In 2001, HBO debuted a new reality show in partnership with the NFL. “Hard Knocks” took viewers inside the training camp of the 2001 Baltimore Ravens. 

The show returned the following season with the Dallas Cowboys before taking a few seasons off. The show was brought back in 2007 with Kansas City Chiefs and has been on every year with different teams participating every season except for 2011 when the NFL lockout canceled the 2011 edition. The 2018 edition features the Cleveland Browns as they attempt to rebound from the disastrous previous two seasons, going a combined 1-31. 

What makes “Hard Knocks” so great is the variety. Fans get to see the stars and big-name coaches of each team show leadership and motivate their team while being juxtaposed with the journeyman player or unknown rookie attempting to make the team. During all of this, the personal lives are shown of the players and coaches which have included Browns’ defensive star Myles Garrett writing poetry and then-Los Angeles Rams William Hayes’ disbelief in dinosaurs. It also is uncensored since it airs on HBO so coaches like Rex Ryan and Mike Zimmer let it all out with new ways to say profanity.

The Browns’ season is already two episodes in of the five and it has been incredible. I would rank it up there as one of the best in the series. Without spoiling much, Tyrod Taylor already looks like the team leader, Jarvis Landry is incredible, Todd Haley and Gregg Williams are two guys that you love and hate at the same time, Devon Cajuste’s story is incredible and I continue to become a bigger fan of Baker Mayfield each time he’s on screen.

Two episodes in and this team already looks like it should be a massive improvement on the field from the last two seasons. On paper, this offense looks loaded and arguably the best player isn’t even there as Josh Gordon takes time away. The defense still needs work, but Myles Garrett and the rest of the young defense is only going to get better. Unless they show more in the rest of the preseason, the Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals both look average and the Steelers could easily take a step back. Taylor is arguably the second-best quarterback in that division, and if Ben Roethlisberger takes a step back, Taylor could be the best in that division and the Browns could surprise people. They won’t win the division this year and have a slim shot at the playoffs, but prior to “Hard Knocks,” I was expecting this team to win six games easily. Now, I think seven or eight is not that much of a stretch.

It is hard to not think this team could be a solid one after the showing on “Hard Knocks,” but we see this almost every year. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked like a playoff team last season during “Hard Knocks” before stumbling to a 5-11 record and I think they’re going to be even worse in 2018. I want to buy in on the team, but the “Hard Knocks” hype needs to be toned down. Since 2013, only the 2013 Bengals and 2015 Houston Texans achieved the over on their projected win totals, and the Texans only did by half a game. The Browns are at 5.5 wins this season. I feel like their showing means they should eclipse that and I would say a 6-10 season or better is a good season for them, but history has shown that the hype of “Hard Knocks” can cloud judgment. If the team does disappoint again in 2018, at least they gave an entertaining season of “Hard Knocks”. 

Luke Peterson is the sports editor of the Leavenworth Times. Contact him at lpeterson@leavenworthtimes.com