In a Good Sign for the Super Bowl, CBS Celebrates Highest-Rated AFC Championship in 30 Years

Fox also scores with NFC title and X-Files' return

Peyton Manning's nailbiter victory over Tom Brady helped drive Sunday's AFC Championship game to its highest ratings in 30 years, according to Nielsen.

CBS said the AFC Championship—in which the Denver Broncos held off a last-second comeback attempt by the New England Patriots, to win 20-18—was the highest-rated telecast since last year's Super Bowl, which drew 111.4 million viewers and 49.7 million in adults 18-49. While those numbers were likely boosted by East Coast residents snowed in for the weekend by Winter Storm Jonas, they are music to CBS' ears as the network gears up to air Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7.

With an average  household rating and share of 29.3/51, the game was the highest-rated AFC Championship in 30 years, since the New England Patriots beat the Miami Dolphins in 1986.

UPDATE: According to final ratings this afternoon, 53.3 million watched the AFC matchup—with an average of 62.9 million viewers between 6 and 6:30 —while 45.7 million tuned in for last night's NFC Championship on Fox, where the Carolina Panthers streamrolled the Arizona Cardinals, 49-15.

After the Fox game, 16.2 million viewers (6.1 in 18-49) stuck around for the debut of The X-Files, which because of an usually long postgame, didn't start until around 10:24 p.m. ET.

It's a solid start for The X-Files, which Fox is betting will reverse the recent spotty track record of revivals and reboots. The second episode airs tonight at 8 p.m. ET/PT, the show's regular time slot. As part of the show's elaborate marketing campaign, Fox ran spots during every NFL game this season, touting the show's post-NFC Championship premiere. Its series finale in 2002 drew 13.3 million.

That is an improvement upon Fox's post-NFC Championship programming two years ago, the Season 2 premiere of its Kevin Bacon drama The Following, which drew 11.2 million total viewers and a 4.4 rating in 18-49. Last year, CBS aired Scorpion after the AFC Championship game, and attracted 12.3 million viewers, and a 3.2 18-49 rating.

Last year, 49.8 million watched the Seattle Seahawks beat the Green Bay Packers in the 2015 NFC Championship game, while 42.1 million tuned in as the New England Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC matchup on CBS. In 2014, 55.9 million tuned into the NFC Championship, while 51.3 miller watched the AFC Championship.

It was a lucrative day for both Fox and CBS. According to estimates, Fox sold $99.8 million worth of NFL advertising on Sunday, with top sponsors including Apple, Ford, Chevrolet, DC Entertainment (which ran three spots for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and Nationwide. The X-Files brought in an additional $14.1 million in advertising.

CBS also fared strongly, with $95.3 million in advertising, led by Honda, Verizon, IBM, Nissan and Apple.

Now that the Super Bowl teams have been set—and buoyed by its hefty AFC Championship numbers—CBS can continue dialing up the hype over the next two weeks as it prepares for a Super Bowl that "America will never forget."

• For more Super Bowl 50 news, check out Adweek's Super Bowl Ad Tracker, an up-to-date list of the brands running Super Bowl spots and the agencies involved in creating them.

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