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:
The NFL Today -- James Brown (host), Bill Cowher (analyst), Boomer Esiason (analyst), Dan Marino (analyst), Shannon Sharpe (analyst), Charley Casserly (information), and Lesley Visser (reporter).
1. Jim Nantz (play-by-play) and Phil Simms (analyst).
2. Greg Gumbel (play-by-play) and Dan Dierdorf (analyst).
3. Ian Eagle (play-by-play) and Dan Fouts (analyst).
4. Marv Albert (play-by-play) and Rich Gannon (analyst).
5. Kevin Harlan (play-by-play) and Solomon Wilcotts(analyst).
6. Bill Macatee (play-by-play) and Steve Tasker (analyst).
7. Spero Dedes (play-by-play) and Steve Beuerlein (analyst).
8. Don Criqui (play-by-play) and Randy Cross (analyst).
• 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, as SI.com first reported when CBS opted to part ways with him. Johnson's former partner, Tasker, is now paired with Macatee. Dedes, the 32-year-old radio voice of the Knicks, gets a new partner in Beuerlein. Criqui and Cross will also form a new team. Reporter Sam Ryan left CBS for the MLB Network.
•We've said this before: The hiring of Brown in 2005 to stabilize the pregame was arguably the best talent move by CBS Sports in the past 10 years. Nantz-Simms and Gumbel-Dierdorf form the top teams and provide continuity on the big games. The partnership of Eagle and Fouts was a really good listen last season. That's become an excellent team.
WHAT CAN BE IMPROVED• Every year we offer The NFL Today the same admonition: Tone down the chuckle parade. Given the levels of laughter emanating from the cast, you'd think we were watching The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen. We're not. The pregame crew rarely offers tough questions when in-house guests come in, and while nobody expects this to be 60 Minutes, it also should not be Kathie Lee & Hoda.
• Few pregame analysts deliver less than Sharpe for me, though his NFL Hall of Fame speech was stirring and perhaps that portends a better year. McManus said game audio needs to be improved this year. "Audio is a big one and not having the microphones on the players last year was missed by a lot of our viewers, maybe subconsciously without even knowing it," he said. "We are also adding more high speed cameras, which I think will add for viewers."
BEST GAMES (all games ET)Steelers at Ravens (Sept. 11, 1 p.m.), Chargers at Patriots (Sept. 18, 4:15 p.m.) Jets at Patriots (Oct. 9, 4:15 p.m.), Chargers at Jets (Oct. 23, 1 p.m.), Steelers at Cardinals (Oct. 23, 4:05 p.m.), Patriots at Steelers (Oct, 30, 4:15 p.m.) Chargers at Bears (Nov. 20, 4:15 p.m.), Dolphins at Cowboys (Nov. 24, 4:15 p.m.),Patriots at Eagles (Nov. 27, 4:15 p.m.), Chiefs at Bears (Dec. 4, 1 p.m.), Patriots at Redskins (Dec. 11 1 p.m.), Raiders at Packers (Dec. 11, 1 p.m.), Chiefs at Jets (Dec. 11, 1 p.m.), Colts at Ravens (Dec. 11, 1 p.m.), Jets at Eagles (Dec. 18, 4:15 p.m.), Dolphins at Patriots (Dec. 24, 1 p.m.), Chargers at Lions (Dec. 24, 4:05 p.m.), Jets at Dolphins (Jan. 1. 2012, 1 p.m.).
TRASH-TALKING THE COMPETITION
"This is as strong an [NFL] lineup as we have ever had at CBS Sports, and as strong as any network has ever had." -- McManus.
OBLIGATORY EAGLES COMMENT
"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." -- Cowher
BURNING QUESTION 1SI.com: How will Plaxico Burress do this season?
