The NFL tacked another two Wild Card games onto the 2020-21 playoffs, and while plenty of viewers watched the extra two games, none of the six were able to hit the highs of a year ago.
The first game of the weekend was Colts-Bills on CBS at 1 PM EST Saturday. That game drew 20.079 million viewers on the network, and there was no comp to a year ago.
The second game of the weekend was Rams-Seahawks on Fox at 4:40 PM EST on Saturday. That game drew 23.963 million viewers on the network. Last year’s mid-afternoon Saturday game was Bills-Texans, which drew 26.34 million viewers across ESPN and ABC. That’s a 9% decline for this year’s game.
The third game of the weekend, and final game of Saturday, was Tampa Bay-Washington in primetime on NBC. That game drew 21.371 million viewers on the network. Last year’s primetime Saturday game was Titans-Patriots, which drew 31.42 million viewers on CBS. That’s a startling 32% decline for this year’s matchup.
Moving to Sunday, the first game of the day was Ravens-Titans at 1 PM EST on ESPN and ABC. Between those two networks, the game drew 24.620 million viewers. Last year’s early Sunday game was Vikings-Saints on Fox, which drew 29.93 million viewers. That’s a decline of 18% for this year’s game. Broadcasts of Ravens-Titans also aired on ESPN2 and Freeform, and reportedly added about 159,000 viewers to the total.
The second Sunday game was Bears-Saints on CBS and Nickelodeon, kicking off at 4:40 PM EST. That game drew 30.653 million viewers on the two networks, the most-watched game of this year’s Wild Card weekend. Last year’s mid-afternoon game was Seahawks-Eagles, which drew 35.12 million viewers on NBC. That’s a 13% decline for this year’s game.
The final game of the weekend was Browns-Steelers in primetime on NBC. That game drew 24.784 million viewers, and there was no comp to a year ago.
NBC is touting viewership numbers of 22.2 million for Saturday’s game and 26.0 million for Sunday’s game, baking in data from Telemundo and a variety of digital platforms.
Overall, the six Wild Card games this year averaged 24.245 million viewers. Last year’s four games averaged 30.70 million viewers, a 21% drop for this year’s games.
It’s tough to spin the numbers, aside from the well-discussed talking points of “everything is down” and “the NFL is still killing everything else on TV.” Both of those statements are definitively true. It’s also true that adding two extra Wild Card games didn’t draw more viewers to Wild Card weekend. The first of the extra games was the least-watched of the weekend, and the second ranked third of six, despite a plum timeslot and network. Last year’s four games all drew over 25 million viewers, while only one this year topped the mark. Not only was every window down from last year, but every network was also down, regardless of timeslot.
Divisional weekend is shaping up to be much more promising for the NFL, despite a slate of strong comparisons in line to last year’s games. On Saturday, Rams-Packers is the first game of the weekend, and it will air on Fox and be compared to 49ers-Vikings on NBC from last year. Ravens-Bills is the Saturday primetime game on NBC, and will be compared to Titans-Ravens last year on CBS. On Sunday, Browns-Chiefs will air early on CBS and be compared to Texans-Chiefs, while Bucs-Saints will air late on Fox and be compared to Seahawks-Packers. This year’s games seem far more appealing on paper than last year’s, and we’ll see if that proves to be a significant difference when final viewership begins to roll in next week.