Like any huge football fan, I’m an avid follower of HBO’s Hard Knocks franchise. The documentary series that follows a team through its training camp in preparation for the upcoming season had me locked in ever since it showed Chad Hutchinson and Richmond Flowers’ singalong at Dallas Cowboys camp in 2002.
So it was with great interest I noticed the news a few weeks ago, that the NFL could now compel a franchise to participate and let HBO filmmakers into their camp.
Sure, head coaches will hate it, but as with everything else, this is the same capitalistic monetization machine that pays them massive salaries, so I’m sure they’ll deal with it.
But the league has decided that, assuming no teams volunteer for the spotlight, they’ll be able to assign a team (which of course precludes them from allowing owners to vote one of their own onto the show in a live-TV spectacular extravaganza…it would be great to see the politics of the owners spill out on live TV…but for now that’s a bridge too far).
This news immediately got me thinking about who the league might pick. Naturally, I wanted to evaluate the situation.
Now the league issued a couple ‘exemptions’ which allow teams to decline the opportunity under one of three conditions:
1. If the team has made the playoffs in either of the prior two years
2. If the team has hired a new head coach
3. If the team has appeared on Hard Knocks in any of the last ten years
Condition three makes sense, and I suppose I can understand condition two under the theory that new coaches have enough crazy stuff going on. But condition one seems a little strange to me. Are we assuming NFL teams don’t already have enough incentive to win? And are we thinking that fans are less likely to be interested in watching playoff teams?
I’ll chalk this one up to politics, and NFL franchises pushing back on the concept of being forced to participate. So fine.
We’ll start with our 32 teams to choose from, and work our way down to the most likely suspects.
So, condition one. We’ll eliminate our playoff teams. First up, we’ll take out the teams that were in the playoffs last year:
Green Bay Packers
New England Patriots
San Francisco 49ers
Now unfortunately, that wipes out a whole slew of marquee teams. No RGIII, no Peyton Manning, no Harbaugh brothers…but those are the breaks.
So 20 teams left. Our next filter is for teams that make the playoffs this year. Now, we can’t be sure exactly who is going to make the playoffs this year, but we can play the odds. Using Football Outsiders playoff odds report, we can take any team that seems more than likely to make the playoffs this year (which I took as over 50% probability as of today)
The only teams that met that criteria (and weren’t in the first group of cuts) are:
Kansas City Chiefs (97%)
Chicago Bears (56% odds)
Detroit Lions (53%)
Philadelphia Eagles (59%...unfortunately)
New Orleans Saints (86%)
Now, all four of those teams won’t make the playoffs because they’re all in the NFC, but odds are two of them will. And since we can’t be sure, let’s take them all out of the equation.
Down to 15 teams.
The next filter is to take out teams under a new head coach. Well, unfortunately for our estimate (and fortunately for the coaches), no one has actually been fired yet. But we can put a pretty good bet on who isn’t going to be around next year. Although I won’t bust out my logistic regression model to give us the odds of getting fired (I’m waiting for later in the season for that), there are a couple clear candidates.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (I’d almost say this is an inevitability)
Carolina Panthers (Ron Rivera could be gone if his team doesn’t beat the odds and make the playoffs)
I realize it’s a short list, but most of the terrible teams this season don’t seem likely to make changes. The Giants have already given Tom Coughlin a vote of confidence (although he may retire), the Steelers aren’t likely to get rid of Mike Tomlin, and the Jaguars and Bills just hired new guys.
So we’ve only pared the list down to 13. Ugh. Progress has slowed.
But then we can take our third condition. Having appeared on the show in the last ten years. At least this one doesn’t include any kind of estimate.
Dallas Cowboys (who also are almost 50% to make the playoffs)
New York Jets
We’re down to ten candidates. If this were the Miss America pageant we’d be coming back from commercial to see the swimsuit competition.
The final ten contenders for Hard Knocks 2014 (which is probably already a Bleacher Report slide show)
New York Giants
San Diego Chargers
St. Louis Rams
So, in all likelihood, it will be one of these franchises…but which one? Let’s count them down…
10. Pittsburgh Steelers
9. New York Giants
Big time franchises with huge fan bases and recent successes. These would obviously be top of the list of Roger Goodell and crew. So why don’t I think there’s a chance in hell? Because you always hear about these owners involved in league matters. The Rooneys and the Maras. I don’t think there’s any way Goodell screws them over and sticks them with this coming off such crappy seasons. I feel like he’d see them too much and could stomach the thought of those awkward conversations
8. Buffalo Bills
These guys are playing some home games in Toronto. Not exactly a dynamic following.
7. San Diego Chargers
6. Oakland Raiders
5. Arizona Cardinals
I think all these teams would have interesting storylines to follow, and would make for pretty good shows. But look at HBO’s track record. There’s never been a team on Hard Knocks located farther West than Kansas City. I know NFL Films is involved in the production, and they’re based in New Jersey. While I’m not sure where HBO Sports is based, seems like Hard Knocks has a bias against the Pacific time zone. Sorry guys.
4. Tennessee Titans
Number four by process of elimination. I can’t say I know all that many Titans players, period. Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt might not even be on the team next year, which would rob the show of some glamour.
3. St. Louis Rams
I like the Rams for the show for a couple reasons. We’d get to see all their crappy running backs battle it out for the number one spot and the ire of fantasy owners everywhere. We’d also get the inevitable ‘Can Sam Bradford finally put it all together?’ storyline (to which the answer would be, ‘No’). Another sign in their favor, they have an extra first round pick this year from the Redskins. Hard Knocks loves following rookies.
2. Cleveland Browns
Don’t sleep on Cleveland. This would be a pretty good show. This a team that’s showing some life this year, a team that will inevitably have QB drama coming into next season, and a team with a couple extra high draft picks. Now, their front office is notoriously secretive in bizarre ways as Chuck Kosterman’s experience shows, so they might sooner take cyanide capsules instead, but I think they’re a very possible target.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
Come on, it’s almost too obvious! The Jaguars new owners are exactly the type of people who could be really interested in Hard Knocks. It’s not like the team has managed to bring in lots of interest on its own. Although they’re the worst team in the league, they just hired Gus Bradley as a new coach this season, so unless they fire him immediately, they can’t do that again. They also seem inclined to do modern things (witness their in-game efforts to cater to fantasy football players at the stadium). Can I name 10 guys on their team? Absolutely not. But would I love to see the Khan Krew for a few weeks? Sure, they look like fun, even if they never ended up signing Tim Tebow.