The NFL's ratings momentum showed no signs of abating this weekend, as three of the four Wild Card broadcasts put up bigger numbers than the year-ago matchups.
The Jan. 9 and Jan. 10 playoff games averaged 32.6 million viewers and an 18.8 household rating, per Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, marking an 8% increase compared to last year's 30.1 million viewers and an 11% improvement versus a 17.0 household rating.
As is generally the case, ratings grew as the weekend progressed. The first matchup, a 30-0 Kansas City rout of Houston, delivered 25.2 million viewers and a 14.7 household rating. Simulcast on ESPN and sibling net ABC, the blowout was up 18% compared to the 12.5 rating notched by last year's Arizona-Carolina opener, which was restricted to the cable channel.
Saturday's second game, a three-hour-and-forty-one-minute curb-stomping featuring bitter AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, scared up 31.2 million viewers and a 17.5 household rating on CBS. That marked an increase of 11% versus the analogous game last January, a similarly rancorous showdown between Baltimore and Pittsburgh that drew 28 million viewers and a 15.8 rating on NBC.
While the Steelers' 18-16 road win was punctuated with a few of the season's more indelible moments -- Martavis Bryant all but thumbed his nose at the laws of physics with his contortionist third quarter touchdown catch -- the highlight-reel fodder was all but overshadowed by a slew of meathead antics. Bengals fans set the tone when they gave injured Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a beer-can shower as he was carted off to the locker room … inadvertently giving Miller Lite the sort of free product placement it could just as soon do without.
Sunday's opening game was far less heated, largely because in Minneapolis, "heat" was little more than an abstraction. The temperature at the opening kickoff of the Seahawks-Vikings game was -6º, making it the third-coldest NFL game in history. The subzero climes predictably put the freeze on both teams' passing attacks, which in turn helped keep things tight throughout the broadcast. NBC averaged 35.3 million viewers, up 25% from the year-ago Bengals-Colts broadcast on CBS, and its 21.0 household rating marked a 24% improvement from the AFC skirmish's 17.0.
Minnesota led 3-0 at halftime and held Seattle scoreless through the game's final 12 minutes. But a three-yard TD pass from Russell Wilson followed in short order by a 46-yard Steven Hauschka field goal put the defending NFC champs up 10-9 with just over 8 minutes left in regulation. The game ended on a heartbreaker of a missed opportunity for the home team as Vikings kicker Blair Walsh hooked a 27-yard chip shot with 22 seconds on the clock, hurtling Seattle into a Divisional round showdown with top seed Carolina.
Approximately 43.9 million viewers watched as Walsh muffed the kick. Excluding Super Bowl XLIII, XLVI and XLIX, the game now stands as NBC's most-viewed, highest-rated NFL broadcast since the network re-established its relationship with the league in 2006.
Lastly, while Washington made things interesting in its home stand against the Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers and Co. were able to shake off their late-season doldrums, going on a 35-7 run to advance to a date with the Cardinals in Phoenix. Fox's coverage of the final Wild Card matchup put up the biggest numbers of the weekend, delivering 38.8 million viewers and a 21.8 household rating, down 8% versus its year-ago Lions-Cowboys broadcast (42.3 million viewers/23.6).
The Green Bay-Washington game is Fox's fourth most-watched Wild Card broadcast, going back to 1995.
Among the most visible advertisers bought time in last weekend's Wild Card broadcasts were Verizon, Toyota, Coors, Ford, McDonald's and Geico.
NFL Divisional Round coverage kicks off Saturday, Jan. 16, as CBS hosts the meeting between a Kansas City squad that has won its last 11 games and the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots. NBC follows suit with Packers-Cards. Fox looks to put up another big number with Sunday's Seattle-Carolina battle, while CBS closes out the weekend with a Steelers-Broncos rematch.