The most remarkable story in television these days might be NFL viewership. Last year overall ratings were up 13 percent over 2009, and games on CBS, Fox and NBC averaged 20 million viewers, more than twice what networks receive for their prime-time programming. Last season's Super Bowl between the Packers and Steelers set an American television record with 111 million viewers.
Can the numbers keep going up? "It will all depend on the quality of games but I think the concentrated amount of interest in NFL football, because there was such a lack of activity for so long, has helped a lot," said CBS Sports president Sean McManus. "With all the movement and so much activity, I think people are really excited about the NFL season. I've given up trying to predict how high NFL ratings will go because often our most optimistic projections are exceeded. But I think there is certainly room for growth and if you get the kind of season and postseason we had last year, I think anything is possible."
As for the people who bring you the league you love, that's where we come in. Here's SI.com's NFL broadcasting guide to the 2011 season:
• CBS generally eschews major talent changes, so this was an active offseason. The headline addition was Albert, the longtime lead NBA voice for Turner who worked with CBS during the NCAA tournament. He'll team with Gannon, whom CBS management is high on.
"He's a legendary broadcaster with great NFL heritage, and when I got a chance to work with Marv for the NCAAs -- and the first time I worked with him was when I was at NBC in 1980 -- I was reminded what an incredible professional he is," said McManus of Albert. "If you have a chance to add someone like that to your team, you would be sorry not to."
• Equally notable was the departure of Gus Johnson, who moved to Fox,
• Few pregame analysts deliver less than Sharpe for me, though his
"This is as strong an [NFL] lineup as we have ever had at CBS Sports, and as strong as any network has ever had."
"I think the moves on paper were great but they have a new defensive coordinator [Juan Castillo] who has never called defense. Also, Michael Vick did not have the same offseason as last year and he looks like a quarterback still trying to learn the system. I do think there are a lot of good things in place. I like the addition of Ronnie Brown but I am still worried about the offensive line. It's is a division where Dallas will be better and I think the Giants defensively are still solid, even with a fragile cornerback area. But I still need to see more from Michael Vick. He did not finish the season very well. The last three or four games you watched, people started to see Michael Vick and kept him in the pocket and challenged him to take it to the next level. The defense might have to carry them early. I think there are a lot more questions than answers."
• There's a major behind-the-scenes change as Bill Richards takes over from Scott Ackerson as the executive producer of
• Former Jets and Dolphins quarterback Pennington impressed in an audition with FOX and will do seven games this season as he rehabs his knee and shoulder and decides whether to continue his NFL career. His first game is the Panthers at Cardinals on Sept. 11.
• The popular Johnson, now FOX's lead college football announcer, will calls select NFL games. His first assignment comes Week 4 for the Redskins-Rams. Brennaman's team moves up a slot for the network, which is very high on Billick. Stockton used to work with Davis. His new analyst is Lynch. Rosen and Pennington did practice games this summer and have become a team. Rosen's former partner, Ryan, is now working with Myers.
• FOX will give its Transformersesque robot, Cleatus, more airtime -- including its own a
• Former sideline reporter Charissa Thompson moved to ESPN to co-host the ESPN2 afternoon show,
• FOX's pregame strength is the continuity of Bradshaw, Long and Johnson, a group that has seemingly been together since Woodstock. Menefee has grown nicely into his role after Brown left for CBS after the 2005 season. The top two announcing teams remain the same, as does the team of Pitts and Mora.
• It's remarkable to think Buck, Aikman and Oliver have been together for 11 seasons. Buck's
• Dr. Z always
• I'd use Pereira weekly rather than on a case-by-case basis. FOX Sports execs think Siragusa is funny but I've found few fans who share that view. Billick is developing into a solid analyst and I'd like to see him get higher-profile games.
• Escape from L.A (studios): Richards said he wanted the pregame show to have a better "live" feel this year. "I want to make it more obvious to the viewer that we have over 60 cameras at games across the country," he said.
"The game itself is always the number one thing that we're there to do -- and we think we do football better than everybody else."
