Drew Brees and Tom Brady are set to square off in the most highly-anticipated quarterback showdown in the playoffs so far as the Saints host the Bucs in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs this Sunday at 6:40 p.m. ET on FOX.
With Brees expected to retire after this season, this is likely the last time we see the two most statistically-proficient quarterbacks in NFL history playing against each other. Add the possibility that this could be Brady's final playoff game and the fervor for this matchup is already omnipresent over 150 hours before this game is set to kick off.
That's good news for FOX and the NFL, which can both expect monster ratings for Brady-Brees Part III.
The Saints and Bucs faced each other twice during the regular season. The first was a ratings hit, with 25.85 million viewers watching their Week 1 matchup. That was the second-highest viewership number for the year, with only the Cowboys-Washington game on Thanksgiving driving higher viewership (30.3 million). Their second game in Week 9 didn't drive nearly as much interest in primetime on NBC (16.88M), but this game and the playoffs present an opportunity for a monster ratings number.
Last year, the late-Sunday Divisional Playoff game between the Packers and Seahawks, which was on FOX, drove 37.24 million viewers. While Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson are an intriguing combo, you can't compare them in terms of general interest across America to Brees and Brady. Throw in the uncertainty about each quarterback's future and you have the potential for conference Championship round ratings in the Divisional round.
My ratings prediction for the Saints vs Bucs game is 40.5 million viewers. If it's competitive and comes down to the fourth quarter, it could reach 41.5 million or more. The former would represent an 8.1% increase on last year's Divisional broadcast at the same time and would be only 5.4 percent behind the ratings for FOX during last year's NFC Championship.
The majority of NFL ratings have been down from a year-over-year perspective this season. We're still waiting on numbers from the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Regardless of what those are, two legends squaring off for a spot in the NFC Championship in what could be either player's last playoff game sets up for a ratings bonanza. Both FOX and the NFL must love that.