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ESPN Enters NFL Postseason for First Time

The NFL has shuffled its playoff lineup, opening the door for ESPN’s first-ever pro football postseason game telecast, while NBC traded up into the Divisional round.

ESPN’s Wildcard game, the first in the 35 years of the worldwide leader, will likely be one of the Saturday games, which NBC had aired since it regained NFL rights in 2006. NBC will air one of the Divisional round games the following weekend.

As such, NBC, whose Sunday Night Football has been TV’s top telecast for the past two season and perhaps will make it a three-peat when Nielsen closes its books in May, will broadcast three 2014 postseason games – Super Bowl XLIX from Arizona on Sunday, Feb.1, 2015, a Divisional Playoff game on the weekend of January 10-11, and a Wild Card Playoff game on the January 3-4 weekend. NBC will have a Divisional playoff contest over the life of its deal that concludes with the 2022 season.

When ESPN reached a new eight-year, $15.2 billion extension in 2011 for Monday Night Football, the agreement gave the league an option to move a playoff game to ESPN, which the NFL has opted to exercise this season.

“We’re thrilled to televise our first Wild Card playoff game and we thank the NFL for the opportunity,” said ESPN president John Skipper. “This game will be among the highest-rated programs of the year on cable and it is compelling content that will help us better serve football fans during the postseason.”

ESPN’s MNF teamofMike Tirico, Jon Gruden and sideline reporter Lisa Salters will call the Wild Card game, as well as the 2015 NFL Pro Bowl  on Jan. 25, 2015 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, which returns to ESPN this season as part of the company’s new rights agreement.

Similar to regular-season MNF games, ESPN’s Wild Card telecast will be simulcast on over the air stations in the primary markets of the participating teams; it will also be available via WatchESPN for fans who subscribe to an affiliated provider.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but Sports Business Journal, citing sources, reported that ESPN paid $100 million for the Wild Card game.

Under the contracts that expired after the 2013 season (2014 postseason), NBC had aired a pair of Wild Card games on the opening Saturday of the playoffs, while CBS and Fox each aired one of those contests the next day. CBS and Fox previously split the four Divisional matchups, along AFC and NFC lines, respectively. Presumably, NBC's Divisional game will come out of CBS and Fox's pots in alternate years.

The league will announce its 2014-15 schedule on NFL Network on April 23 at 8 p.m. (ET).