"Michael Vick's biggest challenge is to not fall into the expectations that have been placed on him. A lot of times after a good season there are so many expectations that are placed on a quarterback to do even more than what he did the previous year. It's unrealistic. What is realistic for Michael Vick is to find ways to win football games, and he should understand that duplicating last year may not happen and that's OK. You can still win and not duplicate last year because that was an amazing season. You saw 21 touchdowns and only six interceptions. The quarterbacks that have been able to stay successful on a consistent basis in this league have been able to not worry about expectations of the upcoming season and understand that last year was last year but still find ways to win." --
So I think the thing Curt had to work on was not force his relationships with the guys, kind of feel it out. The one thing it took was time. He went this offseason to Terry's place in Hawaii and Terry called me afterward to say what a great time they had golfing. He's just become one of the guys in that sense, and I think when it comes to the on-camera stuff, the transition to the studio for him had some changes and he really worked at it. He just finished a great season, for sure his best.
With a viewer or reader, it is hard for them to differentiate between a columnist and a news reporter. One is opinion. One is fact. Most things that are reported, be it news or opinion, get jumped into the fact category. This is where I think things can be better. But because of the competition -- and I have talked to editors -- the number one goal is to sell newspapers because of the Internet, television and the technology. The number one goal is to make money and sometimes the truth gets compromised because of that.
FOX's regular season games averaged 20.1 million viewers, topping its own mark of 19.1 million set the previous year.
• Anderson will be stationed in Chicago, so if the Bears have a good year, ESPN will be in very good position in that market. Reporters Wendy Nix and Michael Smith have moved to other assignments. Matt Millen will now focus on college football.
• The long-tenured Michele Tafoya moved to NBC to join
• Dilfer is going to get more airtime and that's an excellent thing for viewers. From this corner, he's an excellent, well-prepared analyst. "Trent Dilfer is a rising star in the business and I needed to clear a place for him to have a bigger role on our NFL coverage," Markman said. "I thought putting him and Steve Young together -- they have a history together and are two quarterbacks that are really opinionated and smart but see the world very differently -- would create some memorable television at the site each week. I think after the game on
• Look for Paolantonio to get plenty of airtime with the Eagles if a major storyline develops this season.
• Worth noting here is ESPN also added Hugh Douglas, Eric Mangini, Jerry Rice and Damien Woody as analysts this fall. They'll appear across the ESPN platforms on programs such as
• That Kolber doesn't tweet from the sidelines is a serious missed opportunity for
• More Tom Jackson is always supported here. Too often he gets lost amid Carter and Johnson's over-the-top declarations.
When Bill [Parcells] worked here, I had an unbelievable relationship with him, as close a relationship as anyone I've worked with. When he goes back and coaches teams, he treats me just like everyone else, and I get that. That is how he handles his business as a coach. Mangini was schooled that way, too. Just like Bill Belichick. I would be crazy if Bill Belichick retired as the head coach of the Patriots and said, "I want to work for you on ESPN" and I said, "Because you were never that accessible to us at ESPN, I don't want to hire you." It's vindictive. My goal is to give the viewers the best possible information, analysis and opinions from experts.
Plenty of ESPN NFL talent is on Twitter, so it's tough to choose only one account. Plenty are recommended from
• Look for more chatter between Florio and King, especially Florio. Much of NBC's web strategy is driven by Florio's Pro Football Talk, so the television arm is going to do everything possible to feature him on all things NFL. Florio and King are also joining forces for a show on VERSUS this fall. "The thing we can do better is take more advantage of Peter King and Mike Florio," said NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood. "We've created a new set for these guys so they can get more information onto the show in a better fashion. It's a big improvement from where we were"
• The network replaced Kremer with Tafoya on the sideline. How will she impact the broadcast? "I don't know that it affects anything," Gaudelli said. "The fact that Al and [director] Drew [Esocoff] and I have great familiarity with Michele makes it an easy addition. Look, Michele hosts a four-hour radio show every day in Minnesota, so the conversationalist in her is as good with anyone doing her job. She knows how to talk to an audience because she does it every day for four hours a day. I don't know if an audience will pick up on that but she is very at ease when speaking to the audience."
• NBC will broadcast the Super Bowl this season so you'll see plenty of promotion toward's the year's concluding moment.
• Gaudelli said as soon as the first half ends, the NBC scoreboard will flash to which team is getting football in the second half. It's something he regretted not doing when NBC broadcast the Super Bowl in 2009.
• After the Keystone Kops manner in which NBC Sports handled Keith Olbermann's departure before the 2010 season, the pregame show has developed a nice rhythm with Patrick, Dungy and Harrison. Michaels and Collinsworth enter their third year together in the booth as John Madden's retirement has long faded from view. Having Costas and Collinsworth interact at the game site provides value for viewers. Both are thoughtful and prepared.
