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'Hard Knocks' close to picking a team for this year, so who will it be?

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NFL: Chicago Bears-Training Camp
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(USA Today Sports Images)

Soon, the NFL will have to pick a team for its popular "Hard Knocks" show, and this year's decision is way more interesting than years past. This is the first year the NFL will pick a team that qualifies under its formula to do the show if no team volunteers. 

That means it's a great chance for the league to get a marquee team on the annual HBO program, which has had a lot of trouble getting anyone to step up in recent years. Most teams don't want a television crew following it around in training camp.

The speculation over who would be featured on "Hard Knocks" got a spark when Tomm Looney, a radio host on Fox Sports Radio, said the three final candidates have been selected, and they are the Bears, Giants and Steelers. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, in a message to Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman, said that's "totally inaccurate."

Even if the report isn't accurate, there will be a team selected for "Hard Knocks," and the Bears, Giants and Steelers qualify under the NFL's new formula to be selected for the show, whether those teams like it or not.

Awful Announcing reminded us of that formula, put in place because the league was having very little luck finding any candidate, much less a good one. Franchises are exempt if they have appeared on the show in the last 10 years, have a new head coach or made the playoffs at least once in the last two seasons. As Awful Announcing pointed out, that leaves eight teams up for the show (unless the NFL gets and chooses a volunteer): Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers and St. Louis Rams.

And no offense to the Cardinals, Bills, Jaguars, Raiders or Rams, but the NFL is making a big mistake if one of the three teams Looney mentioned as a final candidate doesn't appear on the show.

The show needs interesting teams. The Bengals were on for the second time since 2009, mostly because nobody else wants to do it. The Jets in 2010 were a good choice. The show wasn't produced in 2011, mainly because of the labor strife, and the Dolphins were an average choice in 2012.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said there was a lot of talk about the show at the league meetings in March, and he wasn't sure if the "Hard Knocks" team would be a volunteer or someone fulfilling the obligation but the decision would come "pretty soon." Assuming nobody steps forward (though, if it helps, we'd start a collection if it would entice the Broncos, Patriots, Seahawks or 49ers to volunteer), let's look at the three top candidates:

Bears: There are a lot of good personalities on this team, and quarterback Jay Cutler too. Coach Marc Tresteman seems fascinating, Jared Allen and Martellus Bennett seem made for the show, and this is one of the NFL's premier franchises in a huge market. The Bears are also a playoff contender. The problem? Former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo has been aggressive in letting everyone know the team does not want to do it.

Bears GM Phil Emery also expressed opposition to the show, telling fans in a chat on the team's website last fall that he didn't want the Bears to be part of it, the Sun-Times said.

The league doesn't really like to be pushed around, so it might not be the best idea to keep challenging Goodell and Co. on this. The show wouldn't be as good without full cooperation though, so we'll see. But, the Bears would be a good choice.

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Steelers coach Mike Tomlin (USA Today Sports Images)

Steelers: Another one of the NFL's cornerstone franchises. Yet, this one doesn't seem to have a ton of pop. The Steelers are a winning and successful team, unquestionably, but who would you be interested in the crew following arround? Troy Polamalu is a great player but a soft-spoken man. Perhaps quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would be interesting to follow around. Maybe if James Harrison got his wish and returned to Pittsburgh for more middle fingers to the "Hard Knocks" crew, that would work. There might be personalities we don't know much about but HBO would introduce us to, which is kind of the point of the show, I guess. But the Steelers have a reputation as a business-like, football-focused franchise. That works great on the field, but not so sure it makes for a compelling show.

Giants: Here we go. Just for Tom Coughlin alone, this is the best of the available candidates. The Giants' coach would be fascinating television. Not to mention the Giants are an interesting and well-run team with a great GM in Jerry Reese, have plenty of new faces and some compelling holdovers like Eli Manning and Victor Cruz. It's also a team with a championship pedigree coming off a really disappointing season, which adds an interesting dynamic. Maybe we can find out why the heck everyone has turned on Josh Freeman, too. But for Coughlin alone, in his unfiltered behind-the-scenes grumpy state at training camp, this is the pick for "Hard Knocks." Make it happen, NFL.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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