Cowher: He's not like Michael Vick. Michael Vick had to get adjusted to the speed of the game because he had to process information. Plax has his own speed. The question for me is, can he sustain that same pace week in and week out? He's had a couple of years off, and he was a banged-up player before, so the time off might have helped him. Can he sustain it? But I'm very happy for him. He's a changed man. You could see that when we did an interview with him in prison last year. He can be a great inspiration for kids. He is a living example of a guy who has matured on the run.BURNING QUESTION 2:
SI.com: The Patriots appear to be the class the AFC. How good are they? Cowher: They are not just a good football team, but, to me, a team with a chip on it's shoulder. They got knocked out by a team that said they would knock them out and that just does not happen to a Bill Belichick or Tom Brady team. They have a lot of veterans in place and I think they've retooled. I think their offensive line is solid. If they get Chad [Ochocinco] to just play football and get anything out of [Albert] Haynesworth, I think Bill likes what he has and you can already see they are playing with a sense of purpose. They'll go as far as Tom takes them but this is a team with a chip on its shoulder.
RATINGS LOVE:CBS had the most viewers for its AFC package in 23 years (164.2 million) and last year broadcast the most watched AFC Championship Game ever (54.8 million viewers). The NFL Today ratings were up 19 percent in viewers (4.3 million from 3.6 million) from 2010.
MUST FOLLOW ON TWITTER: CBS is just getting its NFL talent on Twitter, but Wilcotts @SolomonsWisdom_ shows he gets the medium, with interesting nuggets and interaction with followers. He also has a sweet handle.
FOX NFL Sunday -- Curt Menefee (host), TerryBradshaw (co-host), Howie Long (analyst), Jimmy Johnson (analyst), Michael Strahan (analyst), Jay Glazer (reporter), Mike Pereira (rules analyst) and Frank Caliendo (comedian), Pam Oliver (reporter).
1. Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analyst) and Pam Oliver (sideline).
2. Kenny Albert (play-by-play), Daryl Johnston (analyst), Tony Siragusa (sideline).
3. Thom Brennaman (play-by-play), Brian Billick (analyst) and Laura Okmin (sideline).
4. Dick Stockton (play-by-play) and John Lynch (analyst).
5.Chris Myers (play by play) and Tim Ryan (analyst).
6. Ron Pitts (play-by-play), Jim Mora (analyst).
7. Sam Rosen (play-by-play), Chad Pennington (analyst).
8. Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Charles Davis (analyst) and Tim Brewster (analyst).
• There's a major behind-the-scenes change as Bill Richards takes over from Scott Ackerson as the executive producer of FOX NFL Sunday.
• 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 Twitter account. Of course, this is the same network that once had a talking baseball named Scooter and we expect Cleatus will produce the same enthusiasm from the audience. In terms of a better idea, FOX will add a "Twitter Ticker" segment to the pregame show. "For a couple of segments, we will show some of the more interesting player tweets about the upcoming games," Richards said. There will also be a new segment titled "Double Coverage," where pregame show staffers will have 90 seconds to debate one hot topic per week.
• Former sideline reporter Charissa Thompson moved to ESPN to co-host the ESPN2 afternoon show, Numbers Don't Lie. Sideline reporter Nischelle Turner was not brought back.
• 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 continued voice problems bear watching. He has been the subject of consistent vitriol on Twitter and remains a polarizing figure. From this corner, while he's not Michaels, he's a professional on the NFL.
• Dr. Z always loved Ryan and Pitts, but not so much Johnson.
WHAT CAN BE IMPROVED
• 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.
BEST GAMESFalcons at Bears (Sept. 11, 1 p.m.), Giants at Eagles(Sept. 25, 1 p.m.), Falcons at Bucs (Sept. 25, 4:15 p.m.), Lions at Cowboys (Oct. 2, 1 p.m.), Cowboys at Patriots, (Oct. 16, 4:15 p.m.), Saints at Bucs (Oct. 16, 4:15 p.m.), Bears vs. Bucs in London (Oct. 23, 1 p.m.), Bucs at Saints (Nov. 6, 1 p.m.), Falcons at Colts (Nov. 6, 1 p.m.), Giants at Patriots (Nov. 6, 4:15 p.m.), Packers at Chargers (Nov. 6, 4:15 p.m.), Cardinals at eagles (Nov. 13, 1 p.m.), Saints at Falcons (Nov. 13, 1 p.m.), Bucs at Packers (Nov. 20, 1:00 p.m.), Packers at Lions (Thanksgiving, 12:30 p.m.), Lions at Saints (Dec. 4, 1 p.m.), Falcons at Texans (Dec. 4, 1 p.m.), Packers at Giants (Dec. 4, 4:15 p.m.), Packers at Chiefs (Dec. 18, 1 p.m.), Giants at Jets (Dec. 24, 1 p.m.), Eagles at Cowboys (Dec. 24, 4:15 p.m.), Cowboys at Giants (Jan. 1, 2012, 1 p.m.), Bucs at Falcons (Jan. 1, 2012, 4:15 p.m.).
