One of the most-anticipated regular-season games in league history will likely generate an audience that rivals some of the biggest numbers generated by a non-playoff NFL game in decades.
The high-water mark, by all appearances and indications, came on December 2, 1985, when 41 million tuned in to watch the previously-unbeaten Bears get beaten by the Dolphins on a Monday night. Five years later, the Giants and 49ers drew 39 million for a late-season Monday night game that ended up being a preview of that season’s NFC Championship.
More recently, the Week 17 Patriots-Giants game in 2007, which was supposed to be exclusive to NFL Network but which also landed on NBC and CBS because the Patriots were trying to cap a perfect season, had an average viewership of 34.5 million.
Will Tom Brady‘s return to New England create similar historic numbers? NFL ratings are up this year (not bad, given the many who swore they’d never watch again), but TV viewership and ownership are down. The fact that the regular-season opener between Dallas and Tampa Bay (26.0 million) came within 5.2 percent of the Thursday opener from 2015 between the Steelers and Patriots (27.4 million) becomes more impressive when considering that the HUT rating (homes using televisions) for the 2021 game came in 30 percent lower than the HUT rating for the game played six years earlier.
Sunday night’s game surely will draw more than the Week One Cowboys-Bucs contest. Will it rival 2007 Pats-Giants, 1990 Giants-49ers, or even 1985 Bears-Dolphins? That will be one of the most interesting questions to emerge on Monday, while we’re digesting everything that happens in that three or four hours on Sunday night, when massive number of serious and casual football fans stop everything they’re doing to see what Brady does when he returns for the first time to the place where he spent 20 years and won six championships.