The Daily Briefing Tuesday, January 9, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
According to DVOA at FootballOutsiders.com, the Titans actually have a 16% chance of winning in New England:
Team Conf App Conf Win SB Win
NE 83.9% 51.6% 29.2%
PIT 73.6% 35.0% 19.8%
MIN 60.2% 36.2% 18.1%
NO 39.8% 24.5% 12.8%
PHI 63.1% 29.0% 11.1%
JAC 26.4% 9.8% 4.2%
ATL 36.9% 10.3% 3.6%
TEN 16.1% 3.6% 1.2%
While Vegas favors the Falcons, DVOA (perhaps counting 2/3rd Carson Wentz?) says the Eagles are 63% to beat Atlanta.
The AFC has the top two favorites and a 53.4% chance overall ti win the whole thing.
Also from FootballOutsiders.com is this injury overview:
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles (Saturday, 4:35 p.m. EST)
The Falcons appeared to suffer no new significant injuries in their wild-card victory in Los Angeles. Quarterback Matt Ryan was treated after suffering a cut to the back of his head, but the injury is not considered serious. All of the other Falcons players who appeared on the injury report appeared to emerge unscathed.
Eagles defensive lineman Brandon Graham sat out of the team’s Week 17 loss to Dallas, but is expected to play against the Falcons. Every other player on the current 53-man roster is expected to be available to play.
Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (Saturday, 8:15 p.m. EST)
Titans halfback DeMarco Murray is still considered day-to-day with a knee ligament sprain ahead of the team’s trip to Massachusetts. Murray missed both Week 17 and the wild-card victory over the Chiefs, and Derrick Henry excelled in his absence. If Murray is unable to return, Henry will again be the Titans’ primary — and effectively lone — running back.
The status of the injured Patriots players is, as usual, unclear. Three of the team’s top four running backs, in one of the deepest backfield depth charts in the league, are currently hurt: Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee are battling knee injuries, while James White has an injured ankle. Dion Lewis has excelled as the primary back, and it is likely that two of the other three will be healthy enough to suit up against the Titans. Receiver Chris Hogan is still recovering from the significant shoulder injury that caused him to miss most of the second half of the regular season, while fellow receiver Malcolm Mitchell has returned to practice after a knee injury cost him the entire regular season. One or the other may be able to play on Saturday night, but it would be a surprise to see both.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers (Sun, 1:05 p.m. EST)
Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, an important veteran stalwart in this young Jaguars defense, suffered a hip injury against the Bills and did not return. Fortunately, hip injuries usually are not too severe; just a quarter of those injuries keep linebackers out for a full game. The odds favor Posluszny to be available next week, although the fact that he was unable to return to Sunday’s game raises some concerns. Typical recovery times are one to two weeks, so there is hope that he will be fully healthy if the Jaguars can get past the Steelers. Receiver and punt returner Jaydon Mickens injured his hamstring and did not return. As we have mentioned here before, hamstring injury recovery profiles depend on severity. About 50 percent of hamstring injuries to wide receivers cause them to miss at least one game, so pending additional information Mickens may be a coin flip for next week’s game. Typical recovery times are one to four weeks; it is difficult to project Mickens’ status beyond next week at this time.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown caused a panic when he suffered a calf injury late in the regular season, but after rest and rehabilitation Brown is expected to be fully fit and unhindered by the injury this coming Sunday. He is the only current injury concern for the well-rested Steelers.
New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, 4:40 p.m. EST)
An often-banged-up Saints offensive line suffered a major blow against the Panthers when left guard Andrus Peat was lost for the season with a fractured leg and associated high-ankle injury. A key player on the offensive line, Peat has started regularly at both left guard and left tackle as preferred tackle Terron Armstead dropped into and out of the lineup with injuries of his own. Backup Senio Kelemete, who filled in at left guard when Peat was moved to left tackle, will now start in his stead. Peat marks the sixth starter the Saints have lost during the season, following defensive end Alex Okafor; linebackers A.J. Klein and Alex Anzalone; safety/moneybacker Kenny Vaccaro; and tight end Coby Fleener to injured reserve (would-be starting defensive tackle Nick Fairley was also lost for the year in preseason due to a heart problem). The good news is that the remainder of the existing roster is healthy: cornerback P.J. Williams and defensive tackle Tony McDaniel were treated on the sideline during the game, but both were able to return.
