Sunday's game between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts generated the highest television ratings for a regular-season NFL broadcast on any network since 1987, according to CBS, which broadcast the highly anticipated matchup between the two undefeated teams.
The Patriots' come-from-behind 24-20 victory was seen by an average of 22.5% of homes in the nation's 56 largest media markets. Nielsen will make more detailed information available later in the week, but analysts said the last half-hour was seen by about 32 million viewers nationwide.
The previous record (22.2%) was set in 1996 when Dallas played San Francisco. The network and the league said they do not have ratings data before 1987.
Sunday's broadcast drew a 17.0 household rating in Los Angeles. The average number of people watching, according to Nielsen, was 1,384,000.
The game was the "highest-rated regular-season game since Nielsen began measuring local viewership with its local people meters in 2004," said Mike Nelson, vice president of communications for KCBS, which broadcast the game locally. "This includes both afternoon and prime-time games."
The game between the AFC rivals drove stronger national ratings than all four of last season's divisional playoff games. By comparison, during 2006, the average rating for NFL games broadcast by CBS, Fox and NBC was 10.4, which translated into an average of about 16.3 million viewers per game. Though Sunday's game enjoyed a healthy rating, Super Bowl XLI generated a 42.6 rating, which translated into 93 million viewers.
NBC on Monday said that the Patriots' game Nov. 18 against the Bills, scheduled for a 1 p.m. PST kickoff in Buffalo, will be moved to an evening kickoff so it can be showcased on "NBC Sunday Night Football" as part of the "flex scheduling."
Before the 2006 season, NBC negotiated the right to rearrange the schedule toward the end of the football season to provide more attractive games for its Sunday night broadcasts. Last season, the first in which flexible scheduling was a factor, three of the four games broadcast on NBC enjoyed ratings that were at least 20% higher than comparable games in 2005.