal with the game's most dominating defender. Everything else in L.A. features nothing but arrows pointing up.
4. Green Bay Packers
Tony Romo may be on to something in picking the Packers as his Super Bowl sleeper. It's entirely possible that no NFC team improved as much as Green Bay did, with Aaron Rodgers' return to health being buttressed by tight end Jimmy Graham's acquisition, Mike Pettine's hiring as defensive coordinator, and the additions of defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson and a pair of highly drafted young cornerbacks. Let the Eagles, Vikings, Rams, Saints and 49ers get all the hype. Rather stealthily, the Pack might be back.
5. New England Patriots
After a drama-filled offseason that was as baffling as it was unprecedented in New England, the Patriots remain the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, because how can they not be? But still, if we're talking strictly mojo factor, we're in unchartered territory in Foxboro, and alas, that is not fake news. With Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski both in camp and working, no worst-case scenarios unfolded. But the Julian Edelman four-game suspension is a buzz kill, and the new contract that reportedly was heading Gronk's way has yet to materialize. Stay tuned, as they say.
6. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have the NFL's longest current win streak at five games, they got their No. 1 pick, tackle Mike McGlinchey, signed, and their starting quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo) has already learned a valuable lesson about the risk-reward of dating a porn star in the age of social media. And it's not even August yet. The 49ers' magic carpet ride keeps sailing on.
7. Minnesota Vikings
After the celebrated Kirk Cousins signing and an offseason that did nothing but heighten this team's already lofty Super Bowl aspirations, the shocking and tragic news of offensive line coach Tony Sparano's death on Sunday has cast a pall on the start of Minnesota's camp. The Vikings are an ultra-talented and resilient team and head coach Mike Zimmer sadly has experience with dealing with his own family tragedy during a football season. But the Vikings will be tested by this loss, and Sparano's absence will take its toll.
8. New Orleans Saints
On the strength of their sensational 2017 draft class, the Saints are suddenly a young, deep team that's still on the rise, and they should be spurred onward by the bitter way their playoff run ended in Minnesota last January. As long as Drew Brees remains formidable at 39, and the defense improves with the addition of rookie pass rusher Marcus Davenport and veterans Patrick Robinson, Demario Davis and Kurt Coleman, the Saints should march back into the playoffs. Running back Mark Ingram's four-game suspension aside, New Orleans is poised for bigger and better things.
9. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons just got busy and quite proactive, removing the cloud that could have hung over training camp if No. 1 receiver Julio Jones had held out over the contract upgrade he was demanding. Atlanta gave Jones a contract "adjustment'' on Wednesday, placating him by converting $2 million of his 2019 base salary into a 2018 bonus, a half-measure move that's getting quite popular in the NFL these days. In tandem with the new three-year contract extensions team owner Arthur Blank handed coach Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff on Wednesday, it's all-systems-go in Atlanta as the Falcons launch their bid to become the first team to play a Super Bowl on its own home field.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers
As another eventful Steelers season starts, the playoffs and a fourth AFC North title in five years look well within reach, but how much rosier would the outlook be if Pittsburgh had finally been able to strike a long-term deal with elite running back Le'Veon Bell? As is, Bell again remains unsigned and uninterested in attending training camp or playing in the preseason, and it's difficult to not project a looming divorce between the parties after this year. Simply based on the sloppy and underachieving way last season ended, this year starts with an added sense of urgency that time may be running out on Pittsburgh's Super Bowl window of opportunity.
11. Houston Texans
Just having quarterback sensation Deshaun Watson, three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney all healthy and ready for the starting of training camp considerably boosts the Texans' positive vibe quotient. In an AFC South that is a doormat no longer, the Texans have as much star power as anyone, and they need to ride those stalwarts as far as they can.
12. Los Angeles Chargers
That's right, the Carson Chargers crack my top 12, and don't sleep on the Bolts, who won nine of their last 12 games a year ago, with four of their seven losses coming by one score or less. Anthony Lynn's team isn't winning the Battle For L.A., but the Chargers are the most well-rounded team in the AFC West and they joined the Patriots as the only two teams last year to finish in the top five in both scoring and scoring defense. The addition of rookie safety Derwin James and veteran center Mike Pouncey improves both sides of the ball.
13. Tennessee Titans
The Mike Vrabel coaching hire was an inspired one and his positive impact is already apparent. Titans players have gotten with his program, to the point that offensive tackle Taylor Lewan reported to camp even before the contract extension he sought was finished, a sign that he knows something good is building in Nashville. The acquisitions of Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis and first-round linebacker Rashaan Evans adds some headline name talent, and Vrabel has wisely keyed on building a coaching staff and an offense to maximize quarterback Marcus Mariota's dual-threat skill set.
14. Carolina Panthers
Just getting to turn the page from the ugly end to the Jerry Richardson ownership era puts the entire franchise in a better place, and I like everything I hear from new owner Dave Tepper so far. But about that Norv Turner hiring at offensive coordinator. Are you sure the well-traveled Turner is the right guy to bring out the best in former MVP quarterback Cam Newton, whose game has lost a little of its explosiveness and efficiency the past two years? The Panthers could be third-place material if the Saints and Falcons live up to expectations.
15. Kansas City Chiefs
The anticipation of big things from second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes is palpable in Chiefs-land, and from every indication he's an exciting and maybe franchise-changing level talent at the game's most critical position. That kind of buzz alone should have the perennial playoff-bound Chiefs higher on this list, but I've got doubts about their shaky defense and whether or not Mahomes will be consistent enough as a near-rookie starter to put K.C. back into the playoffs for the fifth time in coach Andy Reid's six seasons in red.
