Jacked Up In Jacksonsville


The sophomore slump has engulfed Nielsen homes for ESPN’s venerable Monday Night Football franchise.

Sure, the games are still producing some of cable’s biggest viewing totals during 2007 this side of High School Musical 2, The Closer and The Sopranos.  But only one of the seven MNF games ESPN has televised to date has surpassed its counterpart from the 2006 campaign—the Dallas Cowboys’ last-second 25-24 triumph over the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 8  tackled some 13 million viewers, edging past the 12.9 million that tuned in the Denver Broncos taking out the Baltimore Ravens, 13-3, on Oct. 9, 2006.   

Moreover, last week’s New York Giants matchup against the Michael Vick-less Atlanta Falcons produced a franchise low 8.48 million viewers.

This week, ESPN should command a lot more watchers. First, the total sports network avoids the MLB LCS double play – TBS’s presentation of the fourth NLCS tilt saw the Colorado Rockies gain their first World Series berth, while Fox’s coverage of the third ALCS contest gave Cleveland a lead against the Bosox – that squeezed Eli Manning and the G-Men’s burning of Atlanta.

Moreover, the boys in Bristol have the NFL’s top game of the week on paper, as big brother Peyton takes his 5-0 and defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts into Jacksonville against AFC South rival, the 4-1 Jaguars. Given the records and the fact that J-ville usually plays Indy tough, it also looks like the best game on ESPN’s schedule overall, save perhaps for the New England Patriots-Baltimore Ravens affair on Dec. 3, when Tom Brady’s bunch could still be pursuing a perfect season.

What’s more, the last time the Colts-Jags played, Maurice Jones Drew ran roughshod over Indy, rolling up 166 yards and a pair of TDs as Jacksonville amassed 375 yards on the ground, the second-highest total in the NFL since 1970, in a 44-17 Peyton pasting. No doubt the DirecTV and all-America pitchman wants revenge for that embarrassment.

Still, there are two things working against the contest: Indianapolis is the 26th-ranked Nielsen market and 24th in the NFL’s rankings, while Jacksonville rates 49th and 30th by the measurement company and Goodell perspectives.

More importantly, Indy-Jacksonville faces the total sports network’s toughest-ever comparison: Last year’s Oct. 23 game in which the Giants roped the Cowboys 36-22 was the most-watched show in ESPN history, capturing some 16 million viewers.

That’s a coverage scheme that will prove nigh impossible to topple.