Hard Knocks on HBO has made compelling television ever since it debuted by following the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in 2001. It’s still going strong in 2019, profiling the Oakland Raiders this season.
While the show is as popular as ever, it’s a source of some controversy in league circles due to the notion that it can have a negative impact on the teams participating. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the last time the Hard Knocks team made the playoffs.
How the league chooses teams for ‘Hard Knocks’
The process for deciding which team appears on Hard Knocks is rather complicated for the simple reason that participating in the show is detrimental to a team’s preparation for the new season.
The NFL has found itself in the unenviable spot of continuing to promote this popular program when virtually none of its teams want to be a part of it. They created a process to essentially strong-arm teams into appearing. The Sporting News summarized how they do it:
“Technically, any team can say yes to be on the show, but the possibility of that happening is roughly zero percent. Coaches have complained about the presence of “Hard Knocks” at their facilities in the past, and it really doesn’t provide a benefit to the franchise. So in 2013, the NFL gave itself the power to force a team to participate in the show, with a set of rules. Those rules are: A team can’t be selected if it was in the playoffs either of the last two seasons, if it has a first-year head coach or if it has been on the program at any point in the last 10 years.”
It makes sense why a head coach wouldn’t want an additional distraction on hand for training camp. They think it creates a so-called “Hard Knocks Effect.” But does an appearance on the show end up having an adverse effect on the teams who take part in it?
How have teams on ‘Hard Knocks’ have fared
Last season Sports Illustrated evaluated how the Hard Knocks teams have performed immediately following their spot on the show. Here’s what they found about the teams who were involved (the study was performed prior to the Browns 2018 season, so the numbers have been updated to reflect that):
- Five of 13 ended up with better records than the previous year.
- Six of 13 ended up with worse records than the previous year.
- Two had the same record.
- Five of 13 teams have made the playoffs, with the caveat that four of the five teams had achieved winning records in the preceding season.
It seems as though the negative effects of Hard Knocks are more about perception than reality, as it’s split down the middle whether it has a major impact.
But the ultimate measuring stick for success in the NFL (short of a Super Bowl championship) is the ability to qualify for the playoffs. When’s the last time a Hard Knocks team was able to do that?
What was the last time the teams from the show made the playoffs?
The last team appearing on Hard Knocks to make the playoffs was the Houston Texans in 2015. That year, under head coach Bill O’Brien, the Texans finished 9-7 while winning the AFC South. They would lose to the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild card round.
Now that the Raiders have done their time on Hard Knocks, HBO will feature one of these four teams next season (unless one of them makes the playoffs or fires their head coach): the Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins, or New York Giants.
It remains to be seen whether any of those teams – or this year’s Hard Knocks team, the Oakland Raiders – will make the playoffs. But history says it’s essentially 50/50.