The Vikings are perhaps the best demonstration of the value of a playoff bye. Rookie center Pat Elflein — our pick at the position on the Scramble All-Rookie Team — missed the last two weeks of the regular season to injury, but has returned to practice and is expected to play this weekend. Quarterback Sam Bradford, who was placed on injured reserve with a tibial plateau bone bruise early in the season, has also returned to practice, though he is not expected to be activated for Sunday’s game. Long snapper Kevin McDermott dislocated his shoulder in Week 16, and had surgery this week; John Overbaugh will snap on special teams in his stead. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes missed some practice time last week with an undisclosed injury — injury reports are not due until this week — while tight end Kyle Rudolph should be back close to full strength after playing through an ankle injury late in the regular season. Neither player is expected to miss Sunday’s game, however; despite regular-season bumps and bruises, all 53 active players are expected to be available for selection.
The Bears, presumably extended GM Ryan Pace, have opted to hire Matt Nagy, fresh off another Chiefs playoff debacle, to be their head coach. Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times:
The Bears named Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy their new head coach on Monday.
General manager Ryan Pace interviewed Nagy, 39, on Sunday, a day after the Chiefs’ loss in the wildcard round against the Titans. He replaces John Fox, who was fired a week ago after a 14-34 record in three seasons. Nagy is the 16th head coach in Bears history.
Nagy’s entire NFL coaching career has been spent under Chiefs coach Andy Reid. A record-setting quarterback in college at Delaware, Nagy started as an intern in 2008 for Reid’s Eagles. He followed Reid to the Chiefs, starting off as their quarterbacks coach in 2013 before being promoted to offensive coordinator last season.
After Delaware and before beginning his coaching career, Nagy played six seasons in the Arena Football League, throwing for 374 touchdowns and 18,866 yards. He led the Georgia Force to the Arena Bowl in 2005 and the Columbia Destroyers to the championship in 2007.
The Chiefs and Nagy were said to be very high on Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky coming out of the draft last year. After the Bears drafted Trubisky, the Chiefs traded up and selected Patrick Mahomes with the 10th overall pick.
Nagy is the latest head coach to emerge from Reid’s staff. Current head coaches who worked for Reid at one point in their careers include Ron Rivera (Panthers), John Harbaugh (Ravens), Sean McDermott (Bills), Todd Bowles (Jets) and Doug Pederson (Eagles). Previous head coaches include Pat Shurmur (Browns 2011-12), Leslie Frazier (Vikings 2010-13), Steve Spagnuolo (Rams 2009-11) and Brad Childress (2006-10).
All eyes are now on defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who was the Bears’ first interview for their head-coaching vacancy after Fox was fired. The Bears want Fangio to stay, and his contract expires on Tuesday.
Young Eliot Wolf may be leaving the Green Bay nest after Brian Gutenkist was named King of the Pack front office.
Brian Gutekunst wants Eliot Wolf to be his top advisor, but the Green Bay Packers general manager says he will understand if his longtime coworker leaves after getting passed over for the job.
It sounds like Gutekunst will let him go.
Wolf, who holds the position of director of football operations, did not receive a promotion Monday, when the Packers introduced Gutekunst as GM and announced changes to their management structure to include president Mark Murphy as the overseer of Gutekunst, executive vice president/football operations Russ Ball and coach Mike McCarthy.
“I would envision him kind of being a right-hand man to me,” Gutekunst said of Wolf on Monday following his introductory news conference. “We have a great relationship. I’m very fond of the person, and the scout is excellent. I’ve told him that. I really want him to be here. But I also know he has other opportunities, and I wouldn’t hold him back from that because I care about him. But if he was here, I’d like to get him more involved in the college side of stuff and have a broader approach to what he’s been doing.”
Because the 35-year-old Wolf is still under contract with the Packers, Gutekunst could block him from taking anything other than a GM job with another team, but it doesn’t sound like he would prevent Wolf from leaving.
