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Great expectations

CBS expects Pats-Colts to set ratings records

Posted: Wednesday October 31, 2007 4:28PM; Updated: Wednesday October 31, 2007 4:28PM
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CBS had a ratings hit when the Patriots visited the Cowboys in Week 6.
CBS had a ratings hit when the Patriots visited the Cowboys in Week 6.
Bob Rosato/SI

On the night before the Colts-Panthers game last weekend, a group of CBS staffers including NFL on CBS coordinating producer Lance Barrow, game announcer Jim Nantz and analyst Phil Simms sat down with Colts coach Tony Dungy for the network's traditional pre-game information session with the head coaches. "So I guess you guys are doing the game next week," Dungy said to the CBS crew. Told the network was indeed broadcasting the Colts-Patriots game, Dungy smiled. "Who are we playing again?"

That would be the Patriots, but the biggest winner come 8:30 p.m. on Sunday night won't be Indianapolis or New England. It will be CBS. The game marks the latest meeting in a season for unbeaten teams in over 80 years and with the broadcast available in 93 percent of the country, CBS executives are beaming like an expectant mother.

"I can't remember anyone at CBS Sports, whether it's the announcers, pregame crew or the producers and directors, being more pumped up for a regular-season football game," said CBS Sports and News president Sean McManus. "We were pretty excited for the Dallas-New England (on Oct. 14) game but this exceeds even that. These are the kind of games that come along every once in a while on the regular-season schedule. You just pray they will be on your network."

CBS will add two or three extra cameras (for a total of about 20) and 15 additional staffers to a crew of 200 in Indianapolis, but Barrow says the approach will be to cover the game like any other week. "Deep down, you know this is not an ordinary NFL football game," said Barrow, who will watch the game from a broadcast truck outside the RCA Dome. "This is something that doesn't happen often."

No kidding. The network had 45 reporters on a conference call this week, which is akin to a Super Bowl media call. Nantz, channeling his inner Kreskin, predicted the rating would be the third highest-rated television show in 2007 behind the Super Bowl, and AFC Championship, and ahead of the finale of American Idol, and the Patriots-Cowboys game.

That late-afternoon game three weeks ago averaged 29.1 million viewers and the 18.0 Nielsen household rating. It was the highest rating for any regular-season game since a Monday night game between the Broncos and 49ers in 1997. The top rated regular-season game on CBS since 1990? A Washington 20-17 win over Dallas on Dec. 13, 1992. That game drew a 19.8 rating and 38 share. The Pats-Colts has a legit shot to top it if the game is close.

Barrow, Nantz, Simms and director Mike Arnold will spend Thursday and Friday watching the Colts practice and tapes of last week's Patriots-Redskins game and Colts-Panthers game. (The network is given the coaches' offensive and defensive game tapes.) On Friday and Saturday they'll meet with selected personnel for both teams including Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Richard Seymour and Asante Samuel for the Pats and Dungy, Joseph Addai, Gary Brackett, Peyton Manning, and Bob Sanders for the Colts. By Saturday night at 9:30 p.m. after a final production meeting, they'll shut it down until game time.

The game is targeted for almost the whole country. Alas, the poor Houston market will air the 3-5 Texans against the 2-5 Raiders. (And, no, the fans are not happy about it. The San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose market will also miss out. The NFL Network is capitalizing on the interest by running 36.5 hours of Patriots and Colts specific programming this week -- a record number of hours devoted to a non-Super Bowl game. "I've had people ask me this week: Do you think this one will out-rate that number that you did three weeks ago," said Nantz. "The answer is going to be yes. I think it's going to be a 20-something rating."