Someone stole an average of 5.8 million viewers from each of the four NFL divisional playoff games last week, statistics released on Wednesday revealed.
The drop-off, about 16 percent from last year’s second weekend of playoff games, was even steeper than the 9.7 percent decline in TV viewership the NFL experienced during the regular season.
The exodus of viewers during the 17-week season was the most severe ever.
While the overnight ratings for the divisional playoff games, released on Monday, showed a marked decline from last year, the viewership numbers on Wednesday, from Nielsen, first revealed just how many football fans tuned out.
To be sure, NFL games are the highest-rated live sports on TV and advertisers still scramble to advertise on the telecasts as they draw high numbers of young male viewers.
But the trend line doesn’t look good.
The decline in NFL ratings has been the subject of a national debate all season — with everything from too much pigskin on TV to fears of injury and even the politics of players kneeling in protest during the national anthem being cited.
And this Sunday’s NFC and AFC championship games aren’t lining up to be huge attractions.
Two of the four teams are based on Top 10 TV markets — the New England Patriots in the No. 9 market and the Philadelphia Eagles No. 4.
The other teams come from smaller markets and lack any players with a national reputation.
The Vikings’ Minneapolis comes in at No. 15, while the Jaguars’ Jacksonville ranks way back at No. 47.
There’s also concern about the quality of play in what will be the season’s penultimate games.
NFL loyalists consider Championship Sunday the league’s best day, as it features four teams fighting for the right to play in the Super Bowl.
A look at this year’s teams reveals that, of their four quarterbacks, two opened the season as backups and another spent the preseason on the bench.