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Monday, May 16, 2011
Could AFC North be up for 'Hard Knocks'?

By James Walker
ESPN.com

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers declined an invitation this summer to take part in HBO's popular, award-winning "Hard Knocks" series, which examines the trials and tribulations of training camp.

HBO now has to find its second choice. Could the next team be in the AFC North?

Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis and the Ravens could provide several interesting storylines for HBO's "Hard Knocks."
You can rule out the Cincinnati Bengals. HBO's been there and done that in 2009, which is too recent. The audience already has a feel for Cincinnati's franchise and it would be difficult for HBO to provide a different spin.

I also believe you can scratch off the Pittsburgh Steelers. They have a great training camp site, but Pittsburgh isn't the type of team seeking that kind of attention. The Steelers are very workmanlike, and I have a hard time seeing them opening their doors and being bothered by all the distractions and production involved.

The Cleveland Browns may be an interesting story. Former Browns coach Eric Mangini said he would never do it, but the new regime of president Mike Holmgren, general manager Tom Heckert and rookie coach Pat Shurmur may be more forthcoming. But the Browns don't have a lot of star power and HBO already did the "struggling Ohio football team" story two years ago in Cincinnati. So there's probably not much interest in Cleveland.

Finally, you have the Baltimore Ravens, who do have star power and could provide some interesting storylines. Can this team be a Super Bowl contender in 2011? Is quarterback Joe Flacco ready to take the next step? How does linebacker Ray Lewis continue to lead this team after 15 seasons? Baltimore has great personalities and its training camp location is immaculate. So there are several reasons the Ravens could fit.

But Baltimore was one of the first teams to do "Hard Knocks" in 2001 and there's plenty of teams that haven't done it and could be considered fresher meat for HBO. So overall, the chances do not look great for "Hard Knocks" landing in the AFC North this summer.