No damage to 'Sunday Night Football' ratings as Pats mangle Steelers
Given the savagery with which New England Patriots dispatched the Pittsburgh Steelers, NBC executives would have been forgiven for thinking that last night’s “Sunday Night Football” opener would disappoint on the ratings front. And while viewers began tuning out once Tom Brady and Co. had established a 20-0 lead at the half, the final deliveries for this lopsided AFC clash were higher than they were a year ago.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the Patriots’ 33-3 curb-stomping of the Steelers averaged 22.2 million viewers and a 12.6 household rating, edging last year’s analogous (and far more compelling) Bears-Packers showdown by the slimmest of margins. (Boosted by Aaron Rodgers’ near-miraculous comeback effort, the 2018 “Sunday Night Football” premiere averaged 22.1 million viewers and a 12.5 household rating, which would make it NBC’s second highest-rated broadcast of the season.)
Streaming on NBC and NFL digital platforms brought last night’s overall delivery up to 22.7 million viewers.
While it was a matchup that looked awfully good on paper, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady had drawn up a game plan that made for a far less viewer-friendly experience for those of us west of I-495. Brady completed 24 of 36 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns, while New England’s defense throttled the Steelers at every turn. Ben Roethlisberger, who finished last year’s campaign with a league-high 5,129 passing yards, connected on just 27 of 47 tosses for 276 yards and an interception.
The game peaked at 25.1 million viewers at halftime. The inevitable exodus kept this year’s meeting between the two archenemies from scaring up the sort of deliveries that have characterized their far more competitive games. The Steelers last season beat the Pats 17-10 in a chess match that averaged 24.6 million viewers and a 14.2 rating on CBS; in 2017, New England managed to hold off Pittsburgh by a score of 27-24 in a instant classic that averaged 26.9 million viewers and a 15.2 rating in the same CBS window.
The Patriots’ 30-point dismantling of the Steelers marked the largest margin of victory on “Sunday Night Football” since the Seahawks demoralized the Panthers by a score of 40-7 back on Dec. 4, 2016. That game averaged 17.8 million viewers and a 10.2 rating.
"When blended with Thursday night’s NFL Kickoff Game deliveries, NBC’s two-game average is 22.2 million viewers and a 12.8 rating, good for an 8 percent lift versus the year-ago 20.6 million/11.9.
NBC enjoyed its most successful two-night NFL debut in 2015, when a Steelers-Patriots NFL Kickoff Game and a Giants-Cowboys “SNF” opener combined for an average draw of 27.1 million viewers and a 15.8 rating. The Pittsburgh-New England game stands as the most-watched regular-season contest between the two teams since the decade began, drawing 27.4 million viewers and a, 16.2 rating.
The Patriots this season are slated to appear in eight other national TV windows, a schedule that includes four primetime games. Of these dates, the most hotly anticipated is the Nov. 24 late national game on Fox, in which the defending Super Bowl champs will host the Dallas Cowboys.
Elsewhere on the dial, Fox continued its dominance of the NFL ratings race with Sunday afternoon’s broadcast of the New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys skirmish. While final ratings were not available at press time (unless a network pays Nielsen a little something extra to expedite the data processing, Sunday football numbers generally aren’t released until Tuesday morning), Fox’s “America’s Game of the Week” averaged a 15.9 rating in the metered markets, up 3 percent compared to the year-ago 15.5 overnight.
Last year’s Cowboys-Panthers broadcast adjusted to 23.3 million viewers and a 13.1 live-same-day rating, making it the second most-watched game in Fox’s eight national Sunday windows while topping the network’s 11 “Thursday Night Football” productions.