Michelle R. Martinelli, For The Win
Published 6:55 p.m. ET Jan. 5, 2019 | Updated 6:57 p.m. ET Jan. 5, 2019
USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on the three things NFL fans should know about the 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s class of 2019. USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon looks on from the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong ) ORG XMIT: CAMS279(Photo: AP)
Melvin Gordon is, by far, the Los Angeles Chargers’ leading rusher with nearly 900 yards and 10 touchdowns going into Sunday’s AFC wild-card game on the road against the Baltimore Ravens.
But do he and quarterback Philip Rivers have what it takes to knock off the Ravens? Gordon’s Uber driver from Saturday certainly doesn’t think so, and, without realizing who he was driving around, trash talked the Chargers with Gordon in the back seat.
The running back filmed the exchange, hilariously looking at the camera and raising his eyebrows as the driver continued talking up Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson while criticizing Rivers. When Gordon asked if the driver thinks the Chargers will make it to the Super Bowl, the driver said, “Oh hell no,” and continued:
“Listen, Philip Rivers, you don’t even have to worry about him. … They’re going to put him on the ground.”
But things got really entertaining when Gordon brought up the Chargers’ run game and, you know, himself, saying: “I think the Chargers got a good running game too. I like that Melvin Gordon kid.”
At one point, the driver even asked Gordon if he plays any sports, and the running back simply said he’s just a big fan.
— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) January 5, 2019
Part of their exchange went like this:
Gordon: The Chargers have been doing well this year. I like the running back they got too.
Driver: Yeah, the Chargers was 12-2 or something like that.
Gordon: 12-4, I think.
Driver: Oh OK.
Gordon: I honestly, man, I don’t think the Ravens are going to win tomorrow – me personally, if I’m being honest. I know you’re from Baltimore, but I just don’t see it.
Driver: I’m not from Baltimore. I’m from Texas.
Gordon: You’re from Texas?! So how you ain’t going with Dallas tonight?
Driver: Well now you have to realize that I’m picking up people from Baltimore here, so I’ve got to talk that crazy talk.
Gordon: (Bursts out laughing.)
Eventually, Gordon let the driver in on his joke and introduced himself. The driver was obviously in disbelief and asked Gordon for a card or something to prove it. They ultimately settled on an autograph and a selfie after this hilarious exchange.
On the heels of a season in which an explosion of offensive production helped lift the NFL’s TV ratings, the smart money says the playoffs will deliver a similar boost in ad impressions. And if the prospect of high-scoring, closely-matched games isn’t sufficiently alluring, the return of two storied franchises to postseason play should go a long way toward goosing the league’s Nielsen numbers.
Making their first playoff appearance since losing a heart-stopping Divisional Round showdown to Green Bay two years ago, the Dallas Cowboys will suit up tomorrow against Seattle in the NFC Wild Card round. It is impossible to overstate the impact a deep Dallas run will have on the TV deliveries; as the NFL’s most indefatigable marketing construct, the Cowboys defy ambivalence in much the same way as do the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Lakers. Love ’em or loathe ’em, football fans are all but preconditioned to watch ’em.
The TV data backs this up. This season the Cowboys appeared in 11 nationally televised broadcast windows, and all that exposure paid off in yet another ratings win for Jerry Jones’ charges. Dallas led all comers with an average delivery of 21.1 million viewers and an 11.7 household rating, topping a field that included the remarkably resurgent Chicago Bears and perennial draws New England, Green Bay and Pittsburgh.
