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NFL, ESPN Agree 5-Year Contract for Monday Night Wild Card Game; Includes ManningCast

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVOctober 13, 2021

Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald

ESPN announced Wednesday it's reached a five-year agreement with the NFL to host a Monday night game during the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, which will include the popular ManningCast with Peyton and Eli Manning as an alternative viewing option.

The network provided full details of the deal after it was previously reported the league was adding a Monday game to the opening round of its postseason slate, dubbed "Super Wild Card Weekend," starting this season:

ESPN PR @ESPNPR

News via Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman, ESPN &amp; Sports Content, at the CAA World Congress of Sports<br><br>The <a href="https://twitter.com/WaltDisneyCo?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WaltDisneyCo</a>, ESPN &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/NFL?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NFL</a> reach a five year rights agreement to present the new Monday Night Wild Card game<br><br>Details: <a href="https://t.co/nwCYuDUIil">https://t.co/nwCYuDUIil</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NFL?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NFL</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SBJWCOS?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SBJWCOS</a> <a href="https://t.co/l1qUGbtD8H">pic.twitter.com/l1qUGbtD8H</a>

In September, the NFL confirmed it was reworking its six-game Wild Card Round schedule to feature three days of play: two on Saturday, three on Sunday and one on Monday.

ESPN's announcement of securing the Monday rights noted there will be three broadcast options: the standard telecast on ESPN, the ManningCast on ESPN2 and Spanish commentary on ESPN Deportes.

The Manning brothers have drawn rave reviews for their new style of broadcasting Monday Night Football. The former quarterbacks work from home with a series of high-profile guests, ranging from celebrities to NFL players, joining the broadcast throughout the game.

Peyton and Eli provide unique analysis by breaking down plays from a QB's perspective, and the fact it's far more unpolished than a normal NFL broadcast—they focus on conversations without providing play-by-play on every snap—makes it a refreshing change of pace after decades of the standard style of football presentation.

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"The NFL embodies a certain Big Business philosophical conservatism, and yet the Manning-cast genuinely innovates in how it deconstructs the league's televised product. Unsurprisingly, viewers are loving it," Derek Robertson of The Atlantic wrote after the Week 3 broadcast of the Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys.

As the hype grows around the ManningCast, it'll be interesting to see the ratings breakdown between the various ESPN offerings following the Jan. 17 playoff game.

Meanwhile, the increased length of Wild Card Weekend comes after the NFL added another wild-card team in each conference beginning with the 2020 season. Seven teams now qualify in both the AFC and NFC: the four division winners and three wild-card squads. The top team in each conference receives a first-round bye.

Now the key question is how the league will schedule the games since it will want to minimize the chances of the winner of Monday's game having to come right back to play Saturday on short rest, especially in terms of potentially facing a team who enjoyed a week off prior to the divisional round.

The NFL also added a 17th regular-season game to every team's schedule starting in 2021 as part of its recent changes.

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