The NFL has been off to a great start from a ratings perspective, but starting quarterbacks have been dropping like flies and if you look down the road there are already a number of primetime games that will be adversely affected.
- Andrew Luck retired before the season; the Colts play in primetime three times: 10/6 vs. the Chiefs on Sunday Night Football (which could be flexed out), 11/21 versus the Texans on Thursday Night Football, and 12/16 against the Saints on Monday Night Football.
- Sam Darnold is missing tonight’s MNF game against the Browns with mono.
- Drew Brees is going to miss about six weeks after thumb surgery. The Saints play on SNF against the Cowboys in two weeks. They also play the Seahawks next week at 4:25 pm on Sunday, a window that is almost a de facto primetime game when the featured contest is shown to a majority of the country.
- Ben Roethlisberger is out for the year with an elbow injury. Three of the Steelers’ next five games are in primetime (MNF against the Bengals on 9/30, SNF against the Chargers on 10/13 and MNF against the Dolphins on 10/28 in what could be a truly awful matchup). The SNF game here could conceivably be flexed out by NBC.
- Nick Foles is on IR with designation to return after a collarbone injury. The Jaguars play on Thursday night this week against the Titans. Foles isn’t the level of star attraction as Roethlisberger, Brees, and Luck, while the Gardner Minshew II story is tantalizing, but the ratings for this game still might be hurt on the margins.
In addition to that, Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz take an amount of contact that puts their full season availabilities at risk. Aaron Rodgers isn’t a sure bet to remain healthy at this point in his career. The Giants have three primetime games remaining, and it’s quite conceivable that Eli Manning is benched for them. While the Panthers do not have any remaining primetime games on their schedule, Cam Newton looks like there are a number of physical issues with him now.
Look, the NFL is far and away the most dominant property, not just in all of sports but in all of television. That’s not going to change any time soon, and there are young quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, and Baker Mayfield who one can envision taking the baton from the league’s tentpole names.
However, the ratings rise and fall on a year-over-year basis on the strength of how many casual eyeballs tune in — there are a number of factors in that, including franchise locations, histories, and fan bases, but starting quarterbacks are right up there as far as impact is concerned.
We’ve had just two weeks of the season, and the NFL already has a looming issue with their health.