Duane Burleson/AP

The Falcons-Lions game in London on Sunday will kick off at 9:30 a.m. Eastern and be nationally televised by FOX. The NFL is curious: How many people will watch? Plus, the Week 8 spotlight player and 10 things to watch for on Sunday

By Peter King
October 24, 2014

I have no idea what’s going to happen Sunday when the NFL puts the Detroit-Atlanta game from London on national TV at 9:30 in the morning on the East Coast. No one does. But I do know a lot of important people are wondering about it.

“I am as curious as you are," said Brian Rolapp, NFL's executive vice president for media. “I may have to duck out of church a little early on Sunday."

“It’s hard to predict," said Eric Shanks, the president of FOX Sports, which is broadcasting the Atlanta-Detroit game Sunday morning. “Hopefully we’ll be on in every Waffle House in America."

I don’t know why, but the earliest game in NFL history has gotten zero attention this week. Maybe it’s because the game itself isn’t very good; the Falcons are 6-18 in their past 24 games, and doing their best to make sure Mike Smith is a former head coach by the end of this season. Maybe it’s because the country doesn’t quite believe in the 5-2 Lions yet. There are sexier games this weekend, certainly. But there is no doubt that this is an interesting TV chemistry experiment.

Not only is the NFL watching closely, but FOX and CBS are keeping their eyes on the game. Sunday morning is a potential fourth window that day, and you can be sure that if viewers flock to this game, at least one game a year from London will start at this insane hour. (Worth mentioning that our Left Coast friends don't think it's insane; those in the Pacific time zone see games at 10 a.m. all season.) But the NFL is eyeing the massive TV audience east of the Mississippi—about 76 percent of all televisions in the United States are in the Eastern and Central time zones—to see if it has an appetite for an early game.

So, for this year, FOX will have a different day nationwide. At 9 a.m. ET, a half-hour edition of the pre-game show will air, with Howie Long, Jimmy Johnson and Curt Menefee previewing the Detroit-Atlanta game and not much else. Then after Lions-Falcons, an abbreviated FOX pregame show airs before the early-window games. After that, the late-window doubleheader game belongs to CBS; most of the country will see Indianapolis-Pittsburgh. But the game between 5-1 Philadelphia and 5-1 Arizona will be shown to about 40 percent of the country on FOX, including the New York, Philadelphia and Phoenix markets. Then, at 8:07, FOX has Game 5 of the World Series, which won’t approach the head-to-head ratings of Packers-Saints on NBC, but should be a factor anyway.

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"This is the most consecutive live-sports hours in FOX history," Shanks said.

Or, I would assume, in any network’s history. We’re talking 15 hours of live sports, and that’s not factoring in extra innings if there are any in the baseball game.

But about the 9:30 a.m. football game … I am fascinated to see if a throng gets up to watch. Both Rolapp and Shanks said there’s no measurement to determine if the NFL repeats this, but understand this: If Detroit-Atlanta was played at 1 p.m. Eastern Time, it would be a regional telecast, a fragmented audience. At 9:30 the audience in Detroit and Atlanta will be smaller, certainly—but those who never would have had the chance to see the game nationally, from Portland to Portland to Port Arthur, surely will grow the audience for the game.

“It makes an event of one of the London games," said Shanks. “Gaining attention for big events is harder and harder in this media landscape. People say the NFL can’t grow any bigger. Well, we’re trying."

Said Rolapp: “This is an experiment. At a certain point you don’t know until you try. In 2006, when we implemented the eight late-season Thursday games, it was pretty controversial. A lot of football purists wanted to burn us for witchcraft. But we were trying something new. It’s the same thing here: How do we make the London games more successful? Is there a market for an early game? I don't think we’ve ever had a quadrupleheader."

Believe me: If you watch this game, the NFL will bring a fourth-window game to the market in 2015 and beyond.

Peyton Manning threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns as the Broncos improved to 6-1 with the win over the Chargers. (Jack Dempsey/AP) Peyton Manning threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns as the Broncos improved to 6-1 with the win over the Chargers. (Jack Dempsey/AP)

About Last Night...

Denver 35, San Diego 21. Four-game winning streak by the Broncos—by 21, 14, 25 and 14 points. Three of those four wins have come against teams with records above .500. Think of the Broncos’ success this way: The defense is vastly improved and is holding teams to 18.5 points per game in October. If the Broncos keep teams to less than three touchdowns, you’ve got to figure Peyton Manning’s going to have enough production to win. But please don’t give up on the Chargers, in the wake of losing to Kansas City and Denver in five days. San Diego has Miami, the bye, Oakland and St. Louis upcoming, and if you’re 5-3 and facing that slate, your season is absolutely not over.

• NUMBERFIRE: Who could break Manning's TD record? Here are the top candidates

Player You Need To Know This Weekend

Austin Davis, quarterback, St. Louis (number 9). As Davis leads the Rams into Arrowhead Stadium for a rare cross-state game with the cross-conference Chiefs, I don’t think the road will intimidate or affect him much. In two road starts in his young and stunningly good NFL career, he’s been a revelation: 65 percent completions, three touchdowns, no interceptions, 7.78 yards per attempt. Davis is getting more confident as the weeks go by. He was in total control against the Seahawks last week, completing 17 of 20 and taking no sacks in St. Louis’ upset win. To beat the Chiefs, though, I think he’s going to have take a few chances downfield against a secondary that’s had a few plays made against it. Kansas City's defense has only three interceptions and surrendered a passer rating of 94.8 to opposing quarterbacks.

