A few months ago, I wrote an article detailing the success (or lack thereof) of teams after hosting HBO’s annual documentary miniseries, Hard Knocks, and I thought I made my point very clear. I provided year-by-year analysis of each team and explained how small of an impact the show actually made on the season as a whole, and I thought I did so eloquently. However, people still insist that Hard Knocks is some kind of season-killer, so here we are again.
Hard Knocks Isn’t a Bad Distraction
Firstly, I will acknowledge that the filming of the show is a small distraction. How couldn’t it be? There are more cameras than usual, and the happenings of training camp are national news. Last year, we saw Dez Bryant flirt with the team for weeks, and had an inside look at the quarterback drama between veteran Tyrod Taylor and first round pick, Baker Mayfield. You don’t usually get that insight unless you’re at the training camp itself, and a point could be made that the less anyone knows about your team coming out of training camp, the better.
However, both of these issues are largely overblown by people who just like to complain about things. Yeah, there are cameras everywhere, and several coaches and players are mic’d up. But do you want to know something interesting? That’s true for the other 31 NFL teams as well. The NFL still has cameras at every training camp, and several coaches and players are still mic’d up. Look at this.
Did you see the likes of Bill Belichick and Sean Payton on there? Because they were. The presence of a film crew is inevitable and something that teams deal with regardless every single season. These players and coaches are grown men at work, playing a children’s game. If they can’t focus on simple football actions because someone has a camera nearby, they’ve got bigger problems.
The Positive Impact
Would anyone have known who Brogan Roback was if he wasn’t a character on Hard Knocks last season? What about the quarterback’s RV? Unlikely, unless you were there in person. Hard Knocks doesn’t show you playbooks or team secrets, but it does give you a glimpse behind the curtain at who these numbers and helmets are when they’re not on the field.
This creates an opportunity for lesser known players to branch out and become a household name, even if their football careers don’t pan out. Not to mention, let’s say you end up being the 54th man on your roster and don’t make the cut, by being featured on Hard Knocks, you’re just that much more likely to be picked up by another team, who may or may not have been watching along at home.
Not to mention, when Hard Knocks is airing, every other team in the NFL is at training camp as well. If they’re taking time away from their extremely busy schedules to search for baby clues on Hard Knocks, then who is really being distracted?
Speaking of which, what secrets are actually being exposed on Hard Knocks? They’re not airing strategies or playcalls. They might show analysis of preseason film, but that same film is available to every other team, as well as fans who have DVR or fast enough internet. And yeah, maybe a player they’d hope to sneak onto the practice squad gets gobbled up by another team, but frankly that’s the risk you take when you don’t sign someone to the final 53.
The Harsh Truth
The harsh truth is that if your team is on hard knocks, they’re not very good. One of the three requirements dictates that you’ve missed the playoffs for at least two consecutive seasons, and say what you will, but good teams don’t miss the post-season in back to back years. If your team didn’t make the cut for two straight years before being featured on the show, you can’t really blame them for your struggles.
Especially when you consider that in six of the 13 seasons, the team actually had a better record the year after being on the show. If you tally up the combined records from the year before (97-110-1) and the year after (100-107-1), there’s a total three game increase in wins, but still a losing record.
If your team lacks talent or is poorly coached, HBO shining a light on scrimmages won’t change that. I bet that if the rules were different and the New England Patriots were on Hard Knocks, they’d still run away with the AFC East. The bright lights of HBO shouldn’t cause a meaningful distraction to a team that’s well coached, and if the team isn’t well coached, then they probably weren’t going to win many games anyway.
As a Raiders fan that has some optimism about this season, I can tell you that I’m thrilled for the show. I’m probably going to do a review of each episode on here. However I also don’t think we’re going to make the playoffs this year. I still think this team has real issues and if we’re terrible, it won’t be because of HBO. It’ll be because of some combination of Jon Gruden, a questionable offensive line, a bad defense, or some other on the field disaster.