The regular season is over, the playoff field is set. I know exactly what you're thinking: "Finally we can figure out who the NFL can force into a starring role on Hard Knocks!"
OK, you're probably not thinking about that right now, but I have a soft spot for the greatest documentary series about professional football in the history of the medium, even if the season debut is roughly eight months away. Sue me. As you might be aware, NFL owners passed a resolution in 2013 stating that teams can avoid mandatory inclusion on Hard Knocks if they fall under any of three exemptions:
I enjoy the rigid specifics of these guidelines. Arbitrary, yet sensible. Let's whittle this thing down. Quick note: There remains a chance a coaching change could happen in Cincinnati (suuuurrrre) or even Tennessee, but both these teams are exempt regardless of the coaching situation due to other factors. And yes, there's always the chance of a surprise dismissal over the next 72 hours or so -- I will adjust as necessary.
Now, let's get to it.
Teams that will have a new head coach in place
Note: Still smarting that we'll never get a Ben McAdoo season. Just think what "Hard Knocks" wizards could've done with a McAdoo trip to the barbershop. Alas.
Teams that have had a playoff berth in the last two seasons
Note: You might notice that this section seems beefy. Nice beef detection. Eight teams that qualified for the postseason in 2016 missed the dance in 2017.
Teams that have appeared on Hard Knocks in the last 10 years
Note: The Chiefs, who starred in the 2007 season randomly narrated by Paul Rudd, no longer have protection under this provision. They're still exempt, though.
And finally ...
Teams that are eligible for Hard Knocks inclusion in 2018
Last year, I wondered if NFL Films would be tempted to use their golden goose to document the rebuilding of the Browns. They have another chance, this time with the added narrative juice coming out out of a tragic 0-16 season and the likely selection of a hotshot quarterback at No. 1 overall. That said, football fans get hammered every summer with talk that the Browns are finally ready to rise from the ashes. I'm not sure I need five more weeks of that narrative on premium cable. You know Hue wants it, though.
Lastly, a reminder that any team can volunteer to appear on Hard Knocks. There's always a chance we get a surprise team, but don't count on it.