ESPN’s ‘Monday Night Football’ Finishes Season at Three-Year Highs

Rick Kissell

Some highly rated December games, including this week’s Atlanta-San Francisco matchup, has helped ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” finish its season with the franchise’s best numbers in three years.

Nielsen estimates that “Monday Night Football” averaged 13.68 million viewers for its 17-game slate this season — up 7% from last year (12.83 million) and the best since the 2010 season, which drew 14.66 million. This season ranks third among the eight seasons since “MNF” moved to ESPN in 2006, behind 2009 and 2010.

This is the eighth straight year that “Monday Night Football” has been the most popular cable series in same-night viewing, according to Nielsen, finishing  above everything, including AMC’s “The Walking Dead” (12.20 million). But “Dead,” which had its biggest year to date in 2013, averaged more viewers if all same-week DVR playback is counted (16.48 million).

Flexible scheduling, which can be used to change times of Sunday games two weeks in advance, is not available for “MNF,” making its December schedule very important.

This week’s game between the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers — a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship game — looked like a great matchup when the schedule came out, but lacked some luster due to the poor record of the Falcons this year. It turned out to be a competitive game with a good finish, though, and “MNF’s” average audience was about 3 million more than the franchise’s final game of last season (10.14 million for New York Jets-Tennessee Titans).

“Monday Night Football” was above average in December, including the New Orleans-Seattle contest on Dec. 2 (15.50 million),  Dallas-Chicago on Dec. 9 (16.19 million) and Baltimore-Detroit on Dec. 16 (14.16 million).

The Dallas-Chicago game ranked second among “MNF” games this season, just a bit behind the Week 1 opening game between the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles (16.52 million).

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