New Browns general manager John Dorsey wants to hire Wolf as one of his top advisers. Dorsey, the former Packers’ personnel executive, already hired away Alonzo Highsmith to be his vice president of football operations.
Wolf was one of four candidates Murphy interviewed for the GM job. The others were Ball and former Bills general manager Doug Whaley.
Former Packers GM Ron Wolf did not sound happy that his son was passed over for the job he once held, telling ESPN on Sunday night, “Obviously, the people up there don’t think he’s worthy, or they would’ve hired him.”
Gutekunst, 44, got the edge over Wolf in large part because of his experience. Gutekunst is more versed in the college scouting area, having spent 13 years as an area scout and four years as the Packers’ director of college scouting before he became director of player personnel in 2016.
Most of Wolf’s experience has been in pro scouting, which is why Gutekunst believes they would make a good team.
“We’ve been talking throughout this whole thing,” Gutekunst said. “Like I said, he’s a friend, and we do have a very good relationship. I talked to him multiple times and will continue to and see where it goes.”
Gutekunst is expected to retain director of college scouting Jon-Eric Sullivan and director of pro personnel John Wojciechowski.
More from Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
If the assignment of Eliot Wolf’s title (director of football operations) to Russ Ball wasn’t evidence enough that the son of former Packers G.M. Ron Wolf is on the way out of Green Bay, the fact that the Packers apparently are willing to let him leave for something other than a “high-level employee” position confirms it.
New G.M. Brian Kutekunst, the former subordinate to Wolf who has now leapfrogged his former boss, said all the right things during an introductory press conference on Monday. But the message came through clearly: Wolf is free to leave.
“I surely want him to be part of this,” Gutekunst told reporters regarding Wolf. “He obviously has other opportunities if he wants them. . . . I’m very hopeful that he’ll be here.”
He surely won’t be. Wolf already has been linked to Cleveland, where he’d reunite with former Packers executive John Dorsey.
The broader message is this: If there’s a team out there that wants to add Wolf to its front office, now is the time to make a move, because the Packers apparently won’t be inclined to keep him from moving. Especially since they’re already given his title to someone else.
QB CASE KEENUM is Minnesota’s unquestioned number one, but Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com wonders who is number two.
It wasn’t that long ago that Vikings reporters were asking Mike Zimmer if he knew who his starting quarterback was. Now that Case Keenum has established it’s his team, the Vikings have to decide who their backup quarterback is.
Teddy Bridgewater has served as Keenum’s backup since Week 10 when the Vikings activated him from the physically unable to perform list and placed Sam Bradford on injured reserve. But Bradford has returned to practice and could return to the 53-player roster.
Zimmer was secretive Monday when asked if he knows which quarterback will backup Keenum on Sunday.
“I think I know, yes. You’ll have to wait until Sunday,” Zimmer said, via quotes distributed by the team.
Bradford, who passed for 346 yards and three touchdowns in a season-opening victory over New Orleans, had two days of practice last week. The quarterback called his work “very encouraging.”
“He got about one third of the reps, so we’ll just take our time and see how it goes,” Zimmer said.
The next quarterback question for Zimmer will come after the season when he’s asked about his quarterback for 2018. Keenum, Bridgewater and Bradford all are scheduled to become free agents in March.
DT FLETCHER COX likes being the home dog. Tim McManus of ESPN.com:
The Philadelphia Eagles are the first top seed in NFL history to enter its opening playoff game as an underdog.
According to standout defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, it’s just another example of this Eagles team not getting its proper respect.
“We’ve been disrespected all year,” he said. “Our record can speak for itself. We’re a team that’s been disrespected week in and week out, and we just come out and ring the bell every week.”
The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook set the opening line at minus-2.5 in favor of the sixth-seeded Falcons, who upset the Los Angeles Rams in the wild-card round to advance.
Since 1975, when the NFL began basing home-field advantage on teams’ regular-season winning percentage, no No. 1 seed has ever been an underdog in its first playoff game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Until now.
“It just puts a bigger chip on our shoulder and just adds fuel to the fire, and that’s what this team, obviously, has been going off of all year,” Cox said, “people doubting us every week. So we just want to go out and shut those doubters up.”
