NFL gets brutal news as divisional games hit 9-year low


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There was plenty of drama in this weekend’s NFL Divisional Round playoff games.

Pittsburgh nearly rallied from a 21-point deficit against Jacksonville before falling to the Jaguars. New Orleans overcame a 17-point deficit only to have Minnesota pull off one of the most incredible game-winning touchdowns in playoff history. And Atlanta and Philadelphia were locked in a tight game throughout before the Eagles emerged with a victory.

All of that drama produced plenty of excitement. What it didn’t produce, however, were great TV ratings.

The overnight rating estimates for all four divisional games saw viewership declines compared to a year ago.

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Not surprisingly, the lowest-rated game of the weekend was Saturday’s game between Tennessee and New England. Few people expected Tennessee to win, and by halftime this one was pretty much decided.

The game’s 16.6 rating was down 9 percent from an equally lopsided matchup last year between Houston and New England. It was also the lowest rating for a primetime Divisional Round Saturday game since 2009.

A rating refers to the percentage of households with televisions that were watching a particular show.

Saturday’s other game between Atlanta and Philadelphia did slightly better with a 17.4 rating, but that was still a 5 percent drop from last year’s Seahawks-Falcons contest. The 17.4 rating was the lowest for the early Saturday Divisional Round game since 2009.

Sunday began with the Jacksonville-Pittsburgh game, and that only mustered a 20.4 rating, which was the lowest for the early Sunday game of a Divisional Round since 2002.

The Saints-Vikings thriller that capped off the weekend scored the highest rating of the four games — 21.8 — but that was 23 percent lower than last year’s Sunday late-afternoon thriller between the Packers and Cowboys.

In fact, only two late-afternoon Sunday games in the Divisional Round (2007 and 2009) have ever attracted worse ratings than the Saints-Vikings game.

After a regular season in which viewership was down 9 percent from last year and Wild Card round games had the lowest viewership since 2008, the league and its advertisers have to be wondering when this slide will end.

The NFL’s ratings declines over the past two seasons have been well documented. They began a year ago with Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests and have continued this year with everything from oversaturation of games to concerns over player safety to fallout — on both sides — from Kapernick’s protests and his lack of employment in the league.

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Great postseason matchups can sometimes make up for lagging regular-season ratings. But the league is lacking some of the star power of last year’s games.

Only one of the six NFC teams that made the playoffs a year ago — Atlanta — returned this season. That means teams with strong national followings like Green Bay, Dallas and the New York Giants are not in the playoffs this season.

Add the fact this season’s playoffs feature quarterbacks who are not considered household names for most casual fans — Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, Jared Goff, Alex Smith, Nick Foles — and the ratings decline is not completely unexpected.

Sunday’s conference championship games will feature three of those four relative unknowns — Bortles, Keenum and Foles — not to mention the Jaguars, who play in the league’s smallest TV market. So the ratings turnaround isn’t likely to happen this weekend.

And while the anti-New England Patriot crowd would relish seeing Jacksonville upset Tom Brady’s squad this Sunday, you can bet the league isn’t too excited about the ratings for a Jacksonville-Minnesota or Jacksonville-Philadelphia Super Bowl clash.

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Scott Kelnhofer is a writer for The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune. A native of Milwaukee, he currently resides in Phoenix.
Scott Kelnhofer is a writer for The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune. He has more than 20 years of experience in print and broadcast journalism. A native of Milwaukee, he has resided in Phoenix since 2012.
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