RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
It must be said: The NFL game between the Houston Texans and the Jacksonville Jaguars tomorrow night is not a marquee matchup. The Texans are 2 and 10. The Jaguars look a little better, having won three of their last four games, but that was only after losing the first eight games of the season. In fact, these teams combine for the lowest-winning percentage in the history of the NFL Network's "Thursday Night Football" games.
Still, as NPR's Mike Pesca reports, this is an NFL game; and NFL games draw viewers and interest like nothing else on TV.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Since September, the most-watched TV program of any kind - sitcom, drama, ill-tempered housewives; anything - was the first football game between the Chiefs and the Broncos. The second most-watched TV show of any kind was an NFL game between the Broncos and Cowboys.
The third - you know what? I watch football with a TiVo, so let's skip ahead.
(SOUNDBITE OF SKIPPING NOISE)
PESCA: Twenty-fifth most watched show of any kind, like every show on this list, was also a football game. It's easy to see why. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson - old veterans, young gunslingers, championship ambitions. So what happens when the game on national TV isn't that good; when it's actually, quantifiably the worst matchup in the history of "Thursday Night Football"? What will people do?
JOHN OURAND: People still watch.
PESCA: John Ourand covers media for the Sports Business Journal.
OURAND: I can pretty much guarantee you that this is going to get over 6 million viewers - 'cause all these games get over 6 million viewers. And if it's close - if it's a close game, even with bad teams, it could be over 7 million viewers.
PESCA: Those 6 or 7 million will double, maybe even triple, tomorrow night's nationally televised Miami Heat game. Or consider that all of the Major League Baseball playoffs averaged 6.3 million viewers a game. But Jags-Texans could beat that - on the NFL Network, a cable outlet not available in tens of millions of homes. Alex Riethmiller, vice president of communications for the NFL Network, knows the reason.
ALEX RIETHMILLER: The fact is, it's an NFL game, right? And there are millions of NFL fans across the United States. There are fans of the Jaguars. There are fans of the Texans. And there's also this thing called Fantasy Football, that people love.
PESCA: Oh that, where Andre Johnson doesn't play for the 2-and-10 Texans, but maybe the 7-and-5 Mike's Marauders, or the 8-and-4 Badonkagronks. The fact is that the NFL is paid almost $2 billion a year by ESPN for its games, and about a billion a year - each - by NBC, Fox and CBS. They want to give those partners the great games.
If it falls on the NFL to show the Jags versus Texans on their in-house network, that's OK. This game will be a winner, as authored by two losers. And while the network is promo-ing tomorrow's game as a tense showdown...
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: But the Jaguars are determined to take down their rivals, "Thursday Night Football..."
PESCA: ...Riethmiller, of the NFL Network, was sure to remind me that next week's game will feature the Broncos. They have Peyton Manning - you might want to tune in.
Mike Pesca, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.