Westgate Superbook oddsmaker Ed Salmons estimates the Eagles could have been as much as a 6.5-point favorite over the Falcons with a healthy Carson Wentz. The fact that Wentz is out with a torn ACL is clearly having a major impact on public perception. So, too, has the recent play of backup Nick Foles. He’s 23-of-49 (47 percent) for 202 yards with a TD over his past five quarters of work.
Following a Christmas night win over the Oakland Raiders, in which Foles and the offense struggled, right tackle Lane Johnson faced a string of questions about his unit’s down play despite the fact that the Eagles had just improved to 13-2. He later told reporters that he was done talking for the year, but he rescinded that a week later after he’d cooled off.
“Obviously I wasn’t happy with the way we performed, but then again, we are where we are and it’s kind of, nothing is ever good enough,” he said last week. “There’s kind of pros and cons to it. I think it’s a good motivator. It’ll piss you off and get a lot of guys fired up, and that’s what it did for me.”
John Keim of ESPN.com says Jay Gruden is tired of having a QB on a one-year contract.
The Washington Redskins could still keep quarterback Kirk Cousins around on a one-year deal. That’s not the outcome their coach would like to see.
Speaking on his show that aired over the weekend on NBC, Jay Gruden told host Chris Cooley that he wants Cousins’ contract situation to be resolved.
After two years of both sides saying they were OK with Cousins on a one-year deal, it appears that patience is running out. During a question-and-answer session with fans Friday in conjunction with his paid weekly appearances on 106.7 The Fan, Cousins said he was fine playing on another one-year deal, but added, “You can only just kind of go year-to-year for so long.”
Cousins has played the past two seasons on one-year deals under the franchise tag, leading to season-long questions about his future with the organization.
“I think something has to be done,” Gruden said. “I personally don’t want to go through another one-year deal, and just one year, one year. I think you want to have a quarterback in here that’s going to be here. And hopefully that is Kirk, and if not, we have to move on and do what we have to do as an organization.”
Part of Gruden’s desire stems from knowing how to plan for the future and how cap space needs to be allocated in 2018 and beyond. It could impact who the Redskins want to pursue.
If they retained Cousins on a one-year deal, it would cost either $34.5 million (under a franchise tag) or $28.8 million (transition tag). If they opted to go with backup quarterback Colt McCoy and a rookie, the cost would be at most around $10 million this season.
Both Gruden and Cousins have extolled the virtues of playing in one system for a long time.
Layer upon layer of intrigue regarding QB CAM NEWTON. The story now is he initially faked a concussion to allow his back-up DEREK ANDERSON time to get in a few warmup throws. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
There’s a strange subplot to the question of whether the Panthers failed to properly conduct a concussion evaluation after quarterback Cam Newton took a blow to the head and then stumbled to the ground while exiting the field in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Saints. According to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, the Panthers now admit that Newton was embellishing whatever injury he had, in order to give backup Derek Anderson time to loosen up.
It’s a stunning admission, with the Panthers consciously picking the lesser of two evils. In lieu of admitting that Newton ended up on his knees because he was unable to finish his left-foot-right-foot path to the sideline, the Panthers are essentially admitting that they gamed the system, ordering Newton to pretend he was hurt more than he was so that Anderson could become more ready than he would have been.
Sorry, Panthers, but that’s the risk of operating under false pretenses. When you deliberately play make believe, there’s a chance someone will believe you. And if Newton’s manifestation of symptoms was to be believed, the recent adjustments to the concussion protocol mandated a locker-room concussion evaluation, not a quick and perfunctory “how many fingers?” exercise in the blue medical tent.
So that should be a lesson to all other teams: If you’re going to tell your starting quarterback to flop after getting banged up in order to give his backup a chance to not flop while playing, the price you’ll pay is waiting for the starting quarterback to be cleared via a concussion evaluation performed in the locker room.
The price of staying for 1-31 Coach Hue Jackson seems to be hiring an OC. The Browns have a pair of interviews ongoing according to Ian Rapoport of The NFL Network.