• How can a pregame show draw traction with viewers competing against live games? "I've learned that we have to be smarter and be able to tell people why things have happened throughout the day," said Flood. "And the key to that is having the right people to be able to tell those stories."
Saints at Packers (Sept. 8, 8:30 p.m.), Cowboys at Jets (Sept. 11, 8:20 p.m.), Eagles at Falcons (Sept. 18, 8:20 p.m.), Jets at Ravens (Oct. 2, 8:20 p.m.), Packers at Falcons (Oct. 9, 8:20 p.m.), Colts at Saints (Oct. 23, 8:20 p.m.), Cowboys at Eagles (Oct. 30, 8:20 p.m.), Ravens at Steelers (Nov. 6, 8:20 p.m.), Patriots at Jets (Nov. 13, 8:20 p.m.), Colts at Patriots (Dec. 4, 8:20 p.m.), Giants at Cowboys (Dec. 11, 8:20 p.m.), Bears at Packers (Dec. 25, 8:20 p.m.)
"When it comes to Al and Cris, I really believe there is not anyone else who does it as well as those two do it. I don't think anyone approaches their level. If you are going to say that we are the best, and you are asking me why I'd support that notion, I would say because of Al and Cris."
"Seeing what Michael Vick has gone through and the way he has handled up until this point has been a fantastic story. However, I think now the pressure comes on him. He has his contract, everything is going good in his life. Can he keep the same humble spirit that he has? Can he continue to avoid the negativity and dark side off the field? Because now, this is when the pressure comes from his friends, family members, from people on the street, old people that he used to hang out with. The pressure comes now because they see the $100 million advertised on television...Now is really where's he's going to be tested. Now he has a contract, he has the fame, and when you have that, you have a tendency to relax and put your guard down. Hopefully, he can continue to stay focused and not get caught up in the dark side."
• It's important to note that Papa is a quality broadcaster who got dealt a very bad hand last season. He deserves a national gig at a network and I hope he gets it. He'll continue to call New York Giant games locally. Cyphers, the ESPN vet, is a solid hire as a reporter. Mayock will provide info via remote for the
• The biggest studio change is the addition of Warner. "The addition of Kurt is a big deal for us," said Mark Quenzel, the NFL Network's senior vice president of programming and production. "I've been asked if that's too many people on the show and I don't think it is. We are on for four hours and we're the first ones on. Our goal is to specialize in subject matter that plays to our skill sets, and one of the things that plays to our strengths is we have the key positions covered. With Kurt we have the quarterback, we have the wide receiver, defensive player, running back and coach."
• Irvin joins an already crowded set on the pregame, halftime and postgame show on Thursday night. More Irvin is never good news for viewers.
• NFLN added NBC analyst Harrison and former NFL fullback Heath Evans to work on its programming during the week. "We fell in love with Heath during the lockout when we talked to him as a player," Quenzel said. "It may not be fair to put this on him but he brings so many interesting qualities. He speaks his mind. He is articulate. I like him a lot."
• NFL Network executives remain smitten with Irvin and Sanders, so for those of you not enamored with ridiculous pronouncements (Irvin) or self-aggrandizing statements (Sanders), I'd suggest the mute button when you see the them on screen. Eisen continues to grow as a host, and he does a nice job of allowing his analysts to shine while offering viewers knowledge of the league. I've always respected Faulk as an analyst and he's often ahead of the curve on issues and players. Sapp and Mariucci both impress and annoy me depending on the day. The NFL reporters are solid. Sharpe is a grump. I'll say this about Jay Glazer: His acting is brilliant on Subway commercials.
• NFLN's "Word on the Street" segment during
Jets at Broncos (Nov. 17, 8:20 p.m.), Niners at Ravens (Nov. 24, 8:20 p.m.), Eagles at Seahawks (Dec. 1, 8:20 p.m.), Cowboys at Bucs (Dec. 17, 8:20 p.m.), Texans at Colts (Dec. 22, 8:20 p.m.).
"Come on, give me a break. They're the Philadelphia Eagles. The last time I checked, they haven't won anything since 1960. That would be my cautionary tale to Eagles fans. How many times have they had their bags packed on their way to a Super Bowl?" -- Sapp,