Though the numbers remained characteristically massive, ratings for this weekend's quartet of NFL playoff games dipped slightly compared with the year-ago Divisional Round broadcasts.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the Saturday and Sunday playoff matchups averaged 36.2 million viewers and a 20.4 household rating, marking a 4% decline versus last year's 37.8 million viewers/21.3 household rating. The only event that puts up Divisional Round-gauge ratings is the Academy Awards; last year's ceremony drew 37.3 million viewers and a 20.6 rating.
In the weekend's biggest draw, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday held off a gimpy Pittsburgh Steelers crew in front of a national television audience of 43 million viewers. Denver's 23-16 victory also drew a 23.6 household rating on CBS, making it the second highest-rated AFC Divisional Round playoff in 21 years. (In 2011, the Jets and Patriots duked it out in front of 45.3 million viewers and a 24.2 rating.)
Eighty-three percent of all TVs in use in the Denver market were tuned into the local CBS affiliate.
Earlier in the afternoon, Fox delivered the second-highest results of the weekend, as the Seahawks and Panthers drew 36.7 million viewers and a 21.1 household rating. Initially a lopsided mess (the Panthers led 31-0 at the half), the game became markedly more interesting as Seattle began to rack up the points. Ultimately, the defending NFC champs fell short by a touchdown, but the rally was enough to ensure more than respectable ratings.
For all that, Fox did experience an acute year-over-year drop, although that was largely a function of some very tough comps. Last year's analogous playoff broadcast featured the wildly popular Dallas Cowboys in a dogfight with a hobbled Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. While Green Bay would win a 26-21 nail-biter thanks to a pair of fourth-quarter TD tosses, the game is perhaps best remembered for the officials' negation of an acrobatic 31-yard catch by Dallas receiver Dez Bryant. In any event, the year-ago Fox broadcast had all the ingredients of a ratings juggernaut, and the final numbers did not disappoint (44.4 million viewers/24.9 rating). By comparison, Sunday's Seahawks-Panthers game was down 17% in total viewers and 15% in the rating.
Saturday's games were also a mixed bag, as CBS's coverage of the Chiefs-Patriots opener drew 31.5 million viewers and a 18.1 HH rating (down 7% and 8%, respectively, compared with last year's Ravens-Pats thrill ride), while the Cardinals prevailed over the visiting Packers in overtime in the highest-rated (18.8) Saturday night Divisional Round game since the format was adopted in 2002. NBC's broadcast averaged 33.7 million viewers, making it the network's fourth most-watched/highest-rated non-Super Bowl game since it reacquired its NFL rights package in 2006. (Excluding Super Bowl XLIII, XLVI and XLIX, last week's Seahawks-Vikings Tundra Bowl freeze-out now ranks as No. 1 on that same list.)
NBC's deliveries were up 9% versus Fox's analogous Saturday night playoff broadcast in 2015. The year-ago Panthers-Seahawks showdown averaged 31.0 million viewers and a 17.2 rating.
Among the top brands advertising in the Divisional Round games were Verizon, Chevrolet, Subway, McDonald's, Nationwide, Ford, Geico, Southwest Airlines and Apple. Last weekend alone, the networks booked an estimated $400 million in NFL in-game spend.
As CBS continues its march to Super Bowl 50, it looks to close out the playoffs with a huge number, thanks to what is very likely to be the final showdown between ubiquitous Papa John's/Nationwide pitchman Peyton Manning (♫ jingle stuck inside your head ♫) and Tom Brady. Lifetime, the two veteran QBs have compiled a 2-2 record against each other in the postseason. Denver-New England kicks off Sunday in the early window, while Fox will follow up with an NFC Championship duel between the Cardinals and Panthers.
Through its first three playoff broadcasts, CBS is averaging 35.2 million viewers and a 19.7 household rating, while Fox's two games have drawn 37.8 million viewers and a gaudy 21.5 rating. NBC's pair of playoff games averaged 34.5 million viewers and a 19.9 rating, while the ESPN/ABC simulcast of the Jan. 9 Chiefs-Texans Wild Card drew a playoff-low 25.2 million viewers and a 14.7.