TNF: A Big One In The Mile High City

(Editor's note: Turns out quite a lot. Peyton's punishment of the Chargers averaged 20.2 million watchers, the second-highest of the simulcasts behind the opener, resulting in the seven-game average jumping to 16.5 million from 16.1 million over the first six.]

Is the Denver Broncos-San Diego Chargers Thursday Night Football matchup a big one for the NFL and CBS?

After coming out of the box with 20.8 million viewers for Pittsburgh-Baltimore during its Sept. 11 kickoff – during the height of the Ray Rice frenzy – the CBS/NFL Network simulcasts have been saddled with some on-field clunkers.  The Sept. 18 scrimmage saw Atlanta jump to a 56-0 lead before Tampa Bay notched a pair of fourth-quarter TDs.  Amazingly, there was still enough pigskin jones/love for Smith’s putrid charges as the game tackled 11.9 million viewers.

With the first two telecasts at the extreme of the Nielsen range, the other four contests have been remarkably consistent: 16.3 million watchers for the New York Giants’ whacking of Washington on Sept. 25; 16.5 million for Green Bay’s mauling of Minnesota on Oct. 2; 15.9 million for Indy’s 33-28 win over Houston in which the Colts led 24-0 on Oct. 9; and 16.1 million for New England’s 27-25 edging of the New York Jets on Oct. 16.

The blowouts aside, nobody really put much stock in Rex Ryan’s men having much of a chance in Foxboro against Belichick and Brady, a telecast that also lost some potential viewers as the Giants won the pennant during Game 5 of the NLCS.

Granted the Oct. 23 edition of TNF could have been sexier, if the Chargers had not lost to the Chiefs and Peyton Manning was still trying to surpass Brett Favre as pro football’s all-time touchdown thrower, a notch he added to his mantle during Denver’s demolition of San Francisco on Sunday Night Football.

Still, the World Series is in off day and ESPN’s college doubleheader of UConn-East Carolina and Virginia Tech-Miami lacks real sizzle. Moreover, the midseson AFC West lead is up for grabs.

Will the final CBS/NFLN simulcast during this rookie TNF experiment season move the audience needle beyond the last four deliveries? And by how much?

Not that there’s anything wrong with averaging a combined 16.1 million viewers per telecast and CBS winning the night handily in audience and demos.  Simulcast TNF is bigger than ESPN's Monday Night Football, it's just not NBC SNF strong.

Of course, the real questions remain: What’s the drop when NFLN, which will still benefit from CBS’s production team and Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, goes it alone with its 73-million subscribers?

More importantly, what’s Roger Goodell and Brian Rolapp’s ultimate play here?  A full broadcast season with CBS? Fox, NBC and ESPN bidding for the same? Of course, if there aren't any simulcasts, the $1.25 monthly subscriber fee for NFL Network would have to decline, right? Maybe.

We’ll begin to find out with New Orleans-Carolina on NFL Network on Oct. 30.