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‘Hard Knocks’: Evaluating each eligible option for HBO’s 2020 season

Steelers Cardinals Football

Every year, one NFL team takes over HBO’s programming for a season of “Hard Knocks,” giving fans a behind-the-scenes glimpse at an entire training camp before the start of the regular season.

As a result, fans have been treated to some high-quality content over the last few years, whether it’s Jon Gruden’s antics and Antonio Brown’s controversial summer playing for the Raiders, or Baker Mayfield’s first camp as a rookie and John Dorsey’s decision-making for the Browns.

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Some fans love to see what goes on behind the usually-closed doors of their squad’s front office, and others would rather the HBO crews stay far away from their hometown team to avoid any rifts or drama. Either way, many fans can’t wait for the time to come when the league announces who’s next when it comes to “Hard Knocks.”

But, there are certain rules that go into the decision-making process when it comes to picking the upcoming season’s featured team. The criteria has three simple prerequisites:

  • No teams who were in the playoffs in the last two seasons
  • No teams with a first-year head coach
  • No teams which have been featured on “Hard Knocks” in the last 10 years

With all that in mind, there are five candidates for HBO’s 2020 season, with a few interesting choices who don’t usually fit the bill for the show’s requirements.

Now, depending on how the next few months play out as it relates to the COVID-19 outbreak, the 2020 season of “Hard Knocks” could be delayed or canceled.

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But, in case the show goes on as planned, here are the five candidates, counting down to the most ideal choice for this year.

Saints Jaguars Football

5. Jacksonville Jaguars

Somehow, a team with Gardner Minshew as the likely starting quarterback for the 2020 season winds up in the fifth, least-interesting spot on this list of “Hard Knocks” candidates.

That’s because of the Jaguars’ complete unloading of talent that’s occurred over the start of the 2020 NFL Free Agency period. They shipped off star defensive tackle Calais Campbell to the Ravens for a fifth-round pick, sent star cornerback A.J. Bouye to the Broncos for a fourth-round pick, and even traded quarterback Nick Foles to the Bears.

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While Minshew would undoubtedly captivate HBO audiences throughout the month of August, there doesn’t seem to be enough elsewhere for them to work with.

Outside of the potential for young stars that could be picked with the ninth overall and 20th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, it doesn’t seem like the Jaguars are the most appealing option for the league to showcase ahead of a highly-anticipated 2020 season.

Chargers Lions Football

4. Detroit Lions

Just one of a few teams looking to follow the Patriots’ blueprint en route to success, the Lions provide a solid option for the league to consider for “Hard Knocks” in 2020.

Sure, the Lions don’t have the best reputation when it comes to successful seasons, with just three playoff appearances in the 21st century, and all three ending in the Wild Card round. But, with head coach Matt Patricia at the helm, the franchise is looking to bounce back in a big way as they head into 2020.

The NFC North is anyone’s division any year, as the Bears proved just two years ago when they took home the title during Mitchell Trubisky’s second year in the league. With that in mind, the Lions could easily make a surge in the start of the new decade if Matthew Stafford can stay healthy.

Patricia is a good interview when he wants to talk, as is evident by the “Do Your Job” documentaries that he was featured in during his tenure with the Patriots, and the Lions have a big choice to make with the third pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

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Add all of that in with Stafford’s presence, the offseason drama that came with Darius Slay’s departure and the stocking up that the team is doing defensively, and the Lions could be a fun option to feature on “Hard Knocks.”

Raiders Broncos Football

3. Denver Broncos

The Broncos aren’t the same beast that dominated the AFC in the first half of the last decade. After two Super Bowl appearances in the 2013 and 2015 seasons and one Lombardi Trophy, they fell back down to earth, resulting in their candidacy for the 2020 season of “Hard Knocks.”

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But, Denver does have some intriguing potential as it relates to the upcoming training camp, considering second-year quarterback Drew Lock’s personality and rapping could provide enough entertainment for a five-week feature on its own.

Fresh faces in running back Melvin Gordon and cornerback A.J. Bouye make things even better on both sides of the ball, and the Broncos’ division as a whole is one of the most wide-ranging in the league. With the AFC West housing the Broncos, the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs, the rebuilding Chargers and the newly-named Las Vegas Raiders, the division will be a hot topic for numerous reasons this summer.

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So, if you want something for football fans to “Put On” this summer, the Broncos on “Hard Knocks” may be the answer.

Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

Arguably the most shocking option of the bunch, the Steelers may have to be the league’s pick based on availability alone.

It’s not often that a franchise with such a historic resume finds itself eligible to appear on “Hard Knocks,” but that’s exactly what’s happened with the Steelers over the last two years.

The departures of running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown had a huge impact on the team’s offense, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending injury in 2019 put a dent in the team’s playoff hopes early on in the year. As a result, they missed the playoffs over the last two seasons, checking off step one of the “Hard Knocks” criteria.

Head coach Mike Tomlin’s been around for more than a decade at this point, helping the team check off the second part, and for the third part, they’ve never been featured on the show before, given their consistent success with Roethlisberger under center.

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The Steelers’ 2020 roster will have plenty of personality, factoring in the presence of the grizzled veteran in Roethlisberger, the tough head coach in Tomlin, and young guns like wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and linebackers Devin Bush and T.J. Watt. Oh, and there are stars in the secondary like Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick to add to the equation.

With all of that talent and the unique opportunity to even be featured, it makes a ton of sense for HBO and NFL Films to head to Pittsburgh this summer.

Cardinals 49ers Football

1. Arizona Cardinals

The perfect pick for the 2020 season of “Hard Knocks” has to be the Cardinals, right?

It’s the first chance to feature the first pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Kyler Murray, and his second-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who many fans see as one of the most promising head coaching prospects in the NFL.

During Murray’s rookie campaign, the Cardinals went 5-10-1, improving on the 3-13 finish from the prior year. Then, they managed to get better offensively by adding star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins via a trade with the Texans at the start of the 2020 NFL Free Agency period.

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The team spans generations at this point. Future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald represents the past, while perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidates in their prime in linebacker Chandler Jones and cornerback Patrick Peterson represent the present. Then, players like Murray and the massive amount of second and third-year players looking to make names for themselves help to finish out a roster that’s hoping to take over the NFC West in 2020.

They play in arguably the deepest division in the NFL, and the “Hard Knocks” crew won’t want to miss the chance to chronicle a team like the Cardinals on the off chance they go on a run in 2020 and take one of the top two spots in the loaded NFC West.

Who do you want to see on “Hard Knocks” in 2020? Let us know by following @SOTSports on Twitter or by liking our Facebook page!

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