This week's Monday Night Football matchup between the New Orleans Saints and Las Vegas Raiders was a good, but not great, game. The Raiders were winning handily halfway through the fourth, and while the Saints made it interesting by scoring to bring it within seven with three minutes left, Las Vegas got a few first downs and the game was over.
It still resulted in a successful night of ratings for ESPN. The network announced the game drew an average audience of 15.6 million viewers, a 31 percent year-over-year increase from Monday Night Football Week 2 of the 2019 season featuring the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets. ESPN reported the numbers seen through the lens of their "Megacast" which includes ABC, ESPN, ESPN 2, and ESPN Deportes. Monday gave ESPN its second-highest viewership of any MNF game in the last 24 broadcasts. The local market ratings in Las Vegas were the highest of any Monday night game in a decade.
But next week is where the big numbers might come in, and ESPN is undoubtedly excited for it. The Baltimore Ravens will face off against the Kansas City Chiefs in what may very well be the marquee matchup of the season on Monday Night Football. The two best teams in the AFC squaring up. Patrick Mahomes vs. Lamar Jackson. John Harbaugh vs. Andy Reid. The game that might decide home-field advantage come playoff time. There are storylines in great abundance, narratives everywhere you look. The only downside to the game is that it's coming in Week 3, when the playoff implications are still murky. Otherwise, it's about as perfect a regular-season game a network could hope for.
It should also result in a ratings bonanza. If Raiders-Saints resulted in a 31 percent increase from last season, how high are the numbers going to be for this game? It's certainly going to be much higher than last year's Week 3 MNF matchup between the Chicago Bears and the franchise now known as the Washington Football Team. We could be looking at a 35 percent plus increase year-over-year, which ESPN would obviously consider a resounding success, especially in an election year and a strange year for TV ratings in general as a global pandemic serves as backdrop.
There's really no way this goes wrong for ESPN. Even if the game is a blowout from the early going, eyes will still stick to the screen because Mahomes and Jackson are the two most exciting players in the NFL. Passionate fans will stick around for the duration, but even casual fans will watch longer than normal in that case because no matter who's on the field, something special might happen. Hell, with these two, something special will probably happen. It doesn't take an NFL aficionado to watch in awe as Mahomes throws a cross-body 60-yard pass while he's getting hit or to shout in amazement while Jackson jukes four dudes out of their shoes in the span of eight seconds.
The ratings game can be fun to play, but this one is simple. Star power and great teams usually amount to great games, which usually amounts to great ratings. Throw in two die-hard markets in Baltimore and Kansas City, and both the national and local audience will be paying rapt attention for much of the night. It should be an excellent game, and one ESPN will have reason to celebrate for a while yet.