2018 NFL Team Ratings
21.1 million viewers, 11.7 HH rating
19.7 million, 10.7 HH
New England Patriots
19.6 million, 11.5 HH
Green Bay Packers
19.5 million, 11.3 HH
19.2 million, 11.2 HH
18.8 million, 10.0 HH
New Orleans Saints
18.4 million, 10.5 HH
Los Angeles Rams
17.9 million, 10.6 HH
17.6 million, 10.3 HH
Kansas City Chiefs
17.3 million, 10.1 HH
17.1 million, 9.9 HH
17.0 million, 10.0 HH
17.0 million, 9.3 HH
16.8 million, 9.6 HH
15.9 million, 8.3 HH
New York Giants
15.4 million, 9.1 HH
Los Angeles Chargers
14.4 million, 8.6 HH
13.2 million, 8.0 HH
13.2 million, 7.8 HH
12.4 million, 7.1 HH
12.1 million, 7.5 HH
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
12.0 million, 7.2 HH
11.5 million, 6.9 HH
11.3 million, 6.8 HH
San Francisco 49ers
11.2 million, 6.8 HH
11.0 million, 6.4 HH
10.8 million, 6.6 HH
9.77 million, 5.7 HH
9.63 million, 5.9 HH
9.10 million, 5.6 HH
7.96 million, 4.7 HH
New York Jets
7.90 million, 5.8 HH
Source: Nielsen live-plus-same-day data for all national NFL TV windows Chart by Jenn Chiu/Ad Age
The aforementioned Bears are another NFC team that is expected to bring more viewers into the playoff fold this year. In what will be their first playoff appearance since 2011, the representatives of the nation’s third-largest media market will square off Sunday against defending Super Bowl champs Philadelphia. While opportunities for football enthusiasts to take in the spectacle of Chicago’s ferocious defensive unit were limited, in their five national TV windows the Bears averaged 19.7 million viewers and a 10.7 rating. Those deliveries nearly doubled Chicago’s year-ago average (10 million viewers, 6.0 rating) and sent the franchise rocketing from a lowly 27th-place finish in the 2017 ratings to the number two spot on the chart.
All told, the average national delivery for the 12 playoff teams was 16.5 million viewers, which marks a 21 percent increase from last season’s 13.6 million viewers. And with those elevated regular-season stats comes a vast improvement in the amount of star power under center. A year ago, Wild Card viewers were staring down the barrel of a Tyrod Taylor-Blake Bortles quarterback showdown; this time around they can look forward to taking in a shootout between Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson and an equally intriguing Philip Rivers-Lamar Jackson pairing. (The 21-year-old Jackson will make NFL history on Sunday afternoon as the youngest QB to ever start a playoff game.)
Go big or go home
As we documented earlier in the season, the NFL’s mania for scoring a whole bunch of points every Sunday seemed to contribute greatly to the reversal of the league’s two-year ratings slide. According to Nielsen live-plus-same-data, all regional and national NFL broadcasts drew an average crowd of 15.8 million viewers and a 9.1 household rating, good for a 5 percent improvement versus a year-ago.
Primetime games enjoyed some of the biggest year-to-year gains, as “Sunday Night Football” was up 6 percent to 19.2 million viewers and ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” grew 7 percent to 11.4 million. The dominant late national window shared by CBS and Fox showed more moderate growth, creeping up 2 percent to 22.3 million viewers and a 12.4 rating.
If pass-happy offensive schemes helped win back fantasy-oriented fans, degenerate gamblers and casual observers of all stripes, the playoff bracket suggests that the scoreboard and Nielsen panels will continue to light up like pinball machines in January. Eight of the NFL’s top 10 scoring franchises have advanced to the postseason, an air force that includes Kansas City phenom Patrick Mahomes and his skull-clutching tally of 50 regular-season touchdown passes.
If Fox stands to benefit most from the current playoff picture—the network’s NFC slate earns it dibs on all postseason games featuring the Cowboys, Bears, Saints, Rams, Eagles and Seahawks—CBS hasn’t exactly been dealt a bad hand either. The Chiefs, arguably the most exciting team in the bracket, are 4/1 favorites to hoist the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 3.
An AFC Championship Game duel pitting Mahomes against aging legend Tom Brady and the Pats is CBS’ best-case scenario before the world’s attention alights on Atlanta. New England punched its ticket to Super Bowl LII in front of a national audience of 44.1 million viewers, and while that falls a bit shy of the 50 million-plus viewers who regularly tuned in for the classic Peyton Manning-Tom Brady battles of a few years ago, the increasing likelihood that any game may be TB12’s last should only serve to further inflate CBS’ numbers.
For all the NFC’s demographic advantages, it’s worth noting that CBS’ AFC Championship Game coverage has bested Fox’s presentation of the rival conference’s title game for three straight years. All three games featured New England; of these, the most memorable was the 2016 AFC tilt, in which CBS served up a whopping 53.3 million viewers and a 29.3 rating. In what would be the final showdown between Brady and Manning, the Broncos vanquished the Pats 20-18 in the midst of a raging blizzard that had much of the East Coast snowed in and huddled in front of the tube.
