NFL’s late Sunday afternoon doubleheader window continues to get the most scrutiny — and viewers

NFL’s late Sunday afternoon doubleheader window continues to get the most scrutiny — and viewers

When the NFL schedule gets released, fans and commentators obsess over how many prime-time appearances teams will make.

However, the biggest competition and most attention when it comes to formulating the schedule each year is the late afternoon window for Fox and CBS.

The 3:25 p.m. CST Sunday spot is the most-viewed game of the week. Last season for the first time in many years, CBS edged Fox in the showcase window.

CBS averaged 24.64 million viewers in their 10 doubleheader weeks while Fox averaged 24.62 million.

With the importance of that spot, it isn’t a surprise the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys will be showcased often.

Fox received the most-desired game on the schedule with the Chiefs visiting the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 20. It will mark the first time since Fox started carrying the NFL in 1994 that it has a Super Bowl rematch.

It is also the only regular-season Chiefs game Fox will carry.

“We think a lot about having one good Kansas City game, and we got the best one of them all,” said Mike Mulvihill, Fox president for insights and analytics.

With the league shying away from putting rematches on the same network that aired the Super Bowl, CBS made Chiefs-Bills its top request.

The Nov. 17 game in Buffalo, a rematch of last season’s AFC divisional round game, marks the fifth straight year Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen will meet in the regular season.

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“We felt like as the home of the AFC, we should continue to tell that story,” CBS Sports CEO and President David Berson said.

CBS will also feature Kansas City’s Sept. 15 game against Cincinnati and Sept. 29 at the Los Angeles Chargers.

Dallas gets the top treatment on Fox three times the first six weeks. The Cowboys’ Sept. 8 opener at Cleveland marks the first time since 2019 Fox has had them in Week 1. It also has them hosting Baltimore on Sept. 22 and Detroit on Oct. 13.

Fox also returns to having the exclusive Week 1 doubleheader as the Cowboys-Browns game will be Tom Brady’s debut as an analyst.

“I just feel like with what we’ve got for our showcase window in the first half of the season, that’s about as close to a best-case scenario as it could be for us,” Mulvihill said. “We made it a point with the league that we wanted to establish a stronger narrative in September.”

Besides the Chiefs, Berson also has some strong NFC matchups for the late window, including Dallas at Philadelphia on Nov. 10 — one of three Eagles appearances in CBS’s doubleheader window — and Green Bay at the Los Angeles Rams on Oct. 6.

Both networks will have doubleheaders on Dec. 15 — instead of Week 1 — and the last week of the regular season on Jan. 5.

“Is it better to do it later in the season when you have a better sense of where all the teams are and how to get the right teams into those windows?” said Hans Schroeder, the executive vice president of NFL Media. “We continue to tweak and evolve. If teams play their way on, we have a chance to look at that we wouldn’t have in Week 1.”

Early Cousins

After Aaron Rodgers suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury on the first drive of the season, the league might have learned its lesson when it came to scheduling appearances for the top quarterback in free agency.

Kirk Cousins and the Atlanta Falcons will make four prime-time appearances — three in the first five weeks. The Falcons are at Philadelphia on Monday night on Sept. 16, host Kansas City on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” six days later and face Tampa Bay on “Thursday Night Football” on Oct. 2.

Last year the Jets had six prime-time games, including the Monday night opener when Rodgers was hurt on the fourth snap of his debut with New York.

Prime division?

Amazon Prime Video’s third season has division matchups for 12 of its 16 games, up from five last season.

Six teams will appear twice on “Thursday Night Football” after the league adjusted its policy last year. When Thursday night games became a season-long package in 2012, the league mandated all teams would play at least once.

The schedule begins with Bills at Dolphins on Sept. 12, Patriots at Jets on Sept. 19 and Cowboys at Giants on Sept. 26.

This year’s Black Friday game is Las Vegas at Kansas City on Nov. 29.

“In general, there’s a lot of upside with divisional matchups,” said Jeff Kaiser, Amazon Prime Video’s head of sports programming. “It’s nice to see the balance and the way it’s spread across the season. There should be intrigue with teams within divisions fighting for playoff spots.”

Monday night highlights

San Francisco bookends the “Monday Night Football” package. The 49ers host the Jets in the season opener on Sept. 9 and then host Detroit on Dec. 30 in a rematch of the NFC championship game.

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Six teams will make multiple Monday night appearances. Of the 25 games on ABC, ESPN and ESPN+, 11 are interconference matchups but Rosalyn Durant, ESPN’s executive vice president for programming and acquisitions, likes the strength and depth of the schedule.

“We have the Chiefs twice, we have the Cowboys twice in Dallas. We have strong matchups throughout the schedule,” she said. “There are plenty of storylines that should have broad appeal.”

ESPN also has the Harbaugh Bowl three days before Thanksgiving on Nov. 25, when John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens take on Jim Harbaugh’s Chargers in Los Angeles. Many thought that might be a Thanksgiving night or Christmas game.

Due to last year’s writers strike, ABC carried most of the Monday night schedule, but it returns to four simulcasts and three exclusive games. ABC also has both Week 18 Saturday matchups.

Sunday night surprise

Last year, the odds of a Bears-Texans matchup being on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” would have been staggering. But with the Bears taking Caleb Williams with the top pick in this year’s draft and C.J. Stroud leading the Texans to the divisional round of the playoffs last year, it will get the prime time treatment on Sept. 15.

“That’s a matchup any football fan wants to take in and look at maybe the future of the league,” NBC Sports President Rick Cordella said.

NBC’s first six games feature strong quarterback matchups, especially the three in Week 1 with Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson visiting Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes in the Sept. 5 Kickoff Game; Green Bay’s Jordan Love taking on Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts in Brazil the next night on Peacock; and the Rams’ Matthew Stafford facing Detroit’s Jared Goff on Sept. 8.

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