The Week 18 NFL announcing lineup has one major change: Jim Nantz won’t be calling the Carolina Panthers-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game Sunday afternoon (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS). CBS announced in their Week 18 preview email that Nantz (seen above in January 2020 during the AFC championship title presentation) will miss that game thanks to health and safety protocols, with Tom McCarthy instead filling in on play-by-play alongside analyst Tony Romo and sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson.
This is going to be quite a notable change. Per JP Kirby’s maps at 506 Sports, that game is going to a lot of the country (the other late games are the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins, which will be shown mostly in those local areas, and the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, which will be widely-shown, but not quite as widely as Panthers-Bucs). And while this one won’t determine a playoff berth (the 12-4 Buccaneers have already clinched the division, while the 5-11 Panthers are last in the division and won’t make the playoffs), it could impact seeding; if the Bucs win and the Los Angeles Rams lose (the Rams play the San Francisco 49ers Sunday afternoon, with a playoff berth on the line for the 49ers), Tampa Bay gets the second overall NFC seed instead of the third overall one. This is also the last game for Tom Brady and co. before they hit the playoffs to defend their Super Bowl title, and there’s interest in it from that angle too; how much will Brady and the starters play?
As for McCarthy, he’s a veteran announcer most known for TV play-by-play for Philadelphia Phillies games (on a full-time basis since 2009, with selected TV work and a lot of radio work before that). But he’s been calling select NFL games (as well as other sports) for CBS since 2014, and has also called NFL games for Westwood One and Fox. He was primarily partnered with Tiki Barber for the select CBS games he’s called this year, and had previously worked with Jay Feely. Moving up to the A booth with Romo is a big jump for him, but it seems good that CBS has an experienced voice that they can bring in here on short notice. And this move seems to make more sense than reconfiguring all the teams to fill Nantz’s vacant slot, especially with this coming late in the week. This way, the other broadcast pairings stay intact, and the big change is just McCarthy filling in for Nantz.
This does speak to the need for networks to be flexible and have backup announcing plans, though, especially with the current spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. We saw lots of late announcing changes in the 2020-21 NFL season (and in other sports) over COVID, including Boomer Esiason filling in for Romo alongside Nantz for a game last January. (And that was despite significant safety protocols for announcers, including Nantz and Romo not being even able to meet in person before game days.) But while there have been some late changes this year, those numbers have been lower, with the availability of vaccines likely a major factor there. However, the Omicron variant’s increased spread to even those fully vaccinated and boostered means we may wind up seeing more of these stories again.
[Photo from Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports]