Week 16 NFL Preview: TV Ratings Making a Comeback

Terrell McClain, Donovan Smith, Jameis Winston
The Associated Press

NFL Ratings are making a comeback. Early in the season, perhaps due to the national anthem protests led by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, NFL ratings had dropped significantly. But in recent weeks, the ratings have had a bit of a rise.

“The 15.3/25 overnight for @TBBuccaneers-@dallascowboys on NBC’s SNF is up 31% from Week 15 last year (11.7/19 for Ariz.-Philly),” tweeted NBC Sports on December 19.

“Rebounding like Wilt Chamberlain,” tweeted NFL VP Greg Aiello in response.

“For the first nine weeks, NFL games averaged 15.5 million viewers, which was down 14 percent compared to 2015,” wrote ESPN’s Darren Rovell on December 16. “But following the Nov. 8 presidential election, which took place two days before the start of Week 10, viewership has increased. During Weeks 10-14, NFL games averaged 18.1 million viewers, off just 2 percent compared to those weeks in 2015.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell thinks the contentious presidential election being in the rear-view mirror has contributed to the uptick. “It’s an encouraging rebound,” Goodell told ESPN. “I think it proves that the election was certainly a factor.”

And this week’s games should help the NFL’s ratings comeback, with many games featuring teams fighting for playoff spots.

Let’s take a closer look at the action . . .

Miami Dolphins (9-5) at Buffalo Bills (7-7)

Rex Ryan could be coaching his last game in Buffalo. They play on the road in Week 17.

“Hours before the Buffalo Bills defeated the winless Browns to improve to 7-7 on Sunday, league sources said Rex Ryan is probably approaching his final games as the Bills’ head coach,” wrote ESPN’s Adam Schefter on December 18. “Ryan is aware of what’s ahead, sources said, which creates an awkward situation surrounding the Bills until the change is made.”

Schefter has a strong relationship with Ryan’s agent Jimmy Sexton, so you can take this report to the bank. Look for Ryan’s troops to send him out with a win. The Bills have the NFL’s top rushing offense, and Miami is terrible at stopping the run.

Atlanta Falcons (9-5) at Carolina Panthers (6-8)

This game won’t be a pass defense symposium. The Panthers have the NFL’s worst pass defense, and the Falcons aren’t too far behind, ranked 30th.

The Falcons’ offense is playing at a very high level under coordinator Kyle Shanahan (83 points the last two games), who is expected to land a head coaching job after this season, perhaps in Los Angeles.

The Panthers are playing very hard for coach Ron Rivera, despite their disappointing record, and should give the Falcons all they can handle.

This game could go either way.

Washington Redskins (7-6-1) at Chicago Bears (3-11)

There is a fine line between winning and losing in the NFL, and the Bears are the poster children for this, losers of six games by a touchdown or less, including a heart-breaker to Green Bay last week on a last-second field.

The Redskins hurt their playoff chances with home loss to Carolina on Monday night. They need to win out and get a lot of help to get into the second-season. One reason for the Redskins’ recent struggles is their defense, which just isn’t very good, and will need to be fixed in the off-season.

Don’t be shocked if the Bears pull the upset.

San Diego Chargers (5-9) at Cleveland Browns (0-14)

So far, the “Moneyball” approach isn’t working in Cleveland. The Browns hired former New York Mets executive Paul DePodesta to bring this baseball development strategy to the gridiron. Moneyball is driven by the concept of compiling “undervalued assets.”

The Browns “undervalued assets” have them on course to go winless this year. Cleveland has no answer at quarterback, and a porous defense that San Diego QB Philip Rivers should dominate in leading the Chargers to a road win.

Minnesota Vikings (7-7) at Green Bay Packers (8-6)

NFL football is a war of attrition, and it’s reached a point where the Vikings just have too many injuries to succeed, as we saw last week in their blowout loss to Indianapolis.

The Packers should prevail in this must-win game at home.

Tennessee Titans (8-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)

Two teams heading in different directions.

The Titans are tied for first place in the AFC South, and the last-place Jaguars fired coach Gus Bradley after their loss to Houston last Saturday. Doug Marrone will coach the Jaguars in their final two games.

If Marrone wants to get a win, he might need to make a QB change. Jags QB Blake Bortles has struggled mightily all season. In Houston last week he threw for just 96 yards, no touchdowns, and a 36.6 QB rating. It might be time to try backup Chad Henne.

The Jaguars have been playing close in most games, and expect the same in this game.

New York Jets (4-10) at New England Patriots (12-2)

Jets coach Todd Bowles took ill with an undisclosed ailment on Friday and was sent to a New Jersey hospital, but a team source said he’s “OK,” and there is still a chance he will coach the team at New England on Saturday.

The Jets don’t have much of a chance in this game. They have replaced starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (who played well in the last three Jets-New England games), and replaced him with Bryce Petty, who is learning on the job and struggling.

Tom Brady vs. Petty. Perhaps the greatest QB of all time against a developmental QB. Not a difficult pick. New England should win this game.

Indianapolis Colts (7-7) at Oakland Raiders (11-3)

The Colts still have a chance at the playoffs, but have to win out and need help. The Raiders clinched a playoff-birth last Sunday. The team, who have been banged-up all year, are the healthiest they have been in months, with a very short injury report.

The Raiders are the more beat-up team, including QB Derek Carr who has an injured right hand, and can’t take snaps from under center, just from the shotgun.

This game is a toss-up.

San Francisco 49ers (1-13) at Los Angeles Rams (4-10)

The 49ers have lost 13 games in a row. Their last win was in Week One over the Rams.

The Rams have lost six in a row, losing every game since inserting rookie QB Jared Goff into the lineup before he was ready.

Believe it or not, the 49ers have the QB edge in this game: Colin Kaepernick is better than the raw Goff right now.

However, the Rams should win a close game led by their talented defensive line facing an injury-ravaged 49ers offensive line missing several starters.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6) at New Orleans Saints (6-8)

The Buccaneers will be without their starting right tackle (Demar Dotson) and his backup (Gosder Cherilus), so there could be some issues protecting QB Jameis Winston.

The Saints put on an offensive clinic last week in Arizona, putting up 48 points led by four Drew Brees touchdown passes. New Orleans would like nothing better than to hurt the Buc’s playoff chances, and expect them to do it with an upset in the Superdome.

Arizona Cardinals (5-8-1) at Seattle Seahawks (9-4-1)

The Cardinals have so many defensive backs out, they might need to bring back Aeneas Williams. Over the last two weeks they put their top three safeties on injured reserve, and this week will also be without starting cornerback Marcus Cooper. Also, both their starting offensive tackles are out.

The Seahawks should win this game.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-8-1) at Houston Texans (8-6)

The Texans are going with Tom Savage at quarterback. The college journeyman (Rutgers, Arizona and Pittsburgh) came in relief of struggling Brock Osweiler to lead Houston to a win over Jacksonville last week. He caught the Jaguars by surprise. They didn’t prepare for him. This week he will face an opponent that studied his film all week, so the challenge will be greater.

But the Texans, with so much more to play for than the Bengals as they battle for a playoff spot, should figure out a way to win this home game.

Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5)

Hide the snowflakes, this game should be a blood bath. These teams despise each other, and on top of that, they battle for first place in the AFC North. The Steelers are one game up on the Ravens, and can clinch the division title with a win.

The Ravens will be without their top cornerback, Jimmy Smith, which is far from ideal against the Steelers potent passing attack.

If the weather holds up, the Steelers passing attack should help spearhead to a win.

Denver Broncos (8-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)

Thanks to a struggling offense, the Denver Broncos are now a long shot to make the playoffs. They managed just three points in their loss to New England last week.

It’s not just their inexperience at quarterback (Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch), but a struggling offensive line.

While Denver’s top-shelf defense should keep them in this game, expect Kansas City to figure out a way to prevail at home against the offensively-challenged Broncos.

Detroit Lions (9-5) at Dallas Cowboys (12-2)

A battle of first place teams. Who would have predicted that before the season?

The Cowboys have nothing to play for, having clinched the NFC’s #1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Lions are trying to hold off Green Bay in the NFC North.

With so much more at stake, and led by a Matthew Stafford coming home to Dallas, expect the Lions to pull the upset.