The #Browns are interviewing former #Bengals OC Ken Zampese today for their vacant OC job under Hue Jackson, source said. They’ll interview #Texans QB coach Sean Ryan on Wednesday.
Adam Schefter of ESPN.com says that the Patriots have thwarted Houston’s attempt to interview some of their personnel people for the Texans GM job.
New England rejected Houston’s request to interview Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio and director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort for the Texans’ general manager job, and the Eagles told the Texans the same about their vice president of player personnel, Joe Douglas, a league source told ESPN.
Although Caserio and Ossenfort were prohibited from interviewing in-season, it doesn’t mean the matter is closed.
Under the NFL’s loosened rules for hiring executives from other teams, Caserio and Ossenfort still might be able to interview for the Texans’ GM job after the Patriots’ season ends, according to a league source.
Packers director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst was scheduled to interview for the Texans’ opening Sunday but instead was promoted to general manager by Green Bay, a source told ESPN. Buffalo Bills vice president of player personnel Brian Gaine is now considered the favorite for Houston’s GM job, sources told ESPN.
Dallas Cowboys vice president of personnel Will McClay has permission to speak with the Texans but has not heard from the club yet.
Caserio, who worked with Texans head coach Bill O’Brien in New England, represents another key Patriot who could depart New England after this season.
The Patriots already are poised to lose defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to head-coaching opportunities with other teams. New England linebackers coach Brian Flores interviewed with the Cardinals on Saturday, and Caserio and Ossenfort also are in demand in what amounts to an unresolved situation until the Texans fill their general manager job.
Bill Belichick seems to put to rest those nasty ESPN rumors that he is restless. NFL.com:
Those hoping Bill Belichick’s days in New England will end after the playoffs can shut down the rumor mill.
Speaking to the media on Monday, the Patriots head coach thwarted talk he might want out of New England.
Asked if he would be the Pats coach in 2018, Belichick responded: “Absolutely.”
He added: “Right now my interest is trying to do the best I can for our football team to get ready for Saturday night against Tennessee.”
The Patriots host the Titans in the AFC Divisional Round.
Rumors of Belichick trying to force his way out of New England swirled following an ESPN report last week, citing unnamed sources, detailed possible discord between the coach, quarterback Tom Brady and owner Bob Kraft. The team released a statement saying there was no strife among the franchise’s main trio.
Belichick’s succinct response that he will be on the Patriots sideline in 2018 mirrors with what Kraft told The MMQB over the weekend.
And TOM BRADY is denouncing elements of the story. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
The response to last week’s ESPN article about the Patriots continued on Tuesday when Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made his weekly radio appearance.
One of the focal points in the article was the trade of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers last October, which was painted as a decision made at the behest of ownership with an eye on allowing Brady to remain the starting quarterback. That has been disputed by owner Robert Kraft and Brady disputed that he “seemed liberated” and “especially excited” the day after the trade.
“In 18 years I have never celebrated when a player was traded or cut. It is such a poor characterization, it’s disappointing to hear,” Brady said on WEEI.
Brady also took issue with the notion that he was upset with Belichick about not receiving Patriot of the Week this year — “there is no basis for it” — and called Belichick “a great coach and mentor.”
Brady, Belichick and Kraft may not be in lockstep on every issue, but they have been in their response to the article and past history suggests the team will be unshaken when they take the field against the Titans this weekend.
Belichick is even claiming peace and love with controversial training guru Alex Guerrero. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Patriots coach Bill Belichick is pushing back against the perception that an issue with Tom Brady‘s personal trainer Alex Guerrero has led to problems between the coach and the quarterback.
Belichick said ESPN’s report of strain between himself, Brady, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Guerrero is false.
“I have a great relationship with both Robert and Tom, and I would throw in there, since it was part of the article, I feel like I have a good relationship with Alex, too,” Belichick said on WEEI.
Reports surfaced several weeks ago that Belichick had been restricting Guerrero’s access to the team and that Belichick thought Guerrero had undermined the team’s strength and conditioning staff. Belichick hasn’t denied that, but he said he doesn’t have a problem with Guerrero.
