The Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles will meet for the second time this season on this week's edition of Sunday Night Football. There are significant football stakes at play as the 10-2 Eagles attempt to keep hold atop the NFC East with the 9-3 Cowboys hot on their tails. It is almost assured both teams will make the postseason at this point but Sunday's game will go a long way in determining playoff seeding and matchups, which affects not only Philly and Dallas but all the other NFC contenders as well.
There are also ratings at stake. Obviously. Even people who are not yet aware that Football Is King know that Cowboys-Eagles games are always a big draw. This season's first matchup between the two rivals on November 5, for example, drew 27.1 million viewers in the late afternoon window -- the second-most watched non-Thanksgiving NFL game so far this year. Last year their matchup on Christmas Eve drew 27.8 million viewers, which was the only primetime game of the night. Pretty much regardless of circumstance or timing, people will watch the Cowboys play the Eagles.
So what will the ratings for this game look like?
As noted above the last two games between the two neared the 30-million viewer mark, a nigh impossible number for a regular-season NFL game to reach on days other than Thanksgiving. However, when the two sides played on SNF back in October 2022, only 20 million viewers tuned in. As noted by Sports Media Watch that number is more like 22 million when you account for streaming numbers, something that is included in the 2023 numbers. The point is that north of 25 million viewers isn't a lock even for these games in the nighttime slot. It's tricky going any further back to find comparable games due to the streaming numbers not being included until this year but looking at the 2022 viewership is useful as a baseline.
However, the most important thing to note is the time. Regular season night games on work nights have a hard cap on viewership. The first Cowboys-Eagles game this year hit 27 million viewers because it was in the late afternoon window, widely considered to be the most attractive in terms of ratings from September to January. For comparison, the highest-rated SNF game of the year so far has been the Chiefs-Bears Week 3 contest, which drew 27 million viewers. This is at least in part because it came at the height of the Taylor Swift/Travis Kelce craze.
Only two other SNF games cracked the 20-million viewer mark. Every other game drew between 15-19 million viewers. There needs to be a perfect storm of circumstance for NBC to top 25 million viewers in game that starts at 8:20pm ET.
While this upcoming matchup is certainly an ideal storm of circumstance, it's not quite perfect. The Cowboys and Eagles are both good and battling for NFC East supremacy but there's a lot of season left. It's not a do-or-die contest. It is an important game, yes, but not the most important game on the calendar quite yet. Furthermore there might be some Eagles fatigue from the masses given how often they've been in primetime recently and the ugly manner in which they've won and lost those games.
The final prediction here is 24.6 million viewers. It'll break past the 20-million mark because it's Eagles-Cowboys with both teams rocking at the top of the NFC. But it won't reach that elusive 27 million number, if only because it's extraordinarily difficult for a non-playoff or holiday game to get there. Making this one of NBC's highest-rated games of the year, but not the highest, feels just right.