NFL Playoffs: Wildcard Weekend Falls From Last Year’s Record

The addition of cable into the wildcard weekend mix and a slew of one-sided outcomes caused the NFL’s opening weekend of the playoffs drop from last January’s record high.

The four games, which for the first time included one on cable net ESPN, averaged 29.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen, down 14% from the 34.7 million that tuned in last year.

Once again, Fox led with its late-afternoon Sunday contest between the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys, which drew 42.3 million viewers to rank as the third-most watched wildcard game ever. However, it was down 10% from the record 47.1 million who watched the San Francisco 49ers-Green Bay Packers game last year.

CBS' coverage of the early game on Sunday between the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts was down 8% from the same window last year with 28.3 million.

On Saturday night, NBC drew 28 million viewers for the Baltimore Ravens’ win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, down 18% from last year’s Saturday evening game.

ESPN’s first ever playoff telecast, the late-afternoon Saturday matchup between the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals, drew 21.7 million viewers. While that was the cable network’s second-most watched NFL game in its history, it was down 21% from the same game window from last year.

However, that game aired on broadcast on NBC and this year’s matchup featured a third-string quarterback and a division champion with a losing record.