The announcement that the Atlanta Falcons would appear on the upcoming season of the HBO series Hard Knocks was met with mixed reactions, to put it mildly. Some fans are excited, although they seem to be the minority. Some fans are just accepting--not thrilled about this turn of events, but happy to see the inner workings of their favorite team on HBO, so it balances out their response. Some fans are vehemently against this decision from the Falcons. The main objection seems to be that Hard Knocks will be a distraction, which is not entirely unfounded. Some fans, however, are convinced that Atlanta's decision to appear on the popular HBO series dooms the team to failure because of a Hard Knocks "curse."
If you're an Atlanta sports fan you're likely not a stranger to the idea of a curse. It's a theory that's been discussed on this blog regularly, and at times this theory feels much more like a proven fact. Let me put your mind at ease about the Falcons and Hard Knocks, however. There is no curse, and Grantland's Bill Barnwell pretty much proved it in June 2012.
The Hard Knocks series originated in 2001 and featured the Baltimore Ravens, who were fresh off of a Super Bowl win. The Ravens, incidentally, did see a decline in their performance in the season that followed their Hard Knocks appearance, but they were coming off of the ultimate accomplishment in the National Football League, and they still won ten games and made it to the divisional round of the playoffs.
Since its inaugural season, the Hard Knocks series has had nine seasons--the 2011 season was cancelled due to the NFL lockout--featuring seven teams--the Cowboys and Bengals have each appeared twice. In three of nine seasons, the featured team did worse in the season following Hard Knocks than they did the season before, and one team (the 2002 Cowboys) had exactly the same record as they had the season before.
So that means that more than half of the seasons of Hard Knocks have featured teams that have gone on to improve upon the previous season's record following their appearance on the series. I like those odds. The Jaguars went from a 5-11 record in 2003 to a 9-7 record after being featured on Hard Knocks. The Bengals improved from 4-12 in 2008 to 9-7 and a playoff berth in 2009 after appearing on the series. The 2009 Jets had a decent year, finishing 9-7, but the 2010 Jets went 11-5 and made it to the AFC Championship Game after appearing on Hard Knocks. The 2012 Dolphins improved upon their 2011 record slightly, going from 6-10 in 2011 to 7-9 in 2012. Last year's Bengals also turned in a better record following their most recent appearance on the series, finishing 11-5 in 2013 after finishing with a 10-6 record in 2012. The last four teams to appear on the series have each improved upon the previous season's record.
The Falcons have enough veteran leadership in the locker room to withstand any level of distraction this scenario may cause. Don't forget that these are professional athletes who play football on television every week during the season. Remember, too, that the Falcons had some joint practices with the Bengals last season in Flowery Branch, so while the team has not been featured previously, the organization has experience with Hard Knocks from that experience, and we can only assume that they developed a comfort level with the Hard Knocks experience as a result.
But most of all, don't worry about a curse. If the team fails to improve upon 2013's abysmal record, it's not going to be the result of Hard Knocks.