TRASH TALKING THE COMPETITION
"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." -- FOX Sports presidentEric Shanks.
OBLIGATORY EAGLES COMMENT
"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." --Pennington
BURNING QUESTION 1
SI.com: Where is Curt Menefee in his development as a studio host?
Richards: I worked with J.B. [CBS's James Brown] for years and I don't have a bad thing to say about him. Curt is getting there in a lot of ways. I don't think Curt is trying to be J.B. He is trying to be Curt and figure out what that is. He is also ego free. Egos would not work on our show and if they did, they sure would not work from the host. You have everyone else with Super Bowl rings and you know where you are.
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.
BURNING QUESTION 2
SI.com: Are there any essential truths you learned about the media from playing in a big market?
Pennington: In larger media markets, where there's a lot of competition for the story and the scoop, there are shades of the truth that get reported. Reporters and journalists don't want to have the same story and there is pressure on these writers to sell papers and broadcasters to sell newscasts. Players and organizations get frustrated when only parts of the truth are accentuated to be the whole truth.
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. FOX NFL Sunday had its highest viewership since 2001, with 5.4 million viewers, and the network says its pregame show beat CBS's The NFL Today by 26 percent on viewership (5.4 million vs. 4.3 million), and ESPN's NFL Countdown by 100 percent on viewership (5.4 million vs. 2.7 million).
MUST FOLLOW ON TWITTERRules analyst Mike Pereira has held Twitter Q&As with fans on rules questions, a fantastic use of the medium. Former NFL coach Johnson @jimmyjohnson has also embraced the medium after joining in August. (The man tweets more photos of fish than the Gorton's Fisherman.)
Sunday NFL Countdown -- Chris Berman (host), Cris Carter (analyst), Mike Ditka (analyst) TomJackson (analyst), Keyshawn Johnson (analyst), Chris Mortensen (information/reporter), Bill Parcells (analyst) Adam Schefter (information/reporter), JosinaAnderson (reporter), Bob Holtzman (reporter), RachelNichols (reporter), Sal Paolantonio (reporter), and Ed Werder (reporter).
Monday Night Countdown -- Berman, Carter, Trent Dilfer (analyst), Ditka, Jackson, Johnson, Mortensen, Stuart Scott (host), Steve Young (analyst), Suzy Kolber (reporter), and Schefter.
Monday Night Football -- Mike Tirico (play-by-play), Ron Jaworski (analyst), Jon Gruden (analyst), Kolber (reporter).
WHAT'S NEW• Parcells returns for his third stint with the network. He was previously an analyst in 2002 (Sunday NFL Countdown) and 2007 (Monday Night Countdown). He's interesting television, and it's always fun to watch his ESPN on-air colleagues kiss his butt at every turn. "Bill makes us better every time he's here," says Seth Markman, ESPN's senior coordinating producer for the NFL. "He'll be a major part of the Sunday show. He's got a unique perspective as someone who has coached successfully in this league for many years and then moved into the front office. In my time in the business, there is nobody that knows more football than him."
• 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 Sunday Night Football.
• 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 SportsCenter, these guys will be off-the-chart debating decisions, quarterback play and everything that happens in games. I think adding Trent is the biggest deal regarding losing Matt or Michele."
• 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 NFL Live, SportsCenter and ESPN's Audibles.
