The moment of clarity is fast approaching for NFL fans holding out hope their team will be featured on the next season of Hard Knocks.
The NFL offseason workout program calendar has been released for all 32 teams. Find out your favorite team's schedule. More...
Around The League will again provide episode recaps when the ninth installment of the acclaimed HBO series kicks off in August. In the meantime, let's offer up our best educated guess on which team might be chosen.
Disclaimer: Yes, Roger Goodell signs my paycheck, but no, I don't have any inside information on the Hard Knocks process. It's possible Booya, the guy who makes sandwiches at the office cafeteria, is more plugged in on Shield initiatives than I am.
Who can duck the cameras?
Under new rules implemented by the NFL last year, teams can avoid Hard Knocks if they fall under any of three exemptions: 1) A first-year head coach is in place; 2) A playoff berth in the past two seasons; 3) A Hard Knocks appearance in the past 10 years.
Who can duck the cameras ... but might not
ProFootballTalk reported last week that Hard Knocks has "potential volunteers" in play this year. The reporting didn't go any further than that, but here are four teams that could get involved by choice.
And while we're here, four teams we can safely eliminate from contention:
The Elite Eight
OK, "elite" is a bit strong. Let's call them The Vulnerable Eight. These are the eight teams that are not protected by the NFL's bylaws and thus can be drafted whether they want to be Schreiber'd or not.
Hard Knocks has always prioritized the human element of the process first and foremost. Get over yourselves and get involved with the best NFL program in the history of the television medium.
Moving on ...
OK, now let's rank the eight "unprotected" teams in order of watchability. There's a good chance Hard Knocks will be working with one of the teams below:
4. Cardinals:Bruce Arians -- one of the best personalities in the coaching game -- would shine here. Great star power with Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson and Carson Palmer, plus an intriguing subplot tracking Honey Badger's recovery from knee surgery. Best of all, the potential for another Antonio Cromartie pop quiz!
2. Rams: The charismatic Jeff Fisher is in the mix, as is general manager Les Snead -- owner of professional football's best hair. There's a nice collection of talent here, plus the obvious Michael Sam subplot. Bonus points for getting to watch the coaching staff talk itself into the Sam Bradford Era for five consecutive weeks.
Which leaves just one team ...
1. Bears: This just feels right. A franchise with a proud history, serious star power (Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery), a vaguely mysterious head coach (Marc Trestman) and a breakout comic presence (Martellus Bennett). And yes, there's legitimate Super Bowl promise involved.
Sign 'em up.