It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since we first saw HBO cameras following around a group of NFL players and coaches in training camp for Hard Knocks, the latest edition of which chronicles the Dallas Cowboys as they prepare for the 2021 NFL season. Jerry Jones certainly has to be hoping this season goes better than the last two in which the Cowboys were featured on the show as Dallas missed the playoffs both times.
In fact, of the 16 teams that have been the subject of Hard Knocks since it premiered (the show didn’t air for a few years and didn’t feature a team in 2011), only six have made the postseason. Of those six, just three won a playoff game, and of those three, only one made it as far as the conference championship game, which obviously means no team that’s appeared on the show has ever reached the Super Bowl.
Here’s how every team that’s been featured on Hard Knocks over the years has fared in the season in which they appeared on the show.
2001: Baltimore Ravens (10-6, lost in divisional round)
The first season of Hard Knocks is still the only season to feature a defending Super Bowl champion as the focus was on the Baltimore Ravens. A few of the notable storylines from the show included the season-ending knee injury to second-year running back Jamal Lewis, the final seasons in Baltimore for future Hall of Famers Shannon Sharpe and Rod Woodson, and the quarterback competition between Elvis Grbac and Randall Cunningham. The Ravens finished 10-6 that season to earn the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs and were eliminated by the top-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round.
2002: Dallas Cowboys (5-11, missed playoffs)
The Dallas Cowboys were the subject of Hard Knocks in 2002, which was the final season for Emmitt Smith in a Cowboys uniform. Quarterback Quincy Carter was also heavily featured during the show, as was head coach Dave Campo, who was fired following the season after Dallas finished with a 5-11 record and missed the playoffs for a third consecutive year.
2007: Kansas City Chiefs (4-12, missed playoffs)
Following a four-season hiatus, Hard Knocks returned in 2007 and featured the Kansas City Chiefs. The show focused on the quarterback competition between Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle, the contract holdout of star running back Larry Johnson, and Priest Holmes’ attempt to return to the NFL after missing the entire ’06 campaign with a neck injury. The Chiefs finished with a 4-12 record and missed the postseason.
2008: Dallas Cowboys (9-7, missed playoffs)
The 2008 edition of Hard Knocks featured the Dallas Cowboys for a second time and put a lot of focus on the reinstatement of Adam “Pacman” Jones. Rookies Felix Jones and Martellus Bennett received some decent airtime, as did undrafted wideout Danny Amendola, who was ultimately cut by the Cowboys and spent the season on the practice squad. Amendola, of course, later won two Super Bowls alongside Tom Brady with the New England Patriots. Dallas finished 9-7 that year and once again missed the postseason.
2009: Cincinnati Bengals (10-6, lost in wild-card round)
The 2009 edition of Hard Knocks featured the Cincinnati Bengals, who were coming off a 4-11-1 season and hadn’t made the playoffs since 2005. The show focused on quarterback Carson Palmer and his recovery efforts after an injury-plagued ’08 campaign and naturally featured plenty of Chad Johnson moments throughout camp. The Bengals became the second subject of the show to make the postseason, finishing 10-6 to win the AFC North before being eliminated in the wild-card round by the New York Jets.
2010: New York Jets (11-5, lost AFC Championship Game)
And speaking of those New York Jets, they were the subject of the 2010 edition of Hard Knocks. As it usually goes with the J-E-T-S, they were plenty of storylines to cover, and HBO focused on the development of second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez, the contract holdout of cornerback Darrelle Revis, and the always-entertaining coaching style of Rex Ryan. The Jets finished 11-5 for the year, snuck in as the sixth seed in the AFC, and made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game. They’re still the only team ever featured on the show to reach a conference title game.
2012: Miami Dolphins (7-9, missed playoffs)
As no team would commit in 2011 due to the uncertainty of the labor situation, the Miami Dolphins were the next team to appear on Hard Knocks in 2012. The show followed the contract negotiation of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the ensuing QB competition between him, Matt Moore, and David Garrard, a competition ultimately won by Tannehill. The Dolphins went 7-9 that season and missed out on the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
2013: Cincinnati Bengals (11-5, lost in wild-card round)
In 2013, the Cincinnati Bengals became the second team to be featured twice on Hard Knocks and once again made the postseason. The Bengals again won the AFC North, this time with an 11-5 mark, their best record since 2005, but again lost in the wild-card round, this time to the San Diego Chargers.
2014: Atlanta Falcons (6-10, missed playoffs)
The Atlanta Falcons were the subject of Hard Knocks for the 2014 season, and the main focus was how the team wanted to bounce back from a disappointing season. The Falcons made it to the NFC Championship Game following the 2012 campaign but then followed it up with a 4-12 record in 2013. And 2014 wasn’t much better as Atlanta went 6-10 and missed the playoffs.
2015: Houston Texans (9-7, lost in wild-card round)
The Houston Texans had plenty of storylines to cover heading into the 2015 season of Hard Knocks. There was Jadaveon Clowney returning from a knee injury that limited him to four games as a rookie. There was the quarterback competition between Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. We saw reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt trying to get even better. Overall, the Texans didn’t get better from the season before, as they posted the same 9-7 record they had in 2014. But that mark was good enough to get them into the postseason in 2015 as they were the only team in the AFC South with a winning record. However, they were blanked in the wild-card round by the Kansas City Chiefs, 30-0.
2016: Los Angeles Rams (4-12, missed playoffs)
The Los Angeles Rams were featured in the 2016 edition of Hard Knocks, with the main focus obviously being the franchise’s return to LA after playing the previous 21 seasons in St. Louis. The quarterback position also received a lot of focus as head coach Jeff Fisher granted Nick Foles his release over the telephone. Foles had made the request when it became clear that No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff would be named the backup to Case Keenum. The Rams finished 4-12 and missed the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season.
2017: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11, missed playoffs)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the subject of the 2017 season of Hard Knocks and certainly weren’t as interesting as they became a few years later. After just missing out on the postseason in 2016 with a 9-7 record, the Bucs regressed in 2017 and finished 5-11 to miss the playoffs for a 10th consecutive year.
2018: Cleveland Browns (7-8-1, missed playoffs)
The 2018 season of Hard Knocks featured the Cleveland Browns, and plenty of focus was put on No. 1 overall draft pick Baker Mayfield as he attempted to adjust to life in the NFL. Another big story was that of Josh Gordon, who played only one game for Cleveland that season before being traded to the New England Patriots. The Browns had finished 0-16 the year before and vastly improved to 7-8-1 but still missed out on the playoffs for the 16th consecutive season.
2019: Oakland Raiders (7-9, missed playoffs)
The 2019 season of Hard Knocks focused on the Oakland Raiders’ final season in the Bay Area before moving to Las Vegas. As always, Jon Gruden was entertaining and while the Raiders improved three games from the 2018 season, they finished with a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs for the third straight season and the 16th time in 17 years.
2020: Los Angeles Chargers (7-9, missed playoffs), Los Angeles Rams (10-6, lost in divisional round)
The 2020 edition of Hard Knocks was the first to feature two teams as the focus was put on the Rams and Chargers as they prepared for their inaugural seasons at SoFi Stadium. This season also gave viewers some insight into what training camps were like as the league dealt with COVID-19. The Rams finished 10-6 to earn the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs and were knocked out in the divisional round by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers while the Chargers missed the postseason for the second consecutive year.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference