ESPN last night drew its second-highest "MNF" rating of the season for the Saints' 12-9 win over the Panthers. The game drew a 9.1 overnight, up 40% from a 6.5 in Week 15 last year, which featured Falcons-Buccaneers. Last night's game is also up from Panthers-Redskins two years ago, which drew an 8.0. Saints-Panthers was likely boosted by interested fantasy football team owners, with many league semifinals wrapping up last night. The game peaked with a 10.5 overnight during the game's final minutes from 11:00-11:15pm ET. New Orleans led all local markets by far with a combined 59.8 rating (13.4 on ESPN, 46.4 on WDSU-NBC), followed by Charlotte with a 26.4 (10.3 on ESPN, 16.1 on WJZY-Fox). Greensboro (16.9), Raleigh-Durham (13.3) and Norfolk (12.7) rounded out the top five (Josh Carpenter, THE DAILY).
HERE TO STAY? THE ATHLETIC's Lindsay Jones reported ESPN has made a commitment to its "MNF" booth of Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten and Booger McFarland "not just for the rest of 2018, but into the future." Like it or not, NFL fans "should expect to see and hear this trio next season." It is likely that what ESPN "pictured when they created" the three-man "MNF" booth last spring was a "spirited debate between big personalities." What they "may not have pictured was the trying year this broadcast team would go through," with Witten, McFarland and Tessitore all fielding an "unprecedented amount of external criticism." That includes "everything from the Booger Mobile to Tessitore’s in-play exuberance to a host of critiques about Witten." ESPN VP/Production Lee Fitting said that the "only change he wishes" the net had made in hindsight was to "increase Witten’s on-camera time from the moment he was hired last spring." Fitting: “We’re on 24 hours a day. We have NFL talk and NFL shows everywhere, it wouldn’t have been that difficult." McFarland said of possible changes for next season, "Might we tweak something as far as technology? I don’t know. That’s something we’ll take a look at when the season’s over. But they signed us with a vision of this not just being a one or two-year thing. Their vision is to be long term" (THEATHLETIC.com, 12/16).