The NFL offseason has been greatly altered by the coronavirus pandemic, and even as folks remain optimistic about the 2020 season starting on time, there is some uncertainty about if that will actually happen.
What could start the season like usual, however, is the NFL’s series Hard Knocks. Fans had been waiting on pins and needles to see which team ended up getting the call to make the game. A rotation of 5 teams was speculated to be in the mix, but instead according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the league went with a combination approach and will choose to feature the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers in the event there is training camp this season.
It’s the first time Hard Knocks has ever featured a pair of teams, and it’s interesting that the Rams and Chargers get the call. Neither were figured to be in the mix for the show previously, but both have now been selected and will be set to appear on the show if it happens.
Lions Weren’t Expected on Hard Knocks
A few months back, Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com took the liberty of ranking all the potential teams to be featured on the show, and naturally, he didn’t believe the Lions had much of a chance at all to get the call. Rosenthal placed the teams 1-5, and Detroit placed in the No. 5 spot in dead last.
Here’s what Rosenthal wrote about why the Lions might not have appealed to the television folks in the end:
“This is the second straight year the Lions are eligible. Hard Knocks producers went in a different direction in 2019, and we’re not seeing what has changed to sway opinions in 2020. Simply put, the Lions lack juice. This is a 3-12-1 team that will likely put its offseason focus on improving a dreadful defense. Barring the highly unlikely possibility of a Matthew Stafford trade, it’s hard to find an easy hook for this team. You’ll still get that Thanksgiving game, though, Lions fans.”
In 2020, the Arizona Cardinals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos, Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers are all eligible to be on the show. The Lions were a lone holdover from 2019, and there was some exciting new additions for the league to consider for this time around.
As Rosenthal wrote, he believed the order would be Steelers, Broncos, Cardinals, Jaguars, Lions. Naturally, he though the Steelers would get the call and given their history in the league, that projection made plenty of sense.
As it turns out, nobody saw what the NFL plans on doing coming, much less the pundits.
How NFL Teams Make Hard Knocks
Typically, the league will look at the teams with the best storylines for the cameras before making a choice, or will look to big market teams. Last season, the Oakland Raiders were the pick, and were featured given the emergence of Jon Gruden back into the NFL. In the recent past, squads like the Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rams have been shown.
The ground rules to be featured on the show typically go as follows: teams will avoid being considered for the show if they have a first-year head coach, if they have a playoff berth in the past two seasons and if they have appeared on Hard Knocks in the past 10 years. None of these particular squads make that distinction for this season, thus, their inclusion on the short list.
As for the selection process this season, a team like the Steelers could have been interesting for the league. They are one of the classic franchises, and while the big name players like Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown have left, they still have Ben Roethlisberger and a team looking to rebound to get back to the postseason next year.
Arizona and Denver had young quarterbacks, and Jacksonville will be looking to trying to rebound. As for Detroit, it could have been interesting to get a peek behind how the team is charting a course for 2020 after a disappointing 2019 season on the field.
Instead of all that, though, the league is banking on folks being interested by how a pair of teams are working together to share one city.