16. Baltimore Ravens
The drafting of quarterback Lamar Jackson at the bottom of the first round has lit a fire to incumbent Joe Flacco's bottom, and that's a very timely good development for the previously moribund Ravens offense. After three consecutive playoff-less seasons, the sense of urgency is everywhere in Baltimore. Flacco feels it. Coach John Harbaugh feels it. And retiring general manager Ozzie Newsome wants desperately to reverse the franchise's slide and go out a winner. I'm buying the Ravens have a chance to stage a comeback.
17. New York Giants
After last year's 3-13 fiasco, the Giants have nowhere to go but up. Saquon Barkley and Nate Solder will aid an offense that couldn't run the ball a lick last season, and a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. - if he gets that long-anticipated contract extension - could help Eli Manning look and play young again. New York is headed for a bounce-back season, and maybe even playoff contention.
18. Dallas Cowboys
Discerning the Cowboys' vibe is always a moving target, because it can change overnight, depending the latest headlines. But there should be an air of desperation in Big D, because coach Jason Garrett can't expect to keep his job with yet another playoff-less season. Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliott are poised to put their eventful second seasons behind them, but did too much of the team's passing offense walk out the door when Jason Witten retired and Dez Bryant was cut?
19. Detroit Lions
The Matt Patricia era is certainly reason to hope that better times are coming in Motown. But if you're a Lions backer, don't you at first have to see some results when it comes to Patricia's ability to improve the NFL's 27th ranked defense in 2017? Patricia's final game in New England - the defensively-challenged Super Bowl - was hardly an example of his best work.
20. Seattle Seahawks
As long as the Seahawks have Russell Wilson at quarterback, they have a chance to win. But the dismantling of the Legion of Boom defense has been depressing, and it feels like Seattle's recent past will far out-shine its immediate future.
21. Washington Redskins
They don't have Kirk Cousins to kick around anymore. Alex Smith is now the QB in D.C., and historically speaking that hasn't been the easiest of gigs the past two decades or so. As Ben McAdoo so indelicately put it recently: "Washington is Washington, right?'' Right. Until further notice.
22. Buffalo Bills
Coming off their first playoff season since 1999, I'd be higher on the Bills' vibe were it not for the fact their best player, LeSean McCoy, faces at least the potential complication of his name being linked to the July 10 Atlanta-area home invasion in which his ex-girlfriend was beaten and robbed. For now, there's no legal issue for McCoy to deal with, but it requires further monitoring and that's obviously an ominous development.
23. Denver Broncos
Head coach Vance Joseph got a reprieve and kept his job this offseason, but that just makes his work in 2018 all the more pressurized. Case Keenum offers stability at quarterback, finally, and pass-rusher Bradley Chubb is another potential star for the Broncos defense. But another last-place finish is not out of the question and the heat is on in Denver.
24. Oakland Raiders
Jon Gruden and holdout pass-rusher Khalil Mack have reportedly not even had as much as a conversation yet, that despite Gruden being hired in January. Lump that together with quarterback Derek Carr needing to prove that last year's major regression was a fluke, and the Raiders' mojo certainly isn't trending in the right direction early on in Gruden's comeback.
25. Cleveland Browns
As high as I've been on Cleveland's offseason, the latest Josh Gordon development - he's taking an indefinite leave of absence while continuing to work on his health and treatment plan - represents a significant setback for a gifted player many expected to be part of the Browns' return to relevance this year. From Baker Mayfield on, the positives are there in Cleveland, but the Browns still have to do the hard work of building on them.
26. Arizona Cardinals
Having drafted Josh Rosen, hired Steve Wilks and experienced the return to health of David Johnson, the Cardinals have every right to be optimistic. But for now the offense belongs to veteran Sam Bradford, and that hasn't always worked out too well for his previous teams in St. Louis, Philadelphia and Minnesota.
27. Chicago Bears
Probably a bit too low for the Bears, given that hope abounds in the Windy City now that the Bears hired an offensive-minded head coach (Matt Nagy) to aid the development of second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Chicago's defense is legit. I'm withholding judgment on its offense.
28. Indianapolis Colts
Everyone assumes the Colts are destined for last place in the AFC South, and maybe they are. But let's see what Andrew Luck's got left in that surgically repaired throwing arm before we come to any definitive conclusions. If he's right, the Colts have a chance. Either way, the hiring of Frank Reich as head coach is the best move Indy has made in a long time.
29. New York Jets
The Jets rolled snake eyes and had USC quarterback Sam Darnold drop in their laps in the top five, and it was a godsend for this snake-bit organization. But now Darnold is one of two remaining unsigned rookies and is missing the start of camp, and that's just so Jet-like.
30. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins went out and got veteran leaders like Frank Gore and Danny Amendola to show everyone else how it's done. Has that ever really worked? Ryan Tannehill's return to health at quarterback is being counted on, but these Dolphins still seem poised to bore.
31. Cincinnati Bengals
As rallying cries go, "One last chance for Marvin Lewis'' isn't going to move the needle in the Queen City. The Bengals are almost a completely buzz-less team, and quite deservedly, since their last playoff win was 27-plus years ago.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs made some well-received and respected personnel moves this offseason, and real improvement seemed within reach. But all anyone's talking about now is Jameis Winston and his weak act. Whatever the opposite of quality mojo is, the Bucs and Winston personify it.