In the NFL, there are several ways to improve during the offseason.
Teams can get better by signing stud free agents. They can grab young playmakers in the NFL Draft. Or they can just agree to appear on Hard Knocks, HBO’s all-access look inside an NFL training camp that, more often than not, leads to an improved season.
Despite some coaches aggressively avoiding putting their team in the off season spotlight, each of the last five teams featured on the show increased its wins in the regular season immediately following their appearance. Whether that’s due to pressure from the watchful eyes or America, or the fact that HBO just knows how to pick an ascending team, the Houston Texans, soon to be featured before the 2015 season, could propel a 9-7 team featuring the league’s most explosive defensive player onto the playoff stage.
“We’re thrilled to partner with HBO and NFL Films to give fans unprecedented access to our team and organization,” Texans founder Robert C. McNair said, adding that they do “a tremendous job of displaying how an NFL team prepares for the upcoming season.”
Since its debuted in 2001, the show sticks to a basic formula that follows the team’s most compelling characters, from the star QB to the first round selection. The storylines are typically the same: rookies trying to make the team, veterans trying to hold on to their jobs, stressed-out coaches, millionaire NFL players allowing you inside their homes, and the dreaded “bring your playbook” montage that means a few players’ dreams just died.
Here’s a look back at how other Hard Knocks teams fared following the series.
2001: The Baltimore Ravens were coming off a Super Bowl win, and they proved to be as good on film as they were on the field. With a solid cast of veterans like Shannon Sharpe, Ray Lewis, and Tony Siragusa, this is the season that solidified the HBO franchise. They had us at the rookie talent show.
2002: The Dallas Cowboys first Hard Knocks appearance produced the same 5-11, playoff-less season they had a year before participating. But Emmitt Smith did break Walter Payton’s all-time career yardage record that season. That’s worth something.
2007: Bernard Pollard’s dancing in the locker room was probably the most memorable part of Kansas City’s season. The Chiefs declined following their appearance and went from a nine-win playoff team to a 4-12 disappointment. The combination of Brock Huard and Brodie Croyle at QB will do that.
2008: The Dallas Cowboys returned to the show with even more star power. Terrell Owens ran shirtless on the beach and made Pacman Jones look silly in practice, but the Cowboys slipped to 9-7 after their cameo and missed the playoffs for the first time in three years.
2009: Despite having to endure a month of Chad Ochocinco playing to the camera and introducing the world to the phrase “child please,” the Cincinnati Bengals went on to win the division and improved 10-6 after their first Hard Knocks appearance.
2010: The reigning heavyweight champions of the series, the New York Jets used their appearance as a launching pad that ended with them in the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year. Before posting an 11-5 record, the Jets and coach Rex Ryan offered a weekly highlight reel of memorable moments, including the King Ugly competition, “let’s go to eat a goddamn snack,” and Antonio Cromartie digging deep to name his many children.
2012: The most powerful moment of the Miami Dolphins season was when Ochocinco was released after he was arrested for headbutting his wife. The Dolphins improved to 7-9 after their appearance, but still missed the playoffs
2013: After appearing for the second time on the series, the Bengals improved to post an 11-5 record and lost in the first round of the playoffs. It was the third of four straight one-and-done playoff appearances under head coach Marvin Lewis.
2014: The Atlanta Falcons improved to 6-10 last season after a forgettable Hard Knocks appearance in which they came off as unlikeable and uninteresting and fought a lot in practice. The six wins was actually an improvement from the four they posted in 2013.