Well, I guess my article on Wild Card weekend being a great sports TV weekend was kind of a bust. Every game was pretty dull, except for the first half of Seahawks-Redskins before it turned into the perverse horror of seeing how long until Robert Griffin III would be sent to the glue factory. I've come back, however, to give you a TV preview of Divisional Playoff weekend (we need to come up with a catchy name for it... "Divisional Danceoff"? No...). First, a recap of the ratings from last week's games.
The AFC was up and the NFC was down this weekend. While the highest-rated game of the weekend, and the third-highest rated Wild Card game since 1999, the Redskins and Seahawks took a nine percent drop in the ratings from last year's Steelers/Broncos overtime... classic? No, that isn't right. Well, it went to overtime and it had that quarterback fella' on the Broncos... Captain Whatshisname? Anyway, the numbers were still very good and still led the weekend.
The Packers boring blowout of the Vikings was also down, but only in single digits. Green Bay's trumping of Minnesota was a five percent drop from New Orleans' outpacing of Detroit a year ago in the Saturday night slot. It was also down 12 percent from the Jets' win over the Colts in 2011, which feels more like a decade ago. It also drew the same rating as the de facto playoff game between the Cowboys and Redskins the Sunday night before.
The Colts and Ravens somewhat drab battle in the early Sunday slot was actually well up from the similar game last year. While the Giants/Falcons Wild Card game was no classic, the Giants still come from New York, and games from New York vs. everywhere else typically means a losing battle. No such bad luck for Indianapolis and Baltimore, who hit the highest rating for the early Sunday game since 2004's Seattle/Green Bay game. It was up four percent from New York and Atlanta in 2012. It was also the second-highest rated CBS Wild Card game since 2006.
Finally, the least buzzed about game from the weekend, the Broncos/Texans rematch, was up six percent from their battle last year, but down 12 percent from that bonkers New Orleans/Seattle game two years ago.
Wild Card weekend is done, with that, a look at Divisional Playoff weekend, which is still a clunky name.
Saturday, January 12
Play by Play: Greg Gumbel
Color: Dan Dierdorf
Reporter: Solomon Wilcots
You know were deep into the playoffs when CBS finally gives up and starts using sideline reporters! Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf never really click for me. Maybe it's the fact that, since the Jets are bad, I rarely get to see CBS' No. 2 broadcast team, or the fewer marquee teams at the moment in the conference. Perhaps it's the fact that Dierdorf sounds amazed and bewildered at almost everything he ever sees happen on a football field. Nonetheless, this isn't my favorite team. Gumbel always struck me as a better studio host, and Dierdorf (amazement aside) seems a few years past his prime. If any other team besides the Patriots were playing in the AFC Playoffs this weekend, this would've gotten the big Sunday late game treatment. Instead, it's the mere appetizer. The NFL can live with that, and this game will rpobably improve upon the terrific New Orleans/San Francisco game that aired in this slot last year.
Play by Play: Joe Buck
Color: Troy Aikman
Reporters: Pam Oliver and Erin Andrews
This is a classic, old-timey NFL Playoff matchup. Of course, I'm 23, so classic means like... the mid 90's. Sorry, older people. Anyway, this game should get a gigantic rating and explain why the NFL is such a juggernaut. They can get 35 million people to watch a team from Green Bay, Wisconsin to play. The NBA and MLB can't get three million people to watch a team from Milwaukee, Wisconson.
Andrews joins Buck/Aikman/Oliver again. She was unobtrusive last week, which is fine. The entire Fox A-Team is just fine. Buck is a very good play-by-play man for football. He never shows off a lack of energy during a big NFL game, which will happen occasionally when he's forced to call a Mets game in mid-July. Aikman always seems somewhat inessential to me, which is something an NFL analyst calling the biggest game of the week can't be, but he never drags the show down, so that's good. Either way, expect a huge jump in ratings from last years Tebow/Brady mercy killing.
Sunday, January 13
Play by Play: Thom Brennaman
Color: Brian Billick
Reporter: Laura Okmin
This game is probably what justifies me coming back and doing this column again. Fox has decided to take it's typical B-team, Kenny Albert/Daryl Johnston/Tony Siragusa, off of the second most appealing NFC Divisional game and place Brennaman, Billick and Okmin onto it. I am not thrilled with decision. It's not just that Albert is a better play-by-play man than Brennaman... well, mostly it is. Billick and Johnston are fairly interchangeable and Okmin is easily less obtrusive from the sideline than Siragusa, who often feels like a more interfering version of Pierre McGuire on NBC's NHL telecasts.
Brennaman is truly one of those voices that I don't get. I know a lot of people think this way about Buck, but Brennaman has been a fairly prominent second banana at Fox for a decade and a half (he would call the League Championship Series that Buck and Tim McCarver didn't for Fox before they gave it up to TBS) and I've never understood why. He's rarely ever offended me, his only real gaffe coming from his and Steve Lyons insulting of a blind Mets fan during a playoff game in 2006. Brennaman succinctly apologized, and most people will tend to think that Lyons was the more out of mind of that pair.
My problem with Brennaman is that everything sounds forced. He sounds like Troy McClure calling a ballgame. He tries to force big moments. Remember when Dez Bryant was out of bounds on that supposed touchdown at the end of the Giants-Cowboys game in the middle of the year? The one thing people tend to forget is Brennaman ludicrously calling Tony Romo's pass to Bryant a "miracle touchdown!" A miracle? Really? He also sobers up and Hank Hill's his way through calling America "The Greatest Country In The World" at some point during every broadcast. I'm all for patriotism, but it can come off as a bit much when you're watching the third best NFC game of the week. Fox should've stuck with Albert, Johnston and Siragusa this weekend. Their absence will be notable.
Play by Play: Jim Nantz
Color: Phil Simms
Reporter: Steve Tasker
Not much to say about this one in comparison. Can't imagine -- despite the popularity of the Patriots -- that this one draws anything close to the absurd ratings for Giants-Packers last year, which far outpaced the rest of the first two rounds. Enjoy the football, folks.