The Sunday NFL Divisional Round games were a showcase for the league’s young guns and graybeards, and while both windows put up big ratings numbers for the networks, it was the senior headliners who drew the biggest crowds.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, Fox’s presentation of the Tampa Bay-New Orleans showdown averaged 35.5 million viewers and an 18.1 household rating, making it the most-watched TV broadcast since last February’s Super Bowl. In leading the Bucs to a 30-20 win over Drew Brees and the Saints, the 43-year-old Tom Brady not only secured his new squad’s first trip to the NFC Championship game since 2003, but he helped stem the ratings attrition that has dogged the NFL throughout the season.
Linear TV deliveries for the Bucs-Saints broadcast were down 5% versus the year-ago Seahawks-Packers game in 2020, which averaged 37.2 million viewers on Fox. That’s a far gentler rate of change than the 22% declines sustained during Wild Card weekend, and a bit of an improvement from the NFL’s 7% regular-season drop.
When Fox’s streaming and Spanish-language simulcast deliveries are tossed in with the flagship broadcast, the Brady-Brees scrap averaged 36.4 million viewers. This now stands as the smallest turnout for the late Sunday Divisional Round window since the Saints and Vikings averaged 35.6 million viewers on Fox back in 2018.
If the evening NFC game could easily have been branded the Centrum Silver Bowl, given the age of the two quarterbacks—at 42, Brees is the league’s second-oldest player behind Brady—the early AFC contest was the Flintstones Chewable version. The battle between Patrick Mahomes’s Kansas City Chiefs and an upstart Cleveland Browns team led by Baker Mayfield averaged 34.3 million viewers and an 18.3 rating on CBS, down 3% compared to the year-ago Texans-Chiefs broadcast (35.3 million), but up 17% versus the analogous Chargers-Patriots window in 2019 (29.2 million).
Both Mahomes and Mayfield are 25 years old. Despite thriving in the less-wrinkly end of the 18-49 demo, the younger QBs weren’t able to draw more members of the advertiser-coveted cohort than did their Canton-bound elders. Per Nielsen, Fox’s Bucs-Saints broadcast averaged 12.8 million members of the dollar demo, good for a 9.9 rating, while CBS’s Browns-Chiefs production drew 11.4 million adults 18-49, or an 8.8 rating. By way of comparison, the broadcast entertainment series are currently averaging around 840,000 viewers in the all-important sales demo.
All told, the Sunday NFL games were down 4% from their 2020 counterparts, a reassuring result in light of the overall declines the Big Four nets are experiencing in the current broadcast season. Since the current campaign kicked off on Sept. 21, broadcast deliveries are down 19%, which represents a net year-over-year loss of 4.1 million viewers per night.
Saturday’s doubleheader averaged 26.4 million viewers, down 10% from the year-ago 29.3 million. Fox’s coverage of the Packers’ 32-18 win over the Rams averaged 26.5 million viewers—27.2 million, with streaming and Fox Deportes impressions—while NBC’s primetime Ravens-Bills game averaged 26.2 million viewers and a 13.7 rating.
All told, the TV audience for this year’s Divisional Round averaged out to 30.6 million viewers, down 7% from last season’s 32.8 million. The weekend numbers are most comparable to the 30.2 million viewers who took in the 2018 Divisional Round broadcasts; as it happens, that same year saw the NFL sustain an 8% ratings decline during the regular season.