The opening round of the NFL playoffs drew a slightly smaller — but still huge — TV audience than a year ago.
The six games of the wildcard round averaged about 28.4 million viewers, a 4 percent drop from the 2022 opening round (29.65 million). Three of the broadcasts had over 30 million viewers, led by the 33.21 million for Fox’s Sunday broadcast of the New York Giants’ victory over the Minnesota Vikings. That game, however, was about 20 percent off the same window last year, when 41.5 million people watched the San Francisco 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys — the largest audience for a wild card game since 2015.
ABC and ESPN’s simulcast of this year’s Cowboys game, a 31-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night, drew 31.2 million people (including ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes). It was the second largest crowd for the round and the biggest winner of the six wins, growing nearly 36 percent from last year. CBS’ early Sunday game (Buffalo vs. Miami) had 30.87 million viewers, growing about 2 percent from the same broadcast window a year ago.
Fox’s Saturday afternoon game (San Francisco-Seattle, 27.46 million viewers) was within 1 percent of the same 2022 window, while NBC’s two primetime matchups (Jacksonville-LA Chargers, 20.61 million and Cincinnati-Baltimore, 26.87 million) by 22 percent and 7 percent year over year. However, NBC noted that the two games marked the first time a broadcaster had averaged 20 million viewers on consecutive nights in two years – the last time NBC had wild card games on Saturday and Sunday nights.
The small drop for the wild card round mirrors that of the regular season, where NFL games averaged 16.7 million viewers (including streaming) — a 2 percent drop largely due to the move of Thursday night football from Fox and the NFL Network to Amazon’s Prime Video.
The afternoon windows of CBS and Fox and that of NBC Sunday night football were all a bit worn out. ESPN and ABC Monday night football fell about 5 percent, not including the Week 17 game between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals that was canceled after the Bills’ Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field. The public suggests up to that point that it would have been the most viewed MNF game of the season and drew the season about level with last year.