2010 NFL Season Is Most-Viewed Ever, Cowboys Remain Biggest Draw

Hardly a week passed this season in which the NFL did not put out a press release bragging about its record breaking TV ratings. And this week is no different - except we now have the numbers for the whole season.

Football fans across America tuned into NFL games in the largest numbers ever in 2010. According to The Nielsen Company, the 2010 regular season reached 207.7 million unique viewers, the most in history. NFL games accounted for the 19 most-watched TV shows among all programming last fall - up from 11 last season. Number 20 was the season finale (pt. 2) of ABC's Dancing with the Stars which, to my eternal regret, I did not watch.

The NFL has, of course, traditionally done well on TV, but this year's success is truly unprecedented: for the first time, an NFL game was the most-watched show among all programs in each of the season’s 17 weeks. Five years ago, not a single game made it into the Top 15.

And the most watched team among the top 19 games? The Cowboys of course, despite or perhaps even because of their dismal 6-10 record. The top rated game? The Cowboys' Thanksgiving game against the Saints.

Below is a the full rundown of the 19 top rated TV shows this fall, every single one an NFL game. A couple of things that stand out:

The Cowboys played in seven of these games. The Packers are second with five, the Vikings, Eagles, Bears and Patriots have four each. Of the 38 teams involved in these 19 games, 30 teams are NFC teams, eight are AFC teams - four of which are Patriots games.

At least one NFC East team played in 11 of the top 19 games, as did the NFC North. Only one game out of the 19 did not feature either a team from the NFC East or a team from the NFC North, and that was the 14th-ranked Jets v. Steelers game.

The 19 most-watched shows of the 2010 fall TV season:

Rank Program Games Date Viewers
1 FOX Thanksgiving Day Saints-Cowboys 11/25 31.9 million
2 CBS Sunday National mostly Patriots-Bears 12/12 30.5 million
3 FOX Sunday National mostly Packers-Eagles 9/12 28.0 million
4 CBS Sunday National mostly Colts-Eagles 11/7 27.8 million
5 CBS Thanksgiving Day Patriots-Lions 11/25 27.8 million
6 NBC Thursday Kickoff Vikings-Saints 9/9 27.5 million
7 FOX Sunday National mostly Cowboys-Colts 12/5 27.4 million
8 CBS Sunday National mostly Bears-Cowboys 9/19 27.0 million
9 FOX Sunday National mostly Eagles-Bears 11/28 26.6 million
10 FOX Sunday National mostly Cowboys-Giants 11/14 26.2 million
11 FOX Sunday National mostly Bears-Packers 1/2/11 26.1 million
12 FOX Sunday National mostly Cowboys-Vikings 10/17 26.0 million
13 NBC Sunday Night Football Eagles-Cowboys 12/12 25.7 million
14 CBS Sunday National mostly Jets-Steelers 12/19 25.7 million
15 NBC Sunday Night Football Vikings-Packers 10/24 25.7 million
16 NBC Sunday Night Football Cowboys-Redskins 9/12 25.3 million
17 CBS Sunday National mostly Vikings-Patriots 10/31 25.2 million
18 FOX Sunday National mostly Giants-Packers 12/26 24.3 million
19 NBC Sunday Night Football Packers-Patriots 12/19 24.2 million
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