The National Football League may have had its share of off-the-field distractions in recent years, but its TV ratings have never been higher.
With an average audience of 19.9 million viewers for games last Thursday, Sunday and Monday, the NFL saw its largest-ever Week 1 tune-in, according to Nielsen. The previous high of 19.6 million came for the 2013 Kickoff Weekend.
And for the sixth consecutive year, more than 105 million viewers watched at least some of the Kickoff Weekend game across CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC.
Thursday’s opener on NBC between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Super Bowl champion New England Patriots was the week’s most-watched program with 27.4 million viewers, according to same-day Nielsen estimates — the second most-watched Kickoff game ever. It was the first appearance for the Patriots and their quarterback Tom Brady since the four-game suspension for his part in Deflate-gate was overturned, and that likely boosted viewership.
And NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” opener, a classic NFC East matchup between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, averaged 26.8 million viewers and is the second best in the 10-year history of the NBC franchise.
Two additional NFL telecasts topped 20 million viewers: CBS’ Sunday national game (mostly Baltimore-Denver) drew 23.3 million, and Fox’s Sunday regionally split games (led by Green Bay-Chicago) attracted 20.1 million. ESPN averaged nearly 14 million for its annual “Monday Night Football” doubleheader, with its late game (14.33 million for Minnesota-San Francisco) outdrawing its first game (13.56 million for Philadelphia-Atlanta) for the first time.
Among the local markets, the top ratings came from Milwaukee (46.4 for Packers-Bears), Buffalo (43.9 for Colts-Bills), New Orleans (43.7 for Saints-Cardinals), Boston (39.1 for Steelers-Patriots) and Denver (38.5 for Ravens-Broncos).
CBS and NFL Network kick off the “Thursday Night Football” schedule tonight when the Denver Broncos take on the Kansas City Chiefs. The Eye will air this year’s Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7 from Santa Clara, Calif.