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Volume 26 No. 229
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NFL Viewership Upswing Continues With Saturday Wild Cards

Titans-Patriots on CBS drew the best audience for the Saturday primetime Wild Card since Saints-Eagles in ’14
Photo: titans
Titans-Patriots on CBS drew the best audience for the Saturday primetime Wild Card since Saints-Eagles in ’14
Photo: titans
Titans-Patriots on CBS drew the best audience for the Saturday primetime Wild Card since Saints-Eagles in ’14
Photo: titans

The NFL saw gains for both of its Wild Card games on Saturday. CBS led the way with 31.4 million viewers for the Titans’ win over the Patriots, which is the best audience for the Saturday primetime Wild Card since Saints-Eagles drew 34.4 million in ’14 on NBC. Titans-Patriots also is the best AFC primetime Wild Card game in nine years. CBS on Saturday night peaked with 34.2 million viewers from 11:00-11:15pm ET. Last year, Cowboys-Seahawks in the Saturday primetime window on Fox drew 29.4 million viewers. Meanwhile, ESPN/ABC on Saturday afternoon averaged 26.3 million viewers for Texans-Bills, marking ESPN’s best figure yet for a Wild Card game since it first started airing the game in ’15. Texans-Bills also is the best figure for any Saturday afternoon Wild Card since NBC drew 27.6 million for Colts-Chiefs in ’14. Last year, ESPN/ABC drew 22.8 million viewers for Colts-Texans in the same time slot (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).

BEST IN THE GAME: THE ATHLETIC's Richard Deitsch praised to CBS' Tony Romo, who "provided viewers with an absolute clinic" with the Titans leading the Patriots 14-13 with under six minutes remaining and facing a 4th-and-four in Saturday's AFC Wild Card. Romo on the broadcast initially said that he "believed the Titans should opt not to punt on fourth down but then he recognized what Titans coach Mike Vrabel had in mind as the play clock wound down." The back-and-forth between Romo and CBS rules analyst Gene Steratore was an "informative sequence from the NFL's best broadcast team." Meanwhile, Saturday's Texans-Bills AFC Wild Card broadcast featuring ESPN's Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland "had a lot of ... tough moments," but Fox' Joe Buck and Troy Aikman "were terrific when it mattered most" during yesterday's Vikings-Saints NFC Wild Card (THEATHLETIC.com, 1/6).

STILL A HUGE DRAW: In Boston, Chad Finn notes the city was the No. 1-rated market for Titans-Patriots, earning a 44.1 rating, while Nashville was second with a 39.3 (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/6). In Nashville, Mike Organ notes the 39.3 marks the Titans' "highest-rated game since they played the Steelers in the NFL Kickoff Game" in September '09, which earned a 40.8 (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 1/6). THE ATHLETIC's Deitsch writes it is "going to be interesting to see how CBS does for its divisional playoff week with the absence of the Patriots" (THEATHLETIC.com, 1/6).

HIT OR MISS: In Boston, Jeremy Fox noted some Boston-area TV customers "missed an NFL playoff game Saturday but others got an 11th-hour reprieve for a Sunday game as one set of station owners remained at a stalemate with a satellite provider while another reached an agreement with a cable company over contracts for the new year." Local fans who "subscribe to DirecTV -- but don't have ESPN -- were shut out" of Texans-Bills, but Verizon Fios subscribers were "able to watch" Vikings-Saints (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/5).

BIGGER & BETTER: Former CBS Sports President Neal Pilson attributes the "continued increases" for NFL regular-season ratings to the "emergence of younger players as well as the league becoming year-round programming." Pilson: "The NFL has also learned from the NBA's playbook of staying on the sports page and being relevant during the offseason with the combine and draft keeping them on the front pages for several months" (AP, 1/3). The GLOBE's Finn wrote it is "hard to believe it was just three seasons ago that NFL executives and their television rights partners were sweating out a sudden decline in broadcast ratings." It is "clear the NFL is as healthy as ever, even as it picked up a few scars along the way." If the league "continues to dominate fall ratings," the next TV deals will "redefine massive." Networks "far and wide will be lining up to pay" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/5).