The most-watched NFC Championship Game of all time? Spare a thought for the late Dwight Clark and “The Catch.” Clark’s indelible contribution to football lore closed out CBS’ coverage of the 1982 NFC title matchup between the Cowboys and 49ers, a thriller that delivered 68.7 million viewers.
Even if this year’s playoff ratings won’t come within sniffing distance of those early ’80s numbers, the bar to improve on the 2018 stats is reassuringly low. The average delivery for last season’s 10 playoff broadcasts worked out to 30.9 million viewers, down 14 percent from the previous year’s 36 million. The postseason broadcasts churned up a 17.2 household rating, down 12 percent from the 2017 average (19.6).
Tackles aren’t always a quality metric these days, but a hard look at the game video shows Leonard’s production can simply be regarded as one of the best rookie work in quite some time. He made plays in big moments for a playoff team, including his interception in the regular-season finale to help the Colts into the wild-card round.
2. S Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers
Stats: 105 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 INTs
Previous rank: 1
This was practically a tie as James, too, was a key piece in a playoff puzzle. The Chargers embraced his versatility, especially when defensive end Joey Bosa missed time with a foot injury in the first half of the season and James was used as a pass-rusher.
Had Mayfield started all 16 games for the Browns with Freddie Kitchens as the play-caller the entire season — Mayfield started 13 games and Kitchens called the plays in eight — Mayfield likely would have finished at No. 1. In the last eight games, Mayfield threw 19 touchdown passes and the Browns went 5-3.
Stats: 1,307 yards rushing, 91 catches, 15 total TDs
Previous ranking: 5
Some of his work in the passing game was a factor of the Giants’ struggles to find any consistency between Eli Manning and the team’s receivers, but Barkley’s production went from a 100-yard rushing game in his first NFL start to another in Week 17. He also did not lose a fumble in 352 touches on offense.
Stats: 60 tackles, 12 sacks, 2 FF
Previous ranking: 3
It is a testament to this year’s collection of rookie defenders that Chubb ranks third-best among them here, as there have been plenty of seasons when Chubb’s 12 sacks would have made him the runaway selection as the league’s defensive rookie of the year. /his teammate Von Miller won the award in 2011 with 11.5 sacks. Chubb’s demeanor, work ethic and approach to the game, along with his obvious physical skills, give him a chance to be one of the league’s best.
Stats: 122 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 INT
Previous rank: 6
Smith is an important part of one of just two defenses in the playoff field that surrendered fewer than 300 yards per game. (Baltimore is the other.) He has been a model of consistency and athleticism.
Vander Esch left the regular-season finale with a shin injury, but still finished with nine tackles in the game. He made 11 starts on the season and played so well when former Pro Bowl selection Sean Lee returned from injury, the Cowboys still felt compelled to keep Vander Esch in the lineup as much as possible.
Stats: Colts surrendered league low 18 sacks.
Previous ranking: 9
An offensive line coach in the league said what he liked most about Nelson was his ability to transition and his awareness to move in and out of double teams to make the right play in pass protection and then one play later simply “obliterate” a defender in the run game. He will be a fixture in front of quarterback Andrew Luck.
Stats: 1,037 yards rushing, 5.4 yards per carry, 10 total TDs
Previous ranking: 8
Lindsay left the Broncos’ Week 16 loss against the Raiders with a wrist injury that required surgery, and he will now miss the Pro Bowl he deserved to play in. That aside, Lindsay was a revelation for the Broncos as an undrafted rookie who started training camp as the No. 6 running back on the depth chart.
10. CB Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns
Stats: 53 tackles, 3 INTs, 11 PD
Previous ranking: 10
Ward missed three of the last four games of the season with a concussion but consistently showed the ability to bounce back after the inevitable rough spots for a rookie cornerback and line up with confidence on the next play.
And then there was Lamar
There were five quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2018 draft, with Lamar Jackson the fifth when the Baltimore Ravens reeled him in with the final pick of the opening round. Now here he is some eight months later as the lone rookie quarterback in the playoffs, and he will be the youngest rookie quarterback to ever start a postseason game when he lines up across from the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday — one day before his 22nd birthday. He topped 60 percent completions in just two of his seven starts, but he plays with composure, awareness and the ability to wreck a good defensive play at any moment with what he can do with the ball in his hands.
