SBJ/January 9-15, 2012/Opinion

NFL season standouts, and ‘MNF’ matchups

Another NFL regular season is in the books, and that allows for a look back at what stood out for me among the pregame shows and other programming.

I agree with people who are throwing some love toward CBS’s “NFL Today.” I’m an AFC guy, but I never felt CBS provided the best pregame show. This year, however, I found myself watching more and more of “NFL Today,” and the reason is simple: Dan Marino, Boomer Esiason and Bill Cowher are the most insightful and informative talking heads on the air.They shed the stupid laughs and yucks. Marino continues to become more comfortable and outspoken, Esiason is unafraid to offer a strong opinion that he articulately supports, and I especially find Cowher’s perspective to be valuable. His to-the-point/economy-of-words style and his knowledge of the game clearly puts him above many of his peers. He knows the league, and it shows — even though the subject of his coaching future has been handled clumsily at times. The mid-show set-up, with the talent sitting in chairs talking about NFL issues, is one of the strongest segments in pregame programming. It’s not “news-driven” but is well thought out and provides smart points of view from those who understand the game and the personnel.

Outside of CBS, other NFL-related shows have strong points. Jay Glazer and Michael Strahan need even bigger roles on “Fox NFL Sunday,” and I’ve long admired how well ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen work together and don’t trip over themselves in providing their insider information. These two deserve credit in sharing the limelight informing viewers. As for the rest of ESPN’s “NFL Countdown”? The show may offer the most news, but to me, the format feels stale, even with the extra hour of coverage. I don’t find the personalities accessible anymore. There’s a lack of humility, and it often feels like the studio “debates” are forced.

Finally, more kudos for the way Dan Patrick plays off both Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison on NBC’s “Football Night in America.” It’s too bad they are competing with the late-game window, because both Dungy and Harrison deliver strong analysis and convincing commentary, and their disagreements seem genuine, especially when prodded by the talented Patrick.

As a Time Warner Cable subscriber, I don’t have access to NFL Network.

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When the final NFL ratings come in, ESPN will see a drop of 8 percent in ratings and 10 percent in viewership this season for “Monday Night Football.” This is no great cause for concern, nor does it portend a negative trend for this long-held institution. “MNF” remained the most-viewed series on cable TV (for the sixth straight year) and drew 13 of cable TV’s 20 largest audiences.

To me, it came down to ESPN’s schedule of games, and this is one network that will likely be visiting with Howard Katz and the others at the NFL’s schedule department. I know predicting schedules is an impossible and thankless task, and Katz does it better than anyone in sports, in my opinion, but ESPN was hurt this year by the lack of high-quality games. It had too many games like Tampa Bay-Indianapolis, Baltimore-Jacksonville, Kansas City-New England and St. Louis-Seattle, to name a few. This is one programming schedule to watch next season.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.
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