There had been some thought that concussions, domestic violence or allegations of cheating would slow down the NFL ratings machine this season, but nothing could be further from the truth.
On the heels of a regular season that saw three of the network’s four television partners post ratings gains vs. the previous year, the first round of the league’s postseason action saw meaningful growth vs. 2015. In Nielsen’s overnight ratings representing 56 of the nation’s largest markets, this weekend’s quartet of wild-card games averaged a 20.4 household rating — up 11% from last year’s 18.3.
The top-rated game of the weekend was the 4:40 p.m. ET kickoff on Sunday between the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins on Fox (pictured), which averaged a 23.6 overnight rating, the highest for any program since last year’s Super Bowl. This was the only matchup of the weekend, though, to rate lower than last year, as this same window in 2015 featured a down-to-the-wire game between the Detroit Lions and the league’s most popular team, the Dallas Cowboys, that registered a huge 25.0 in the overnights.
ABC and ESPN opened the weekend Saturday with the 4:35 p.m. ET matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans, which averaged a 16.2 overnight rating (and 25.2 million viewers) — up 24% vs. last year’s Arizona-Carolina matchup on ESPN alone. The addition of broadcaster ABC to the coverage is likely behind this year’s sizable boost, since the game was a blowout 30-0 victory by the Chiefs.
In primetime Saturday, the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati contest on CBS, in which the Steelers improbably won 18-16 when two late personal fouls by the Bengals enabled the team to move closer and kick the game-winning field goal, averaged a 19.3 in the overnights. This was up 11% vs. last year’s wild-card Saturday night game between Pittsburgh and Baltimore on NBC (17.9). In total viewers, Saturday’s game (31.2 million) averaged the largest audience for any AFC wild-card game in four years, peaking with 36.3 million viewers or its final half-hour.
The first game on Sunday, between the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings, averaged a 22.5 overnight rating (and 35.3 million viewers) from 1:05-4:15 p.m. ET on NBC, up 25% vs. last year’s Cincinnati-Indianapolis on CBS (18.0) and the highest score for an early Sunday wild-card playoff game in 22 years (since a 22.8 for Minnesota-NY Giants in 1994). The game, which went down as the third coldest in league history with a kickoff temperature of minus-3 degrees and was won 10-9 by the Seahawks, generated a massive 82 share in Minneapolis and an 87 in Seattle.
The NFL Playoffs continue this weekend with a pair of games on both Saturday and Sunday. The league championship series follow on Jan. 24, and the Super Bowl is set for Feb. 7 on CBS.