Sean Pendergast

Ranking the Eight Teams That Cannot Say "No" to Hard Knocks

Eight teams are at the forefront of the "Hard Knocks" list for 2017.
Eight teams are at the forefront of the "Hard Knocks" list for 2017. Michael Starghill
I don't know if my opinion represents the majority, but I'm a big enough fan of the award-winning HBO series Hard Knocks that it falls into the same category as pizza or free beer or sex (yeah, I said it!), where even a subpar season of Hard Knocks is still not bad.

Along those lines, that seems to be the consensus on last season's five episodes of the NFL training camp staple, which centered around the relocated (and "returned to home," some would say) Los Angeles Rams. There's probably no single reason why the season fell flat for some, but at least here in Houston, there was a definite hangover effect from actually having the show cover OUR team back in 2015.

For the rest of the nation, I would imagine that it was a combination of Jeff Fisher being far more boring than Bill O'Brien, the Goff-Keenum QB battle being far more boring than the Hoyer-Mallett QB battle, and the lack of any real star power on the Rams roster all contributing to the malaise that settled in over the season. About the only thing the Rams season had that the Texans campaign did not was a player getting cut for violating the "girls in your room" rule, mainly because the Texans didn't stay in dorms (otherwise, Ryan Mallett, for sure, would have violated this rule...and then slept in the next day.)

So now we sit wondering, until May, who the next team will be to have its every training camp move documented by a camera crew, and picked apart by radio hosts the next day. Remember, there are certain criteria that teams must meet in order to avoid being forced onto Hard Knocks — teams are exempt from appearing if they just hired a new head coach, made the playoffs in either of the previous two seasons or appeared on Hard Knocks in the last ten years.

That leaves us eight possibilities, listed below. The pre-draft rankings, for me, go as follows:

8. Baltimore Ravens
Given the fact that they are, over the past decade, one of the better-run and more successful teams in the league, along with their quarterback being, quite possibly, the most boring franchise QB in NFL history (yeah, you, Joe Flacco!), a Ravens HK season would be death.

7. Chicago Bears
This ranking assumes a trade or release of Jay Cutler. If Cutler is still on the Bears after free agency and the NFL Draft, then they shoot into the top three, maybe to No. 1.

6. Tennessee Titans
5. Indianapolis Colts
Lumping these two together because they are virtually tied in terms of personality and general intrigue (tied with a rating of barely above zero), but at least for a Texans fan, this would give us a window into one of the two division foes most likely to surpass the Texans if they start next season without Tony Romo or Jimmy Garoppolo as their starting quarterback.

4. Philadelphia Eagles
Plunking them down here just because it will make me hungry for cheesesteaks each week...I love me some cheesesteaks!

3. Cleveland Browns
Stay with me on this question for a second — which type of 30 for 30's on ESPN do you prefer? The ones about championship teams in which we learn of their climb to the ultimate mountaintop, or the ones about abject failure (think "This Was The XFL" for a recent reference)? I'm a failure guy. I'm far more interested in why things fail than why they succeed (way more lessons to be learned in failure, in my opinion)...and for the love of all that is sacred, no team has experienced more failure than the Cleveland Browns. I would love this.

2. New Orleans Saints
Watching a salty Sean Payton try to cooperate with a league-approved camera crew chronicling his team's every move would be fantastic theater. Also, we would get Saints fans, which is like getting a poor man's version of an extra season of Swamp People.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I wasn't sure where to slot the Bucs, and then I saw this story come down on Thursday morning about Jameis Winston speaking to a bunch of elementary school kids earlier this week:

While speaking to third- through fifth-graders at Melrose Elementary in St. Petersburg, Florida, Winston called on the male students to stand up while directing the female students to stay seated.

"All my young boys, stand up. The ladies, sit down," Winston said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "But all my boys, stand up. We strong, right? We strong! We strong, right? All my boys, tell me one time: I can do anything I put my mind to. Now, a lot of boys aren't supposed to be soft-spoken. You know what I'm saying? One day y'all are going to have a very deep voice like this [in deep voice]. One day, you'll have a very, very deep voice.

"But the ladies, they're supposed to be silent, polite, gentle. My men, my men [are] supposed to be strong. I want y'all to tell me what the third rule of life is: I can do anything I put my mind to."

Winston later tried to clarify that he was trying to motivate a particular student without singling him out.

"I was making an effort to interact with a young male in the audience who didn't seem to be paying attention, and I didn't want to single him out, so I asked all the boys to stand up," Winston said, according to the newspaper. "During my talk, I used a poor word choice that may have overshadowed that positive message for some."
Jameis Winston is a decent bet to do at least one polarizing, controversial thing over the course of a training camp. Let's do this, Tampa Bay!

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast