Yes, in the immortal words and fearsome inflection of New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott, millions of viewers can’t wait for Sunday.
Like the Final Four of March Madness, the semifinals of the NFL’s post-season is in many ways better than the championship game itself, providing a duo of contests to chew and cheer, the intrigue of shaping the Super Bowl combatants and more chances to plunk down a few dimes on whatever aspects of the action intrigue you most.
Last year, 46.9 million saw the Jets flame out against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in the second half of the American Football Conference title tilt in the early window, while the New Orleans Saints capitalized on Brett Favre’s blunder in the waning seconds of regulation to top the Minnesota Vikings in OT, before an average of 57.9 million in the late-window National Football Conference championship contest.
Those were the two biggest telecasts in TV during the 2009-10 season, this side of the 106.5 million viewers CBS averaged with Super Bowl XLIV, which shoved Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce and the series finale of M*A*S*H from the Nielsen record book.
Now, some like Nick Utton, CMO of the New York office of E*Trade Financial Group, which will run new versions of its “baby” spots in and around Super Bowl XLV on Fox, said he believes that estimates of 110 million viewers are in reach.
And why not, given the number of record Nielsen numbers the league has generated this season? That includes the 43.5 million who watched the Jets’ Jan. 16 triumph over the New England Patriots on CBS in Foxborough (where the post-game interview by ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio provided the forum for Scott’s hall of fame rant), the most ever for a Divisional round contest on any network.
Pittsburgh is a national team, with the embattled “Big” Ben Roethlisberger looking to add a third title to his resume and a record seventh Lombardi Trophy overall to the Steelers’ mantle, which would thus house two more pieces of the coveted hardware than those found in Dallas or San Francisco. Meanwhile, Rex Ryan’s Hard Knockers hail from the No. 1 DMA, even if Gang Green remains the No. 2 gridiron team in the market behind the G-men. Can Mark Sanchez finally displace Joe Namath as the face of the Jets’ Sanchise?
As to Chicago-Green Bay, what’s not to like about pro football’s longest-running rivalry? Both teams have national followings and Packers’ signal-caller Aaron Rodgers is red hot, while Clay Matthews III, Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams make enough plays defensively to give the No. 6-seeded team a very real chance to hoist the Halas Trophy on their rival’s shoddy sod at Soldier Field. The Bears bring the No. 2 market and a robust defensive of their own led by Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers into play. The question is there enough Lovie for Jay Cutler to become the worst quarterback this side of Trent Dilfer to lead his team to a win in the Big Game?
Can’t wait to see how things play out Sunday on Fox at 3 p.m. and CBS at 6:30 p.m.