The Patriots going down at home to Tennessee last night was one of the more surprising results in recent memory, and as many have written, could mark the end of the Brady-Belichick run in New England.
It also aired in primetime on CBS and considering all of the factors involved, the audience was always likely to be big. The numbers are in today, and that was indeed the case. Via CBS Sports PR, which touted the viewership highs:
THE NFL ON CBS’ broadcast of the AFC Wild Card Playoff game on Saturday, Jan. 4 (8:25-11:28 PM, ET) scored in viewership with the most-watched AFC Wild Card game in primetime in nine years.
Last night’s Tennessee-New England game was seen by an average of 31.418 million viewers, up +23% from last year’s L.A. Chargers-Baltimore game(25.468 million; 1:06-4:27 PM, ET; 1/6/19 on CBS) and up +7% from last year’s Wild Card Playoff game in primetime (29.468 million; Seattle-Dallas; 1/5/19 on FOX).
Viewership of the game peaked with 34.279 million viewers from 11:00-11:15 PM, ET.
Though the CBS release ignored the rating itself (hooray for PR ratings spin!) early returns on that front were also more than solid, as noted by Sports Media Watch:
Saturday’s Titans-Patriots AFC Wild Card game averaged a 17.1 rating and 31.42 million viewers on CBS, per Nielsen fast-nationals — marking the highest rated Saturday Wild Card game since 2016 (Steelers-Bengals: 17.5) and the most-watched since 2014 (Saints-Eagles: 34.36M).
Tennessee’s upset, which peaked with 34.28 million viewers from 11-11:15 PM ET, delivered the fifth-largest Wild Card Saturday audience since the current scheduling format began in 2002.
Ratings increased 8% and viewership 7% from Seahawks-Cowboys on FOX last year (15.9, 29.38M), and 34% and 38% respectively from Falcons-Rams on NBC in 2018 (12.8, 22.82M).
Compared to last year’s Wild Card game on CBS, Chargers-Ravens in the early Sunday window, ratings increased 11% (from 15.4) and viewership 24% (from 25.38M).
Of course, the ratings high offered by the upset win (and a rare Patriots appearance in the Wild Card round, where they hadn’t played since 2010) comes with a tradeoff; CBS now loses the Patriots for the rest of the AFC postseason, including for what would have been a very marketable potential matchup between Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in the AFC Championship.