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Peyton Manning Poised to Make NFL History in Primetime

There’s no player in pro football more popular these days then Peyton Manning, and when the Denver Broncos quarterback sets the all-time NFL record for touchdown passes, his fans should be able to see it happen live.

Manning, whose 506 career TDs puts him two behind the record of 508 set by Brett Favre, figures to throw for his 509th score either this Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers or the following Thursday against the San Diego Chargers.

Perhaps not coincidentally, both games will be played in Manning’s home stadium — and broadcast nationally in primetime.

The marquee NFL teams can be scheduled for as many as five primetime games a season, and it’s probably no coincidence that the NFL allotted two of the Broncos’ evening appearances for this time of year. Manning needed 18 touchdown passes to surpass Favre heading into the season, so it was a calculated guess by the league (which releases its schedule in April) that it would happen in his sixth or seventh game.

Both NBC and CBS are no doubt salivating at the chance to televise the historic pass.

The Peacock started promoting the potential historic nature of its Oct. 19 game between Denver and San Francisco during last week’s “Sunday Night Football” contest after Manning had thrown for three touchdowns earlier in the day against the New York Jets to pull to within two of Favre’s record. And its press release for Sunday’s game, which includes a rundown of prior Manning milestones on “Sunday Night Football” over the years, is headlined “Chasing 509.”

If the new touchdown record hasn’t been achieved this Sunday, CBS figures to garner easily its best “Thursday Night Football” numbers to date with its Oct. 23 Broncos-Chargers matchup. But even if the record has been broken by then, CBS should still benefit from the halo affect of having Manning on again just four nights later. It also helps that the matchup (Chargers-Broncos is a battle for first place in the AFC West) is the best of the seven Thursday games airing on CBS this fall.

An interesting sidenote to the Manning mania that will envelop primetime this week is that neither “Sunday Night Football” nor “Thursday Night Football” will have to share the sports stage with baseball. Both the American League and National League Championship Series wrapped quickly so there’s no baseball game this Sunday night, and a new schedule format means that the World Series (which now starts on a Tuesday) is not scheduled to play a Thursday game for the first time since 1990.

The NFL has proven adept at milking historic records for all their ratings worth. If Manning continues to throw touchdown passes in every game this season, he will tie Drew Brees’ all-time mark of 54 consecutive games with a score in Week 16 — when the Broncos just happen to have another of their five primetime games (at Cincinnati on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football”).

When Brees himself set the mark in 2012, the NFL scheduled his Saints to be at home that week on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” — and for good measure, it just happened to be against the team who originally drafted him, the San Diego Chargers.

Thanks in large part to the popularity of Manning, the Broncos recently overtook the Dallas Cowboys as the most popular NFL team in America, according to a Harris Poll released earlier this week (see below.)

And Manning has been ratings gold over the years, especially since his move from the Indianapolis Colts to the Broncos in 2012.

Last season, seven of the 13 most-watched regular-season NFL games involved the Broncos, including the team’s game at Dallas on CBS in October (28.32 million) and Manning’s return to Indianapolis as a visiting player for the first time just two weeks later (26.92 million on NBC). And of course, the Super Bowl — in which the Broncos were destroyed 43-8 by the Seattle Seahawks — averaged a U.S. television-record 112.2 million viewers on Fox in early February.

And in the early going this season, three of the the seven most-watched games have featured the Broncos, with the team’s Super Bowl rematch with the Seattle Seahawks on CBS in September drawing the biggest crowd (27.29 million).

HARRIS POLL: MOST POPULAR NFL TEAMS ON TV
(2013 ranking in parentheses)

1.  Denver Broncos (3)
2.  New York Giants (4)
3.  Green Bay Packers (2)
4.  Dallas Cowboys (1)
5.  Pittsburgh Steelers (7)
6.  Seattle Seahawks (12)
7.  San Francisco 49ers (8)
8.  New England Patriots (5)
9.  Chicago Bears (6)
10.  New Orleans Saints (11)
11.  New York Jets (15)
12.  Minnesota Vikings (13)
13.  Detroit Lions (22)
14.  Washington Redskins (14)
15.  Philadelphia Eagles (15)
15.  Miami Dolphins (10)
17.  Cincinnati Bengals (24)
18.  Oakland Raiders (16)
19.  Arizona Cardinals (16)
20.  Cleveland Browns (25)
20.  Buffalo Bills (28)
22.  Atlanta Falcons (20)
23.  Baltimore Ravens (16)
23.  San Diego Chargers (23)
23.  Kansas City Chiefs (29)
26.  Indianapolis Colts (19)
27.  Houston Texans (21)
28.  Carolina Panthers (27)
29.  St. Louis Rams (29)
30.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (30)
31.  Tennessee Titans (31)
31.  Jacksonville Jaguars (32)

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