Last season, shortly after it was revealed that the Houston Texans would be the subject of HBO's award-winning five-episode annual Hard Knocks series, the New Orleans Saints quickly canceled a scheduled week of inter-squad workouts with the Texans to precede a game during Week 3 of the preseason. The conventional wisdom (not ever confirmed publicly by the Saints) was that head coach Sean Payton would rather not have the intrusive voyeurism of the NFL Films cameras around his team, even if it was for just a few days.
Well, it would appear that, thanks in part to the Saints' general failure to field a winner the past few seasons, Payton might have to put up with the cameras and the HBO series for far more than just a few days. Per Pro Football Talk, the Saints appear to have emerged as the frontrunner to serve as subject of Hard Knocks among the seven teams that could be forced by the NFL:
Per a league source, the Saints are bracing for the possibility of the league tapping them on the shoulder and directing them to be the subject of the annual Hard Knocks series.
The Saints are one of seven teams that can be forced to do it, under criteria the league developed several years ago. Only teams that: (1) have a new coach; (2) have been to the postseason in either of the last two years; or (3) have served as the Hard Knocks subject within the last 10 years can say no. This year, the teams that can’t decline are the Saints, Bills, Bears, Jaguars, Raiders, Chargers, and Rams.
The thinking regarding last year's chess move by Payton to cancel the workouts with the Texans was that it was a passive-aggressive response to the league's ham-handed punishments of Saints players, coaches and management after the Bounty-gate scandal a few years ago, which included a one-season suspension for Payton himself.
Of the seven teams available to the league under the "you must do Hard Knocks if we say so" rules, here is how I would rank them in ascending order of preference, with each team's most compelling storyline:
7. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Fourth-year head coach Gus Bradley is trying to save his job with a run to the playoffs on the arm of Blake Bortles, the legs of Allen Robinson and the mustache of Shahid Khan, who may or may not be moving the team to London at some point in the future.
6. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
The Chargers, who could be leaving a city that loves them so they can be second fiddle in Los Angeles, are basically a lame-duck zombie team, making this the Hard Knocks answer to The Walking Dead.
5. CHICAGO BEARS
There's always the even money proposition that one of Jay Cutler's teammates will kill him with his bare hands. Other than that, not much. One bonus – former Texan TE Khari Lee is a Bear, which means we may get a kick-ass impression of John Fox...
4. OAKLAND RAIDERS
The Raiders are the closest thing the NFL has to a homeless team. At least the Chargers have Los Angeles to land in if they don't get a stadium deal in San Diego. The Raiders have a flimsy extension at their hellhole stadium in Oakland.
3. LOS ANGELES RAMS
Misfit Midwest franchise moves to Hollywood...like the last couple of seasons of Laverne & Shirley.
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2. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
The last stand of the Sean Payton and Drew Brees combo, not to mention the likelihood that we get at least one (maybe more) drunken French Quarter escapade from some unwitting rookie.
1. BUFFALO BILLS
Rex Ryan with carte blanche, Shady McCoy ordering bottle service, Buffalo Bills fans tailgating...lock for the top spot.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.