Close, but not quite (totals are for 17 weeks)
Ravens QB Lamar Jackson (team went 6-1 in his seven starts); 49ers RT Mike McGlinchey (no holding penalties in 16 starts, just three penalties all season); Bills LB Tremaine Edmuunds (121 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 FF); Bengals S Jessie Bates (111 tackles, 3 INTs); Browns RB Nick Chubb (996 yards rushing, 10 total TDs); Panthers CB Donte Jackson (73 tackles, 4 INTs, 1 sack); Texans S Justin Reid (88 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 TD); Packers CB Jaire Alexander (66 tackles, 1 INT, 11 PD); 49ers LB Fred Warner (105 tackles, 1 FF); Falcons WR Calvin Ridley (64 catches, 821 yards, 10 TDs); Steelers S Terrell Edmunds (78 tackles, 4 PD); Bears DT Bilal Nichols (28 tackles, 2 FF, 3 sacks); Ravens T Orlando Brown Jr. (just two holding penalties); Giants DT B.J. Hill (48 tackles, 5.5 sacks); Titans LB Rashaan Evans (53 tackles, 2 TFL); Dolphins S Minkah Fitzpatrick (80 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 TD); Titans LB Harold Landry (37 tackles, 3 TFL, 2.5 sacks).
Kickers need love too
When all was said and done, Seahawks punter Michael Dickson was one of six punters in the league to have a net average of at least 42 yards this season and was second in the league in gross average (48.3). But the rookie kicker who made the most of the season just might be Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson. Carlson, who was released by the Vikings after two games, was the fourth most accurate kicker in the league with at least 16 field goal attempts. Carlson went 16-of-17 in 10 games for Oakland and didn’t have a miss in the last eight games.
FILE- This April 23, 2018, file photo shows the logo for Verizon above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Verizon customers can continue to watch ESPN, ABC and other channels owned by Disney after the two companies announced a deal over programming fees. The telecommunications giant and the entertainment company said in a joint statement Sunday: “Verizon and The Walt Disney Company have reached a broad-based distribution agreement.” (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
Policy reporter focusing on telecommunications, media, cryptocurrencies and competition
January 1 at 11:06 AM
Verizon FiOS subscribers across the country are suffering a sudden television blackout of key broadcast channels this week after the company’s content negotiations with a major media company, Tegna, fell through.
Affected channels include WUSA, the CBS station in the nation’s capital; WVEC, the local ABC station in Norfolk; and WGRZ, Buffalo’s NBC station.
As many as 1 million FiOS customers across the country have been affected by the outage, according to an estimate by the American Television Alliance (ATVA), which represents TV distributors and independent programmers.
Ensuring uninterrupted television programming for customers is vital to TV providers, in part because of high-profile live sports events that occur in January. For instance, in Washington D.C., customers may miss out on the NFL playoffs, part of which will be broadcast on CBS this weekend. TV viewers can still tune into broadcast signals without their FiOS-provided video subscription, but that typically requires separate equipment such as a digital broadcast antenna, or signing up for new streaming video apps and services.
TV viewers were hit by programming blackouts 140 times in 2018, according to ATVA.
The Tegna blackout came hours after Verizon resolved a separate carriage dispute with Disney, which prevented ESPN and ABC from going dark on FiOS customers in numerous markets.
Stephen Kidera, a spokesman for Tegna, said there is no update on when an agreement may be reached. The channels went dark Monday evening after Verizon and Tegna failed to renew their programming contract before a 5 p.m. deadline.
The talks stalled because Tegna had demanded a “significant rate increase” for its channels, said Verizon in a statement on its website.
“The rising cost of programming is the single biggest factor in higher TV bills, and we are standing up to broadcasters like Tegna in order to protect you from rate increases,” Verizon said.
Verizon spokeswoman Adria Tomaszewski said Verizon is continuing to negotiate through the blackout.
In a statement issued shortly after the blackout began, Tegna said it was disappointed it could not reach a deal with Verizon despite sealing agreements with hundreds of other distributors.
“We remain hopeful this will get resolved quickly,” said Tegna. “However, Verizon customers should know our channels remain available on every other service provider in their community as well as many over-the-top (OTT) providers, who offer instant access when viewers sign up. Our station’s high-quality news, sports, weather and entertainment programming is also available for free over-the-air and viewers can continue watching our newscasts live on our stations’ apps.”
As Verizon subscribers grappled with the programming outage, customers of Comcast in Washington were having troubles of their own — with many reporting disruptions of cable Internet, phone service and television.