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Panthers, Cowboys Among Top ‘Hard Knocks’ Candidates For 2021

It might not be weeks until the team featured on the 2021 season of HBO’s Hard Knocks is revealed, but the announcement can come at any time. Many diehard football fans are going to watch no matter what, but which teams among the five squads that can be forced to participate might make for the best TV? Another team can jump in and volunteer (the Jaguars have been rumored), but these five teams all fall under the criteria:


1) They do not have a first-year head coach.

2) They have missed the playoffs in each of the pst two seasons.

3) They have not appeared on Hard Knocks in the past ten seasons.


1. Carolina Panthers

Entering Matt Rhule’s second year as the franchise’s head coach, the Panthers are one of the teams I’m most anxious to track this offseason—that would likely translate to a highly anticipated season of Hard Knocks. It starts with the quarterback, with Carolina heavily rumored to want current Texans starter Deshaun Watson; but even if the Panthers don’t land Watson, they clearly will do something in an attempt to upgrade the quarterback position, whether it’s drafting a rookie or bringing in another veteran to compete with Teddy Bridgewater. Rhule is a bit of a character that brings the energy and would be a blast to watch throughout training camp, and viewers would also get a look at some of Carolina’s under-the-radar young stars on defense.


2. Dallas Cowboys

Perhaps the most recognizable franchise, the Cowboys might be at the top of the list for HBO and the NFL. They are led by a Super Bowl-winning head coach in Mike McCarthy, whose offense is stacked with talent including Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and impressive second-year wideout CeeDee Lamb. Meanwhile, the defense has some playmakers including linebacker Jaylon Smith and cornerback Trevon Diggs (the brother of Bills receiver Stefon Diggs). And perhaps the best storyline would be the status of quarterback Dak Prescott, who is coming off a serious leg injury and might be set to play a second consecutive season under the franchise tag if he and Dallas cannot agree to a long-term deal by the summer.


3. Arizona Cardinals

You could make a case for any of these top three teams for the No. 1 spot, as the Cardinals have gotten a recent boost after basically coming out of nowhere to sign three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. Third-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury gets a lot of criticism, so I would like to see how he operates on a full season of Hard Knocks (for example, a few years ago it was obvious the Browns were going to have some issues just by watching the show). The offense led by Kyler Murray can create major fireworks, and the defense—with Chandler Jones, Budda Baker, Patrick Peterson, and Isaiah Simmons (and potentially Haason Reddick if they are able to re-sign him)—somewhat quietly showed serious upside in 2020.


4. New York Giants

The Giants would probably be higher than No. 4, but there’s a very slim chance they are actually featured on Hard Knocks. Giants co-owner John Mara said back in 2010 that his team basically won’t be on the HBO series while he’s alive, so I would expect the franchise would put up a major fight to avoid being forced onto the show despite falling under the category where they have to participate if selected. Tracking superstar running back Saquon Barkley’s return to the lineup off a torn ACL and the progression of third-year quarterback Daniel Jones would make for solid storylines, but the Giants on Hard Knocks isn’t likely to happen.


5. Denver Broncos

While there’s more of a chance for the Broncos to be featured than the Giants, it’s just difficult to get too excited about their outlook for the show. Things could get more interesting if Denver brings in competition for Drew Lock at quarterback, and the offensive weapons like Melvin Gordon, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, and Noah Fant could bring some entertainment; but the Broncos would be an uninspiring choice overall in my opinion (though sometimes teams and players you might not expect can deliver real Hard Knocks drama and hilarious moments).


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