WHAT'S OLD• The Monday Night booth has established continuity with its current team. While I think Gruden is ridiculously over-the-top with his effusiveness for NFL players and coaches, I enjoy that guy's enthusiasm for football and I think he sees the game very well for an analyst. This column is no fan of Berman and he's long been a de facto PR staffer for the NFL. But I'll always give him his due as a highlight reader. Few have done it better in history.
WHAT CAN BE IMPROVED• ESPN's access is a double-edged sword: It provides a lot of opinions and tonnage, and much of that is good. But with so many platforms, we're also inundated with plenty of nonsense peddling from analysts who often engage in a can-you-top-this game. "The last few years, the one area I wanted to focus on was getting a little bit back on the field," said Markman. "Some of it was the last few years there were so many off-the-field stories that it took us in a lot of different directions. When I looked at the shows, I found that we could do a better job of getting people ready for their games. If that means being a little more Xs and Os this year, then I think we can do that."
• That Kolber doesn't tweet from the sidelines is a serious missed opportunity for Monday Night Football. It makes zero sense and ESPN looks behind the curve here with its competitors.
• More Tom Jackson is always supported here. Too often he gets lost amid Carter and Johnson's over-the-top declarations.
BEST GAMESPatriots at Dolphins (Sept. 12, 7 p.m.), Colts at Bucs(Oct. 3, 8:30 p.m.), Chargers at Chiefs (Oct. 31, 8:30 p.m.), Bears at Eagles (Nov. 7, 8:30 p.m.), Vikings at Packers (Nov. 21, 8:30 p.m.), Chiefs at Patriots (Nov. 21, 8:30 p.m.), Giants at Saints (Nov. 28, 8:30 p.m.), Falcons at Saints (Dec. 26, 8:30 p.m.)
TRASH TALKING THE COMPETITION"Honestly, I think all the networks do a good job. But I would say that we are the most comprehensive of all the networks... For Sunday Countdown, we think of ourselves as the ultimate pregame show to get you ready for the game. At the end of two hours, I guarantee your team will be mentioned in that show if they are playing on that day. We take that very seriously. We don't want fans to watch our show and say I can't believe they didn't mention our team." -- Markman
OBLIGATORY EAGLES COMMENT"It started with Andy putting together his staff. He made some changes where people were like, "Wow, they made their offensive line coach [Juan Castillo] their defensive line coach?" They also brought in Howard Mudd out of retirement to coach the offensive line and Jim Washburn is a lifer D-line coach. They made some noise with their coaching staff and nobody was more active in free agency. Then giving Vick $100 million, it's eye-peeling seeing the money they have spent and some of the radical changes they've made on their team. Can they come together with a shortened offseason because of the lockout? Can they bring in all these changes, from the coaching staff to the signing of blue chip players, fast enough to dominate like people expected? That's the big question." -- Gruden
BURNING QUESTIONSI.com: You recently hired former Browns and Jets coach Eric Mangini as an analyst for a number of programs. Mangini was restrictive with the press during his tenure. How should ESPN weigh an NFL coach or player's relationship the with press when considering him for an NFL analyst job?
Markman: To be honest with you, it's not really a factor. I'm part of the media. Am I frustrated at times when coaches or players limit access? Absolutely. But my number one responsibility is to put the best people on the shows to serve our viewers. So when I met with Eric Mangini and auditioned him, and interviewed him and heard what he would bring to our viewers, I can't let it become a personal decision on how he treated me or the media.
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.
BURNING QUESTION 2SI.com: Over the past two seasons, you've been remarkably good at identifying under-the-radar teams that are about to have huge seasons. Who do you like this year?
Gruden: My sleeper team to do some serious damage -- and I do like the Saints if [defensive tackles] Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers are healthy -- I really like the Houston Texans. I think this is their year. There is something going on there that is very interesting. They are explosive on offense. We know that. But I think the additions they have made on defense, from Wade Phillips to their first round draft choice of J.J. Watt to some free agent acquisitions, I think they can dominate the AFC South.
