NFL Regular-Season Ratings Increase by 10% from Last Season; MNF Sees Biggest Jump

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 12, 2022

NFL logo on the goalpost pad during an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
AP Photo/Rick Osentoski

More people watched the NFL during the 2021 season than the 2020 campaign altered by COVID-19.

According to Joe Reedy of the Associated Press, the 272 contests of the 2021 regular season averaged 17.1 million viewers. That represents a 10 percent increase from the previous campaign, which Reedy described as "expected" since 2020 featured empty stadiums, adjusted schedules, different viewing habits during the pandemic and a presidential campaign to cut into ratings.

Viewership increased the most on ESPN's Monday Night Football, which saw a 16 percent increase from 2020. MNF's 14.2 million average was its highest since 2010.

The NFL was so dominant that it accounted for 91 of the top 100 telecasts across television during its season.

That 64 percent of games were within a score in the fourth quarter surely helped those totals and underscores the parity in the league heading into the playoffs.

It would be a surprise if viewership totals didn't continue to impress during a postseason that feels wide-open.

Six teams in each conference won double-digit games, and the top-seeded Green Bay Packers in the NFC finished with the same 13-4 record as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and just two wins ahead of the fifth-seeded Arizona Cardinals.

As for the AFC, the top-seeded Tennessee Titans had the same record as the Kansas City Chiefs and were two wins ahead of the sixth-seeded New England Patriots.

Most playoff games could be close, and notable quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Ben Roethlisberger, Dak Prescott and Kyler Murray are in the postseason.

High-profile quarterback matchups often draw headlines and viewership, and these playoffs will have no shortage of those. That should lead to healthy television ratings before the Super Bowl undoubtedly becomes the most watched program of the year.