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Super Bowl Hangover: NFL Kickoff Game Audience Sinks from Last Year

Compared to 2021's barn-burner, these season-opening numbers look as sad as the defending champion L.A. Rams.

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 08: Aaron Donald #99  of the Los Angeles Rams reacts on the bench during a 31-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills at SoFi Stadium on September 08, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams reacts on the bench during a 31-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills at SoFi Stadium.

Getty Images

The first half was competitive; the second half had no Hollywood ending for the team from La La Land. Thursday’s National Football League regular-season opener saw the defending Super Bowl Champions the Los Angeles Rams fall to the visiting Buffalo Bills 31-10. As a result, NBC and Peacock’s Total Audience Delivery (TAD) also fell — hard — from the comparable 2021 NFL Kickoff Game.

NBC and Peacock registered a projected TAD of “21-plus” million viewers across NBC TV, Peacock, and NFL Digital platforms, based on preliminary data shared by NBC Sports (tweet is below). Last year’s game — a thriller that saw Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the so-called America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys, 31-20 — scored 26 million viewers. That was the best delivery for an NFL Kickoff Game since 2015 (27.4 million viewers for the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots), and rose 20 percent from 2020’s Houston Texans vs. Kansas City Chiefs opener. This year’s tally represents a decline of about 19 percent from the comparable ’21 contest.

Brady, considered by most to be the game’s greatest quarterback of all time, was the through-line between the highly rated 2015 and 2021 openers. Though Thursday’s game (a “Sunday Night Football” production, as is always the case for the Thursday game to start the season) had the defending champs (another NFL tradition), it lacked the star power of a Brady and the ratings that come from the team with the literal stars on their helmets, the Cowboys. The second half also lacked any drama: Josh Allen and the Bills blanked Matthew Stafford’s Rams 21-0 after Ozzy Osborne performed the SoFi Stadium halftime show.

In other words, Hollywood rolled out the red carpet for Buffalo, and the Bills proceeded to trample all over the champs. It also didn’t help, viewership-wise, that news of Queen Elizabeth II’s death commanded so much attention on Thursday evening.

The Rams did not look like a Super Bowl-winning team much last night. Stafford, who some might know best from costarring as himself with Lily (Milana Vayntrub) in an AT&T commercial that has aired incessantly since Super Bowl LVI, threw three interceptions. The team combined for just 52 yards rushing. Wide receiver Cooper Kupp was the only one of head coach Sean McVay’s offensive weapons who had a good game for the home team. (Yes, the Rams were the home team last night even though at points the Inglewood, California arena sounded like it had picked up and moved to Buffalo in the off-season: Los Angeles is no football city, even when raising the Super Bowl banner, as they did last night.)

Due to the Labor Day holiday delaying Nielsen data all week, official NBC data for Thursday will not be available until Monday morning. Sunday will see the vast majority of the NFL’s teams begin their own 2022 campaigns; so don’t fret, Rams, you won’t be the only squad off to a disappointing start soon.

The Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl 23-20, marking the first Rams championship since 2000. The Bengals have (still) never won the big game.

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