NFL Wild Card Games Rush for Ratings Gains

The NFL Playoffs got off to a rip-roaring start this weekend, as each of the four Wild Card games posted significant ratings gains versus their 2009 counterparts.

NBC’s coverage of the Jets-Bengals meeting earned a 16.9 Nielsen overnight rating, making it the highest-rated early Saturday Wild Card game since 1999, while marking an 18 percent improvement from last season’s Cardinals-Falcons opener (14.3). The Jets’ 24-14 victory drew a 45.0 rating/66 share in Cincinnati and a 20.8/38 in New York.

The Peacock’s doubleheader continued to gain steam with the 8:30 p.m. game, as the Cowboys knocked out the Eagles by a 34-14 margin. The NFC East grudge match earned a 19.6 overnight, up 7 percent from last year’s Chargers-Colts battle (18.3), and as was the case with its lead-in, the preliminary rating marked an 11-year high for a late Saturday Wild Card telecast. The game drew a 44.3/65 in Dallas and a 33.7/51 in Philadelphia.

On Sunday, CBS played host to the early game, notching a 19.4 overnight as the Ravens seemingly brought the Brady-Belichick era to a close. In a display of smash-mouth AFC North football, Baltimore dispatched New England 33-14, earning CBS a 14 percent increase from the year-ago Ravens-Dolphins Wild Card game (17.0). (Local market ratings weren’t immediately available.)

In the final game of Wild Card weekend, Fox’ Cardinals-Packers broadcast earned a 21.8 overnight, giving the network the highest-rated first round overnight on any network since 1999, when Fox landed a 24.2 overnight for the 49ers-Packers scrum.

The Cards and Packers both were generous with the offensive pyrotechnics, and last season’s NFC Champion prevailed in overtime by a score of 51-45. Compared to last year’s Eagles-Vikings game, which drew a 19.9 overnight, last night’s air show was up 10 percent.

Sunday night’s drew a 49.1/70 in Milwaukee and a 38.0/62 in Phoenix.