Brad Penner/USA Today Sports

NFL ratings are exploding again this year, making football more powerful than ever

Alex Reimer
November 26, 2018 - 2:31 pm

It turns out the reports of the NFL’s death were greatly exaggerated. After two years of declining ratings, viewership numbers are up big this season. Apparently, record-setting offense is the panacea for the league’s ills. 

Through 12 weeks this season, NFL ratings are up five-percent in comparison to 2017, per Fox Sports executive Michael Mulvihill. The numbers for primetime are even better, with ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” improving six points over last year –– despite Jason Witten’s best efforts to turn viewers’ brains into mush on a weekly basis. 

As ratings continue to fall for almost everything else on traditional TV, the NFL is more powerful than ever. According to the New York Times, viewership for network shows has stumbled an additional 10 percent this fall, signaling that streaming services are gaining more ground than ever. Live sports continue to be the most valuable product in TV, with the NFL leading the pact.

This year’s sizable uptick can likely be explained through the influx of offense that’s taken place around the league. Through Thanksgiving, the NFL was on pace to destroy its records for most points, touchdowns and touchdown passes tallied in a single season. Due to a rash of rule changes meant to handicap the defense –– err, protect player safety –– many contests resemble flag football matchups, with teams trading scores until the end. Fifty-one games have already been decided by a field goal or less, meaning only 18 more nail-biting affairs are needed for the league to break the record set in 1997.

Unsurprisingly, spectacular quarterback play has defined the league this season, with 20 qualified pass-throwers putting up QB ratings north of 90. Four quarterbacks –– Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger –– are on pace to throw for 5,000 yards. And best of all, most of them are healthy. While Jimmy Garoppolo and Alex Smith are lost for the year, there aren’t nearly as many injuries to marquee players this year in comparison to the last couple of seasons. 

Just three months ago, it looked like President Donald Trump was gearing up to use kneeling players and the NFL’s sagging ratings as another piece of red meat to fire up his aggrieved supporters. But Trump hasn’t tweeted about the NFL since Sept. 9. The league’s ratings are so strong, even the man who once lied 83 times in one day can’t twist the numbers to fit into his perverted version of reality.

Even the lousy games are drawing huge numbers. Redskins-Cowboys attracted 30.8 million viewers on Thanksgiving, making it the most-watched game of the year. Only four non-NFL sporting events this decade have amassed a larger audience than that

In today’s era, TV shows are lucky to maintain their viewership numbers, never mind build upon them. Except the NFL, that is. It's hard to imagine many owners grumbling about Roger Goodell's inflated salary this year.