Seven things to watch on this season's 'Hard Knocks'


The speculation is over. The Atlanta Falcons will be the team featured in this year's season of Hard Knocks, the NFL Films-produced show that appears (somewhat) annually on HBO.

Our reaction to the return of the show, in a nutshell:

It's an intriguing choice for a number of reasons. The Falcons generally fly under the radar despite being one of the best teams in the NFL since Matt Ryan, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith arrived in 2008. But they were one of last season's biggest disappointments.

Let's count a few reasons we're already looking forward to one of the best shows on television:

1. A franchise trying to rebound: The Falcons are a lot more interesting than they were a season ago. After reaching the doorstep of the Super Bowl after the 2012 season, the Falcons were among the league's worst (and unluckiest) last year. The bad luck has followed them into 2014 with the loss of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.

No one expects a shakeup in Atlanta anytime soon, but this is an organization that grew used to winning records under Dimitroff. There is a lot of pressure on them to rebound big this year or changes could come. Pressure makes for better television.

2. Roddy White: He's consistently one of the most overlooked and entertaining voices in the league. This is his time in the spotlight.

3. Bryan Cox and Mike Tice: The Falcons just so happen to have two of the most entertaining assistant coaches in the league. We haven't had nearly enough Tice in our lives since he was the head coach in Minnesota. Cox is full of fire on and off the field.

"I only lost two fights out of about 60, 70," Cox said of his days growing up in East St. Louis this week. "If I thought I was fighting, I was getting the first lick. Just know that."

4. Atlanta nightlife: Training camp is not the time for partying, but let's just say we hope the NFL Films cameras track the players on some nights out on the town at some point.

5. Thomas Dimitroff, breaking the mold: He cuts a different figure than most general managers. Dimitroff doesn't eat meat, is an extreme sports enthusiast and rides a motorcycle. He thinks about the NFL from a different angle and has a hard time saying anything uninteresting. His relationship with his former boss, Scott Pioli, should also be interesting to watch. Dimitroff brought Pioli back into the league this offseason, and documented his first ride to work. Appearing on Hard Knocks is a long distance from "The Patriot Way."

6. Reality shows colliding: One of the great things about Hard Knocks is that it's not like other reality shows. The drama is real. The stories are not manufactured. This season, we'll get a little clash with the other kind of reality show. Sources familiar with the situation tell Around the League that Falcons defensive line Kroy Biermann is a part of the "Real Housewives of Atlanta" and he's not camera shy. (That source: Dan Hanzus' wife, Emily.)

7. Steven Jackson: Like Roddy White, he's a veteran that deserves some time in the spotlight. He came to Atlanta to chase a ring, and landed at the bottom of the standings again. It will be fun to follow Jackson as he tries to fend off challengers to his running back throne.

In the latest edition of the "Around The League Podcast," the heroes debate the Super Bowl windows of Brady and Manning.