Despite some fun games, last weekend’s NFL Divisional Playoffs did not draw the kind of ratings NBC, CBS, and Fox were looking for.
According to Sports Media Watch, all four games were down substantially in overnight ratings from the comparable window last January, and several of them hit their lowest mark in years.
- Saturday afternoon’s Falcons-Eagles game on NBC drew a 17.4 overnight rating, down 5 percent from last year and 12 percent from 2016. It was the lowest for the early Saturday time slot since 2009.
- The Patriots-Titans matchup Saturday night on CBS was the lowest-rated game of the weekend, with a 16.6 overnight. That was down 9 percent from last year and 18 percent from 2016 and was also the worst performance in that window since 2009.
- The Jaguars-Steelers contest in the early window Sunday on CBS pulled a 20.4 overnight, down 12 percent from 2016. (Last year’s game in that slot was moved to primetime due to weather.) That was the lowest mark in its window since 2002.
- Finally, the Vikings-Saints duel Sunday afternoon on Fox drew the best overnight rating of the weekend (21.8) but was still down 23 percent from last year and 17 percent from 2016.
Overall, this will reportedly be the lowest rated divisional weekend since 2009.
NFL Divisional weekend: 3 of 4 playoff games came down to the wire, but the TV audience just wasn't there. Looking like lowest-rated Divisional weekend since 2009 for the four-game slate.
— Austin Karp (@AustinKarp) January 15, 2018
Though the conference semifinal round was short on marquee teams and superstar players, the games themselves were often thrilling. Eagles-Falcons Saturday afternoon was close from start to finish, though short on offense. And after the Patriots blew out the Titans on Saturday night, both Sunday games were tense and exciting. First, the Jaguars upset the Steelers in a high-scoring shootout. Then, the Vikings withstood a Saints comeback to prevail on a miracle last-second touchdown. All that drama presumably helped ratings — but apparently not enough.
The reported drop in divisional weekend ratings follows a double-digit dip in wild card-weekend ratings and a 9.7 percent decline in overall ratings during the regular season. Americans are clearly souring on the NFL a bit, and the playoffs have not reversed that trend.
But although the NFL certainly has some big-picture ratings problems, it’s worth noting that this weekend’s games featured matchups that might not have grabbed the casual fan at first glance. Even if Vikings-Saints was the greatest game ever (and it was pretty damn good), it wasn’t going to beat last year’s Cowboys-Packers showdown. Falcons-Eagles was likewise less appealing than last year’s Falcons-Seahawks matchup. Some franchises and players are simply more appealing to the average American than others. When the Cowboys miss the playoffs but the Jaguars make it, or when Aaron Rodgers stays home but Case Keenum doesn’t, or when Carson Wentz gets hurt and leaves us with Nick Foles, ratings are going to suffer a bit. That may not account for the entire drop, but it certainly explains some of it.
Unfortunately for the NFL, things won’t get much better next week, with the Patriots facing the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game and Keenum and Foles squaring off in the NFC, a year after those games featured the Pats and Steelers and Rodgers vs. Matt Ryan, respectively. From a ratings standpoint, this is just not the NFL’s year – and it’s difficult to find many silver linings.