“I think we’re talking about a lot of inaccuracies here,” Belichick said. “I respect Alex and I think I have a good professional relationship with him. I can’t speak for him, but I think he would say the same thing.”
Brady is still playing at a high level at age 40 and credits Guerrero for much of his success, so it would be hard to dismiss Guerrero out of hand. But Guerrero also has some unorthodox practices, and it’s legitimate for Belichick not to want his influence to extend to the entire Patriots team. So it makes sense for Belichick to keep Guerrero at arm’s length, even if he respects the work Guerrero has done with Brady.
THIS AND THAT
GOING FOR IT
Many in the chattering class have gotten the vapors about Sean Payton’s decision to go for it on 4th-and-2 at the Falcons 47 Sunday.
The DB on the other hand thinks it was clearly the appropriate decision and at the very worst a coin flip.
Those talking about the “risk” giving the Panthers maybe a field that was 30-45 yards shorter to score a TD (not a FG, a TD), don’t seem to factor in that the “reward” was WINNING THE GAME.
Let’s do some rough math. Brees is a 70% passer having a good game. Let’s assume his chances of completing a two-yard pass are about 70%. If he does, there is close to a 100% chance the Saints WIN the game.
So what is the difference between giving the Panthers a 50-yard field as opposed to an 80-yard field to score a TD, Carolina had been moving the ball down the field well throughout the game, but sputtering in the red zone. Here though, they would be playing with an extra down.
Some one named Andrew Rook did some work here that would say the chance of a TD resulting from a drive is about 20% for a drive of 80+ yards and 35% for a drive of 50 yards. We would say with four downs and desperation, lets pump things up 15%, but again, like Payton would have been, we are making an educated guess.
So if you punt, you have about a 65% of stopping the Panthers and winning the game.
If you don’t punt, you have a 100% chance of winning the game if you make the first down (estimated at 70% of the time) and a 50% chance of stopping the Panthers (which is what happened). So, 30% of the time you have a 50% chance of winning, 70% of the time you have a 100% chance of winning. Per the DB’s math, if you go for it you have an 85% chance of winning if you go for it, or 20% more than if you punt.
Don’t like the odds. Let’s say the Saints are only 60% to make the first down. Let’s say the Panthers are 20% to score a TD on the long field, 50% on the short field.
So punting is 80% to win, going for it is 80% to win (60+half of 40). A coin flip, not a coaching blunder.
Payton made the bold decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 from Carolina’s 47-yard line after the two-minute warning, with the Saints protecting that precarious five-point lead.
It didn’t work out — quarterback Drew Brees threw an interception (which was a better result than an incomplete pass, actually). And the Saints had to sweat out Carolina’s final drive before defensive end Cameron Jordan and the Saints’ defense ultimately sealed the deal.
“Gonna win the game, you know, gonna win the game,” Payton said of his decision, which followed the Saints’ trying to draw Carolina offside first before they called a timeout to think it over. “I was talking to Drew really about, ‘We can punt there and play with a little longer field position, with no timeouts for them.’ And yet, we felt we had a call. We tried to get [receiver] Mike Thomas. They did a good job in coverage, and they made a play.
“Fortunately, it ended up being intercepted. But that’s part of it. We were gonna try to win the game on that play.”
“He said, ‘Do you want to go for it or punt?’” Brees recalled. “I said, ‘Do you have a play you like?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ So I said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ End of discussion.”
In 2017-18, the marketplace is choosing the NCAA’s brand of football more frequently and the Roger Goodell NFL brand less frequently than they have in the past.
This on the college ratings from the AP:
With the semifinals back New Year’s Day, viewership for the College Football Playoff on ESPN was the highest it has been since the first season of the postseason system in 2015.
The double overtime Rose Bowl thriller between Georgia and Oklahoma drew a 14.8 overnight Nielsen rating and average viewership of 27 million, up 39 percent over last season’s early semifinal. Georgia beat Oklahoma 54-48 and ESPN said the television rating reached a high of 17.3 in overtime.
The Sugar Bowl between Alabama and Clemson got a 12.5 rating and average viewership of 21.1 million, up 10 percent from last season’s second semifinal.
