The trend has become familiar and clear: More people watch good games, fewer people watch not good games.
The latest data point that proves this reality came Thursday night, when the FOX and NFL Network combined audience for a Jaguars-Titans game produced a rating 21 percent smaller than the Week 14 Thursday night game from a year earlier.
The comparable 2017 game (Saints-Falcons, a pair of 2017 playoff teams) generated a 10.2 rating. This year’s game produced an 8.0, via Josh Carpenter of SportsBusiness Daily.
It’s not a surprise, and it’s one of the basic realities of the unfolding of an NFL season. Last year, the Titans made it to the divisional round and the Jaguars came within a bad call (Myles Jack should have been awarded a touchdown after a fumble recovery) of a Super Bowl berth. So, in April, it looked like a good game. By December, however, the season can play out in plenty of different ways. This year, it played out with the Jaguars being among the worst teams in the league, and with the up-and-down Titans on the outer edge of playoff contention.
These variations in the quality of game make it much harder to have an apples-to-apples comparison from one year to the next. Indeed, the 21-percent drop from Week 14 of 2017 to Week 14 of 2018 will be offset by the bump coming next Thursday, when the Week 15 Thursday night rating for a huge Chargers-Chiefs game is compared to last year’s abysmal 7.4 rating generated by Broncos-Colts, a game featuring two teams whose seasons had disintegrated long before then.
So maybe it’s time for a different way to compare performance from one year to the next. Maybe the most accurate barometer comes from the cumulative Thursday night ratings. In that category, this year’s 10.0 is identical to last year’s 10.0, according to Carpenter.