BURNING QUESTION 3SI.com: How would you assess where you are as a broadcaster, and how do you respond to criticism that you fall in love with players too easily?
Gruden: I've had people tell me you don't want to be too positive all the time, you want to be more critical. I've had people tell me that I am trying to set up my next job. That's not true. I am enthusiastic about the game. It's like golf: Every shot makes someone happy. I just want to do a better job listening and telling the story as I see it. I don't have time to worry about all the critiques. I feel like I am preparing as hard as I can. If you listen to the broadcast, I would not agree that I fall in love with everybody. But I do want to be enthusiastic and I am fired up to be up there on Monday Night Football. It's an electric atmosphere.
RATINGS LOVE: Last year's Monday Night Football broadcast averaged 14.7 million viewers over 17 telecasts, the most-watched cable series for a fifth consecutive year. The Saints-Falcons finale on Dec. 27 averaged 19.1 million viewers to rank as the most watched cable program of 2010.
MUST FOLLOW ON TWITTER
Plenty of ESPN NFL talent is on Twitter, so it's tough to choose only one account. Plenty are recommended from Chris Mortensen to Adam Schefter to Trey Wingo.
Football Night In America -- Bob Costas (host), Dan Patrick (co-host), Tony Dungy (analyst), Rodney Harrison (analyst), Mike Florio (information), Peter King (reporter and SI.com football writer).
Sunday Night Football -- Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (analyst) and Michele Tafoya (sideline reporter).
WHAT'S NEW• The defense will get some love. NBC will do an in-game feature titled "Crossing the Line," which will offer a series of plays from the defense's view. Fred Gaudelli, the producer of Sunday Night Football, said one of the things he and Collinsworth have wanted to do the last couple of years was to show a series from the defense's point of view. "Each play in a football game is covered from the offense's point of view, so we wanted to to take a series, for both teams ideally, and do it from the other point of view," Gaudelli said. "Not that we will show the angle of the play from a different angle, but instead of focusing on the offense, we'll really try to do it from the defense. I think they've been neglected by television."
• 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" Worth noting is a couple of viewers wrote in during the preseason to say that they worried Florio and King would become a modern-day version of Sean Salisbury and John Clayton. Viewers immediately see through the faux-fight nonsense. I don't expect NBC to go down this route.
• 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."
WHAT CAN BE IMPROVED• Dungy has proved more provocative than expected and should get even more airtime. Tafoya is smart and opinionated. I'd like to see her as part of the pregame show conversation with Costas and Collinsworth.
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.)
TRASH-TALKING THE OPPONENTS
"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." -- Gaudelli
OBLIGATORY EAGLES COMMENT
"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." -- Harrison
BURNING QUESTION 1
SI.com: How will Albert Haynesworth do this season for New England?Harrison: I think they sat down with Albert and told him: "Look, Albert, this is your last chance. You are playing on the Patriots." If [Bill] Belichick can't straighten this guy out, no one will ever touch him again. If Albert is in shape and healthy, I think he can be a very productive player. But he will never be the player that he was in Tennessee.
BURNING QUESTION 2:
SI.com: Where does your comfort level now stand as a broadcaster, and do you see yourself doing this for the longterm?
Dungy: I do see myself doing this for the longterm. I really enjoy our group and I have a lot of fun. As for my comfort level, I would say my first year on a scale to 100, it was probably a 5. Last year, it was maybe 30. I'd say this year is probably 75 to 80. Since being with Rodney and Dan over the last two years, we now kind of understand each other, how we like do things ,and who has a feel on certain things. I'm enjoying it tremendously. Hopefully, I'm there a long time."
RATINGS LOVE: NBC'sSunday Night Football was the most-watched primetime show last fall, averaging 21.8 million viewers. It was the first time a sports series topped the primetime ratings, and the show was the No. 1 show all 18 nights it appeared last season.
MUST FOLLOW ON TWITTER: Tafoya's feed @tafoyashow) is a mix of everything under the sun. Which we like. Obviously, we recommend Florio's Pro Football Talk feed @profootballtalk). That's a must for NFL fans.