Bose Sound Bite of the Week

Ravens coach John Harbaugh in the locker room last Sunday after Baltimore beat Atlanta:

“We go shoulder-to-shoulder when things are hard. We go shoulder-to-shoulder when things are good. That is a huge win. That’s taking care of business when business has to be taken care of. That’s suffocating an opponent and not giving them an opportunity to even have a chance to win a football game. That’s what good football teams who are becoming great—that’s what they do. Alright?"

[audio mp3="http://www.si.com/sites/default/files/audio/mmqb/2014/10/john-harbaugh-shoulder-to-shoulder.mp3"][/audio]

 

Regular Old Quotes of the Week

I

"We’re going with Zach and we’re going to stay with Zach."

—Tennessee coach Ken Whisenhunt, making the quarterback change in Nashville official. The Titans are transitioning from 2011 first-round pick Jake Locker to 2014 sixth-round pick Zach Mettenberger from LSU.

II

"I don’t want to be a huge failure."

—Mettenberger, who will start his first NFL Sunday at home against Houston.

Ten Things I’ll Be Watching For This Weekend

John Brown (Christian Petersen/Getty Images) John Brown (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

1. Eagles at Cards. Battle of the 5-1 teams, and who woulda thunk it? Carson Palmer is back playing well, which is good news, considering he’s 10-2 in his last 12 starts. And now he has one of the league's best new weapons: Pittsburg (Kans.) State rookie wideout John Brown, who’s had as much impact as any offensive rookie in football this year. The Eagles certainly will try to be physical with Brown in the five-yard bump zone, but that hasn’t worked well for anyone so far.

2. The kickers in Arizona. You do not know Cody Parkey. You do not know Chandler Catanzaro. There’s a good chance one of them will decide this contest of NFC topsiders. Combined, Eagles kicker Parkey and Cards kicker Catanzaro are 27 of 28 in field-goal attempts this season, and no one in Philly or Phoenix is clamoring for the trusted vets anymore.

3. The brawling Bears. Chicago players were angry and snapping at each other after a bad home loss to Miami last Sunday. No wonder. The Bears are a disappointing 3-4, and they’ve lost three of the past four. Good for them that this one’s on the road, even though it’s in Foxboro. Chicago’s 0-3 at home this year, and 3-1 away from the not-so-friendly confines. The best thing for Jay (Ten Turnovers) Cutler: He won't have injured Pats linebacker Jerod Mayo bearing down on him.

4. The Bengals, adrift. Cincinnati is 31st in the NFL in defense, which is a stunning descent for a team that looked so good on D a month ago. But in the team’s 0-2-1 stumble, the Bengals have allowed 107 points and now face the specter of a hot Baltimore offense coming to town, with a running back (Justin Forsett, 5.8 yards per rush) who does a mean Barry Sanders imitation. Who’d have thought the Ravens would get a running back off the street to replace Ray Rice, and Forsett would have the kind of impact he's had?

5. Don’t give in, Lions. Save Calvin Johnson. Don’t play him Sunday in London, and keep him on the shelf through the bye until the next game Nov. 9. My vote is for eight healthy games for Johnson for what could be a deep run in the playoffs.

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6. The Percy Harvin Effect. In his first game as a member of the New York Jets, Harvin will return kicks and possibly punts, and he will have some small package of plays in the regular offense—most likely in a field-stretching capacity. And here's the problem (one of them) Harvin had with the Seahawks. Seattle used him as a returner and a horizontal player, getting him the ball on Jet Sweeps and close to the line of scrimmage on passes. Harvin wants to be a deep threat and thinks his top speed should have made him one with the ’Hawks. We’ll see if Rex Ryan gives him the chance.

7. What Telvin Smith can do for an encore. The rookie Jacksonville outside linebacker won AFC defensive player of the week honors for his interception, sack, forced fumble and two passes defensed against the Browns—while playing only 40 of 77 snaps. The Jags got him in the fifth round out of Florida State last May, and they love his instincts. This week he has Ryan Tannehill in his sights.

8. Seattle is 3-3, and mysterious, and for the 63rd straight autumn the Seahawks fly to Charlotte for a game. I don’t get it. Seattle at Carolina in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Downright strange scheduling. The Seahawks won two straight snoozers in Charlotte, 16-12 and 12-7, and are desperadoes. Craziest factoid of Week 8: The world champs could exit the weekend tied for last in the NFC West, but I don’t think so. In their past five games, the Panthers have allowed 37, 38, 24, 37 and 38 points. If Marshawn Lynch can’t run through a team giving up 5.3 yards per rush, Seattle’s in major trouble.

9. Vontae Davis versus Antonio Brown. The Indy cornerback’s had a tremendous start to his season, and Brown, the explosive Steelers wideout, has been virtually unstoppable. I’ll be watching both in the late-afternoon window Sunday afternoon.

10. Desperate hours for the Saints. Winless on the road (0-4), unbeaten at home (2-0), New Orleans plays four of the next five at home. But boy, are they four tough ones: Packers, Niners, Bengals, Ravens.

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