The last two seasons the semifinals were played on Dec. 31. The CFP drew record viewership for ESPN in its first season when games were played on Jan. 1, 2015.
Overall, ESPN had its best average viewership for the New Year’s Six in the four-year history of the College Football Playoff format. The results were aided by the calendar, the changes made to the format in 2016 that moved games away from New Year’s Eve and some big-brand teams in the non-semifinal matchups.
ESPN executive vice president for programming and scheduling Burke Magnus said simply having the semifinals back on Jan. 1 had network officials optimistic about the size of the audience.
“We knew that going into this year, the tweaks that had been made over the last couple years and then getting back to the first year of the cycle again, with the semis on Jan. 1, was going to be a very favorable circumstance,” Magnus said.
But we found this from back in December from SI.com’s Richard Deitsch:
The decline of NFL viewership has rightfully been one of the biggest sports media stories of the past two years but less has been written about where college football stands in aggregate viewership. College football is a tougher game to analyze for ratings experts given a number of factors including the innate regionalism of the sport, and the massive number of national windows between ESPN’s multiple networks, Fox and FS1, CBS and CBSSN, NBC and NBCSN and others.
One of the best analysts at making sense of sports television and digital ratings is Austin Karp, the assistant managing editor of Sports Business Daily. Last week Karp examined the 2017 regular season viewership for college football and found that CBS, ABC, NBC and ESPN all posted significant declines this season. Fox was the one outlier, with record-high viewership thanks to its new Big Ten deal. Karp said ratings were not available for conference channels like SEC Network, Big Ten Network and Pac-12 Network.
Per Karp, here’s where the networks finished for average viewership for this year’s CFB regular season:
CBS: 4.951 million viewers, down 10% from 5.489 million in 2016.
ABC: 4.203 million, down 18% from 5.097 million.
Fox: 3.625 million, up 23% from 2.951 million.
NBC: 2.742, down 3% from 2.814 million.
ESPN: 2.155 million, down 6% from 2.300 million.
FS1: 819,000, up 4% from 743,000.
Some interesting thoughts from Karp in the piece: CBS’s SEC package was the most-viewed individual package for the ninth straight CFB season, but this year’s average was its lowest in well over a decade. ABC’s Saturday Night Football was down 4% from 2016, even though its window remained college football’s most-viewed window with 5.7 million viewers. ESPN was easily the most-viewed cable net for CFB—it has the most games so that lowers its average—but was down with fewer Big Ten matchups. FS1’s average was its best since the network launched but below what the cable net FX averaged for its games in ’11 (1.01 million viewers).
On Sunday I spoke to Karp about whether CFB officials should be worried about the declines in average viewership.
“I don’t think that meant less interest in college football,” Karp said. “If anything, I’d say the interest was higher this season compared to some prior years. If you look at total minutes viewed for college football, it had to be some sort of record this year. There were some really exciting matchups and Fox Sports really stepped up their game this year—the company’s first with the Big Ten regular season lineup. You could often find three college football windows on the Fox broadcast window this season, which never happened before. With a healthy dose on FS1, they are making themselves a destination for college football now. But this is a zero-sum game, particularly as it relates to the Power Five conferences. Fox Sports’ gain was ABC/ESPN’s loss, as the new Big Ten contracts meant Bristol had fewer options with regard to top teams. While Saturday Night Football on ABC still got some bigger matchups, there were just fewer options for Saturday afternoon windows. As good as a team like UCF was this season, matchups from the AAC just aren’t moving the needle.
And this from Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
TV ratings were down sharply for the wild card round of the playoffs, but the NFL is still emphasizing its strong ratings relative to everything else on TV.
The four wild card games were down 13 percent from last year’s ratings, and last year was down from the year before. That’s not a great sign for the league.
But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is emphasizing that the NFL still out-draws other sports and entertainment on American television.
“I think dominance of the NFL in television is still very clear,” Goodell said, adding that NFL games were 37 of the 50 most-watched programs in 2017.
Goodell is right that the league is dominant on television but how long can that remain the case as ratings keep declining? Eventually, the NFL needs to reverse this trend. This year’s playoffs don’t seem to be the time when that will happen.