Ranking the NFL's Hard Knocks Candidates (Including the Houston Texans!)

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There's a scene in the movie Apollo 13, while the astronauts are floating treacherously in outer space, where their command module is rapidly filling up with carbon dioxide and if they don't find a way to filter the noxious gas out of the command module, they will all die.

So the experts at Mission Control here in Houston are asked to come up with a filter device using all of the items that are in the command module, none of which, by the way, were ever meant to be part of a carbon dioxide filter device. Things like duct tape, spare clothing, powder food packets, urine bags, possibly some chicken wire and toothpaste -- these are the things the engineers at Mission Control had at their avail.

Miraculously, they were successful in their endeavor! They created a filter, and our heroes lived! Somehow, some way, they got it done.

Well, this past season, that was the producers of Hard Knocks. They were Mission Control in Apollo 13.

They were handed milquetoast Matt Ryan, bumbling Mike Smith, and a supporting cast whose most interesting stories included an aspiring seventh-round pick who looked like he sang in a hair band and Bryan Cox's cursing every fifth word, and they managed to concoct a fairly interesting Hard Knocks season in 2014 (which may or may not have reduced the amount of carbon dioxide in the room).

Somehow, some way, they got it done.

Soon, the NFL team that will be the subject of HBO's award-winning training camp series will be chosen or a team will volunteer, as the Falcons did in 2014. If a team needs to be chosen, it must be one that has never appeared before on the show, has not appeared in the playoffs the past two seasons and is not employing a first-year head coach.

Last season, the Texans were able to skirt selection for the show based on two of those three criteria. This season, depending on your point of view, they may get lucky. If you're a Texans fan, "luck" would be the team getting picked and Texans training camp being blanketed with NFL Films production teams.

If you're Bill O'Brien, "luck" would be avoiding that altogether. While the Texans head coach would likely become a star from this show, especially considering the last two head coaches on the show were Smith and Joe Philbin, O'Brien likely wants nothing to do with kowtowing to HBO during training camp. In this regard, my hunch is O'Brien is indeed Belichickian.

So who's eligible for selection by the league? Well, it's these teams, ranked in ascending order of watchability:

9. TENNESSEE TITANS Best-case storyline scenario: There is none. This is the most boring team in the NFL. If you're a fan and you have to buy a Titans jersey, who are you buying? Probably Zach Mettenberger, and he may not even be starting. HBO would be better off running a test signal with a farting noise as audio than running the Titans out there on Hard Knocks. This ain't happening.

8. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS Best-case storyline scenario: The team literally moves to London in the middle of the night three episodes into the season, and does the last two episodes from London, like when Laverne and Shirley up and moved from Milwaukee to Los Angeles for their last couple of seasons. Same exact thing.

7. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS Best-case storyline scenario: Pretty much anything that involves following Mike Evans to the club...

6. MINNESOTA VIKINGS Best-case storyline scenario: Adrian Peterson gets cut before the draft, picked up by nobody and spends the entire Vikings training camp brooding from the top of a scissor lift with his face painted like "The Crow" version of Sting.

5. ST. LOUIS RAMS Best-case storyline scenario: The most boring Hard Knocks ever is saved only by a weekly grooming tip segment with Jeff Fisher -- mullet, goatee, mustache, everything.

4. HOUSTON TEXANS Best-case storyline scenario: Rick Smith's tenure as general manager hangs in the balance and can only be saved if he wins a "trial by combat." Smith chooses Ed Reed as his champion, the people of Houston choose J.J. Watt. And scene.

3. NEW YORK GIANTS Best-case storyline scenario: The Giants' entire offensive line tie up noted Cowboys fan and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, take him out to the Meadowlands swamp and go mock execution on him like the Russian dude did to Christopher in Season One of The Sopranos...

2. CLEVELAND BROWNS Best-case storyline scenario: Joe Thomas and Mike Pettine tie up Johnny Manziel, take him out to the Meadowlands swamp and go mock execution on him like the Russian dude did to Christopher in Season One of The Sopranos... (worth embedding again) ....

1. WASHINGTON REDSKINS Best-case storyline scenario: Daniel Snyder is forced to change the name of his team from the Redskins to something else, changes the name to the Washington Snyders, and trades Robert Griffin III to the Mohegan Sun Casino flag football team as part of the deal.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.

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