NFL Week 2: What Can Nets Do For An Encore?

Maybe it was the bunting. But America’s love for pro football (at least on TV) was on full display during the opening weekend of the 2010-11 NFL season.

After averaging 16.6 million viewers for all regular-season contests last season — the NFL’s best with the Nielsens since 1990 — the four network carriers communed quite nicely with viewers with “NFL Kickoff 2010.” The games from Sept. 9-13 marked the most-watched opening weekend since 1987 with an average of 19.5 million viewers, as NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN all posted audience advances on Kickoff Weekend.

For the record:

*Fox’s national game, largely Green Bay Packers-Philadelphia Eagles, was the most-watched Week 1 Sunday clash on record with 28 million viewers, surpassing the previous high set last year, 25.1 million viewers for Washington Redskins at the New York Giants, also on Fox. (Nielsen average viewer records date back to 1987). Fox also had its most-watched Kickoff Weekend doubleheader ever.

*CBS’s single-game window — mostly Cincinnati-New England and Indianapolis-Houston — tackled 16.2 million viewers, marking the network’s most-watched opening weekend at 1 p.m (Black Rock covers the U.S. Open men’s finals, sometimes, in the 4 p.m. window) since 1992.

*NBC’s averaged 26.3 million viewers for the Sept. 9 season opener, a rematch of the NFC title tilt, with Brett Favre’s Minnesota Vikings again invading the Superdome, the home of the defending Super Bowl XLIV champion New Orleans Saints (27.5 million), and the Washington Redskins-Dallas Cowboys (25.3 million) on the debut of Sunday Night Football. Those contests were the NBC’s most-watched regular-season primetime broadcasts and the best since the current Kickoff Weekend scheduled was implemented in 2002.

*Three games — the Fox national telecast and NBC’s primetime pair — were watched by more than 25 million viewers, the most to draw that many viewers in one weekend since Thanksgiving weekend back in 1991.

* The Kickoff Weekend Monday Night Football games combined for ESPN’s most-viewed opening night, with an average of 13.6 million viewers, since the doubleheader format began in 2006. ESPN’s coverage of the Baltimore Ravens-New York Jets scored with 15 million viewers on average, the most-viewed season-opening contest since the Bristol behemoth took over the MNF franchise in 2006.

And consider how much bigger the audiences might have been if some of these games were actually compelling on the field. Although competitive on the scoreboard, the Vikings-Saints, Ravens-Jets and ‘Skins-‘Boys games were decidedly lackluster affairs on the offensive side of the ball. Conversely, the Pats-Bengals was over quickly as Tom Brady and boss Bill Belichick were all over the T.O.-Ochocincos.

This weekend, there are blackouts in San Diego for the Chargers-Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland, for the Raiders-St. Louis Rams, but there are several notable TV affairs. America’s Team hosts the big market Chicago Bears in Jerry’s World at 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox, while CBS’s doubleheader contest pits New England against the Rex Ryans, with the J-E-T-S’s season on the line at the New Meadowlands.

Then, there’s the second chapter of the Manning Bowl on SNF, with Eli’s New York Giants traveling to big brother Peyton’s Indianapolis Colts, who would also face a long road ahead to the playoffs should they slip off the wrong end at Lucas Oil Stadium. The initial Manning Bowl, a 26-21 win for Peyton, drew 22.6 million for NBC on its SNF opener Sept. 10, 2006, when Eli was just an NFL neophyte.

For its part, ESPN has the Saints against the San Francisco 49ers on MNF. Mike Singletary’s group was a fashionable pick to win the NFC West, the league’s weakest division, before Paul Allen’s Seattle Seahawks stomped all over them in the opener. The Saints have been involved in some pretty big telecasts dating back to last season, including the biggest ever in American TV.

But was that more a function of the moments, than Drew Breesus’s team emerging as a true national team? The Nielsens will tell how much the interest extends beyond NOLA — the Saints’ 14-9 win over the Favres garnered a 60 rating/78 share in the DMA — on Tuesday.