NFL GameDay Morning --Rich Eisen (host), Steve Mariucci (analyst), Marshall Faulk (analyst), Michael Irvin (analyst), Warren Sapp (analyst), Kurt Warner (analyst), Mike Mayock (remote analyst), Michael Lombardi (front office view), Jason La Canfora (reporter), Albert Breer (reporter), Steve Cyphers (reporter), Stacey Dales (reporter), Randy Moss (reporter) and Steve Wyche (reporter).
NFL GameDay Scoreboard -- Paul Burmeister (host), Jamie Dukes (analyst), Tom Waddle (analyst).
NFL GameDay Highlights -- Eisen, Mariucci, Sanders.
NFL GameDay Final -- Fran Charles (host), Mariucci, Sanders, Irvin.
Thursday Night Football --Brad Nessler (play by play), Mayock (analyst), Alex Flanagan (sideline reporter).
Thursday Night Football pre/half/postgame show -- Eisen, Faulk, Irvin, Mariucci, Sanders, Warner, SterlingSharpe (analyst), and Jay Glazer (analyst).
WHAT'S NEW• Finally, our long national nightmare of Matt Millen and Joe Theismann has ended. The new team of Nessler and Mayock gives the network an opportunity for much needed consistency because that's been the major issue with this broadcast. NFLN's group of broadcasters on Thursday night had included Bryant Gumbel, Collinsworth, Dick Vermeil, Faulk and Sanders before the team of Bob Papa and Millen debuted in 2009. In a move as inspiring as it was unoriginal, Theismann was added last year.
• 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 GameDay morning show.
• 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 GameDay will return, featuring local reporters and announcers live from game sites
WHAT CAN BE IMPROVED• The biggest need was addressed with the shelving of Millen and Theismann and the addition of Mayock. NFL Network execs think the crowded GameDay set will be an advantage; traditionally, that has not been the case for pregame shows.
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.).
TRASH-TALKING THE OPPONENTS"I will put up our lineup of knowledgeable talent against anyone, including ESPN. We are as good as it gets right now. Kurt only adds that and Mayock in his new role adds to that, too. We can bring more voices to the table from every position on the field, including the coaches' position, and we do that better than anyone else candidly." -- Quenzel
OBLIGATORY EAGLES COMMENT
"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,on The Dan Patrick Show.
BURNING QUESTION 1:
SI.com: Why will the pairing of Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock work?Quenzel: I think Mayock is completely unique in the business. He is a no-nonsense, call-it-as-he-sees-it guy. He is straightforward and unvarnished, and he's going to be a breath of fresh air in a lot of respects with how he calls a game. As a team, what it allows us to do is make Mike singularly focused on the game at hand, which is what he should be doing. What Brad brings to this -- and it's important for us -- is perspective. He'll lead us down the road of not only what is happening in front of us, but what is happening in the league, what is happening on the season. Our goal for Thursday Night Football is to document the game, and at the same time, document what is happening in the league.
BURNING QUESTION 2
SI.com: Why in your opinion are Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders effective broadcasters?
Quenzel: I think they are effective because they are opinionated. The fact that they are polarizing is exactly what makes them so valuable. You don't have to like them but the greatest negative in television is not whether you like or hate them: It's when you don't care about them. What Deion does and what Michael does -- and if they are not the two best in sports television, they are darn close -- they say things that prompt an emotional response whether that is agreement or disagreement. That's what I'm looking for. I'm looking for emotional responses from the people they sit next to, and I'm looking for emotional responses from the people who are watching. They both stir the drink, and that is a rare thing in our business."
RATINGS LOVELast year's edition of Thursday Night Football was the most-watched in the network's history, with an average of 5.7 million cable viewers per game and up from 5.5 million in 2009. Its Cowboys-Cardinals game on Christmas Day drew 7.8 million viewers, the third-most-watched game in network history.
MUST FOLLOW ON TWITTER: Sapp @QBKILLA takes Tweeting very seriously, as evidenced by his 78,000 tweets. He's active with fans and doesn't hold back in the space. It's a good fit.