Last year - I went through an exercise of predicting which NFL team would be HBO's participant for the upcoming season of Hard Knocks.
And then the Atlanta Falcons blew it all up by volunteering for the job.
So, proving that I don't learn lessons well - I'm going back to the well to go on record before its officially decided.
The NFL must like Hard Knocks, but NFL coaches and management staff do NOT like Hard Knocks. Whether it's about revealing trade secrets or just trying to avoid looking like a doofus, teams don't exactly line up to go under a microscope (Atlanta being a recent exception).
But the NFL can compel teams to participate, except for a few conditions which if they apply, allows a team to remove themselves from consideration:
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
ProFootballTalk identified the teams that do not meet any of these criteria: the Browns, Texans, Titans, Jaguars, Washington, Giants, Vikings, Buccaneers, and Rams.
Recently rumors swirled that the Browns were the front-runners, but today they've made it known that they do not want the 'honor'
Of course, the NFL can force them to participate, but let's assume for a minute that the NFL doesn't want to force the show on Cleveland (too bad, it would be interesting). Among the eight remaining teams, who would be most likely?
8. Washington - With all the issues around their team name, their ownership, and their QB-coach potential feud - I'm going to go ahead and assume the NFL doesn't want these guys front and center
7. Minnesota Vikings - Adrian Peterson child abuse/suspension means these guys are also EXTREMELY unlikely. Although the team is actually pretty interesting and has some compelling talent, I don't think you get past the elephant in the room
6. NY Giants - I suspect Tom Coughlin would rather slit his wrists, and the Mara family is pretty tight with the commissioner, so I doubt it.
5. St. Louis Rams - The owner seems to want to get the hell out of St. Louis, creating a lot of drama and uncertainty over the team's future. I don't know if that's the type of thing that would make their participation less likely (why would the NFL provoke them) or more likely (as a 'punishment' for maverick behavior). I'm assuming the NFL would avoid it altogether and just not enlist the Rams.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Tennessee Titans: I think these guys are tied. They have the top 2 picks in this years' draft, which makes for a pre-made storyline. But both teams haven't been competitive in a while, and I think that hurts them here. They aren't really major forces in the NFL's public consciousness. And when's the last time a team with such a bad record was on Hard Knocks?
2. Jacksonville Jaguars - What was that I said about not being a part of the NFL's public consciousness? Jacksonville is pretty much as minimal an impact as you can get. But I still think they're an intriguing option because I think their ownership might actually be interested. The NFL's foremost ambassador to London is obviously willing to do favors for the league (or take money to do it, whatever). They have to be considered a strong contender.
1. Houston Texans - These guys would be pretty close to perfect across all the candidates we have to choose from. Start with the most obvious - JJ Watt. Not only is he a huge star - but he's also actually got a personality and seems genuinely funny. He doesn't need any more publicity, but the show would be his star vehicle and lay the groundwork for his eventual transition to studio show personality. He'd be amazing to watch. You also have a good injury redemption storyline in Clowney, a coach in Bill O'Brien who's very comfortable in a media swirl (see Penn State), and other interesting personalities like Arian Foster.
Of all the teams to choose from, the Texans would be my pick - and in my estimation, they should be considered front-runners until evidence suggests otherwise.