Much has been made this week of the 2020 NFL ratings slip costing broadcasters money. Simultaneously, the NFL is reportedly nearing a $100 billion broadcasting deal with those same networks plus Amazon, which is to say the financial sky isn't falling at NFL HQ despite the downward trajectory of viewership.
This week, the NFL gets another chance to redirect the ratings narrative as the AFC's top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs face off against the NFC's second-seeded New Orleans Saints in a potential Super Bowl preview.
Even with Drew Brees not expected to play as he continues to rehab from broken ribs, it's a dream matchup for CBS featuring the defending Super Bowl champions, the best quarterback in the NFL in Patrick Mahomes, two of the league's best offenses and two of the most loyal fanbases around. That it's being broadcast in the late window (4:25 p.m. ET) with Tony Romo and Jim Nantz on the call against two other unappealing matchups (Rams-Jets, Cardinals-Eagles) further solidifies the belief that this should be a ratings hit at a time the NFL would like a win in that department.
The only question is, will it be the highest-rated game of the year?
So far, the highest-rated game of the year (and the highest-rated program on TV besides the Super Bowl in 2020) was the Cowboys-Washington Thanksgiving game, which hit 30.3 million viewers on FOX. The draw there is obvious: America's team playing its biggest rival after most people finished their Thanksgiving meals. The draw for Saints-Chiefs is obvious as well (mentioned above) and the trends are in the ratings God's favor.
Ratings for CBS's Week 12 4:30 p.m. ET game between the Chiefs and Bucs scored 23.1 million viewers. In Week 14, the Saints drove 22.5 million viewers on FOX for their game against the Eagles. Throughout this season, the Sunday late afternoon game has been the highest-rated game in 13-of-14 weeks. If you include Thanksgiving's 4:30 game, it's all 14. As for the Saints and Chiefs, they've combined to be involved in seven of the 13 Sunday afternoon games. Clearly those two teams drive viewership.
It's unlikely Saints-Chiefs will rate higher than Cowboys-Washington on Thanksgiving because the Cowboys' afternoon game on Thanksgiving is traditionally the highest-rated of the regular season. The 2019 Week 15 afternoon game between the Cowboys and Rams drove 23 million viewers. With this game featuring better storylines and better teams, I'd expect it to be higher than that.
I'm predicting ratings for Chiefs-Saints beats the numbers for Chiefs-Bucs in Week 1 (25.8 million), but is lower than Cowboys-Washington. If that's true, expect CBS and the NFL to laud the results as proof ratings remain strong and people remain in love with the NFL, though I'm not sure it will result in the league getting more than $100 billion for future rights.