Each NFL preseason brings fans a new season of HBO’s Hard Knocks. The compelling docuseries takes a behind-the-scenes look at one franchise as it prepares for the upcoming season and makes some tough roster decisions to whittle the team down to 53 active roster players.
Few teams would actively volunteer to have HBO’s crew hanging around during those crucial preseason weeks, so the NFL has created eligibility guidelines outlining which teams can be chosen in a given year.
Since 2014, teams have been exempt from being the focus of that year’s Hard Knocks season if they have a first year head coach, have been a playoff team in the last two seasons or if they’ve appeared on Hard Knocks in the last decade.
That leaves four NFL franchises eligible to be featured on the 2023 season of HBO’s show. All four have the potential for fun seasons, but there is a clear winner at No. 1.
4. New Orleans Saints
The NFC South franchise appears set to truly enter the post-Drew Brees/Sean Payton era in 2023 after signing former Raiders star quarterback Derek Carr. Throw in other interesting NFL personalities like Michael Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu—a New Orleans native—and the fact that the pressure is on for second-year coach Dennis Allen, and there is some potential here. New Orleans makes for a great television backdrop as well, and Hard Knocks has never featured the Saints since debuting in 2001.
3. Washington Commanders
A team in constant flux, the Commanders are another franchise that has never been featured on the show. If Washington is chosen, there will likely be plenty of attention paid to new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who makes the move from the Chiefs, with whom he just won his second Super Bowl in the same role.
Even with the Chiefs’ historic success on offense, Bieniemy has not landed a head coaching opportunity to this point, and his move to the Commanders has been seen by many as an opportunity to get out from under the shadows of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, and prove his ability to develop a top offense. In Washington, he’ll have his work cut out for him, with second-year quarterback Sam Howell slated to start in 2023.
Throw in the possibility that the team is sold by embattled owner Dan Snyder by the time that training camp rolls around, and there is plenty of intrigue here.
2. Chicago Bears
The Bears have had an absolutely fascinating offseason so far. The team recently traded the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft to the Panthers, signaling their intention to continue to build around young quarterback Justin Fields. He’d likely be a major focus on a Chicago Hard Knocks season.
In that deal with Carolina, Chicago added a star wide receiver in DJ Moore. They’ve also been active in free agency, adding veterans like D’Onta Foreman, Travis Homer and Robert Tonyan to the offense, and DeMarcus Walker, Andrew Billings, T.J. Edwards and two-time Pro Bowler Tremaine Edmunds to the defense.
The Bears, one of the league’s most historic franchises, have not been featured in a season of Hard Knocks.
1. New York Jets
Of course, all other options pale in comparison to the Jets, with the offseason that they are currently having. The team was the focus of perhaps the most famous season of Hard Knocks, back in 2010 with coach Rex Ryan leading the way. HBO has to be salivating at the idea of heading back to Florham Park, N.J. and the Meadowlands with potential first-year New York quarterback Aaron Rodgers preparing with his new team. It is hard to imagine the prickly Rodgers giving much to the cameras unless the network brings in Pat McAfee as a guest director, but even having him floating on the periphery of the show would be a huge draw for a show that has notoriously had uneven seasons.
Rodgers aside, the team is coming off of a year that started with incredible potential before falling apart down the stretch. The potential Rodgers trade would make for an interesting dynamic with former No. 2 pick Zach Wilson still on the roster, and the team has some great young personalities like wide receiver Garrett Wilson and cornerback Sauce Gardner, the reigning NFL Rookies of the Year. With the Rodgers situation in flux, the Jets have been active elsewhere in free agency, adding one of his favorite Green Bay teammates in Allen Lazard and former Chiefs Super Bowl-winner Mecole Hardman at wide receiver. The team is even in discussions with Odell Beckham Jr., per reports.
The new season of HBO’s Hard Knocks is expected to debut in August.