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Football is back, and America is ready! After a few seasons of flagging ratings and narratives about the decline in popularity of the most popular sport in the country, the NFL roared out of the gate in 2021. The Dallas Cowboys went toe-to-toe with defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an instant classic, and fans turned up to watch in a huge way. The game had enormous TV ratings, which should keep up through an incredible slate of Week 1 games.

Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers lived up to the hype

Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prepares for a play during the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Raymond James Stadium to kickoff the NFL season on September 09, 2021 in Tampa, Florida.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Dallas Cowboys kick off the NFL season | Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The battle of Hard Knocks vs. Super Bowl champs promised to be a good one, and it didn’t disappoint

The game finished 31-29 after a late go-ahead scoring drive by Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, followed by a game-winning drive by the GOAT, Tom Brady. The game featured Prescott throwing for 403 yards and three touchdowns and Brady putting up 379 yards and four TDs.

There were also throwback phenomenal performances from decorated vets like Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, and Amari Cooper, as well as a breakout game from second-year wideout CeeDee Lamb.

It was a fantastic first salvo in the battle for the 2021 Super Bowl, and the viewership numbers equaled the tremendous product on the field.

The NFL opening game had huge viewership numbers

In addition to the Cowboys and Buccaneers being an exciting game, it was one that millions of viewers tuned into as well. John Ourand from Sports Business Journal reported that “NBC’s coverage of the Cowboys-Bucs game hit a five-year high in the overnights, source says. The 15.9 overnight is up 16% from last year.”

When NBC put out its official release, the network reported that “24.4 million viewers tuned into NBC; 26 million viewers watched via NBC, Peacock, NBC Sports Digital, and NFL Digital platforms.”

These numbers represent an enormous 20% jump from last season and the best numbers since 2015.

Several likely factors contributed to the resurgence in viewership for the NFL. Factors like the pandemic, the political climate, and player safety concerns have all factored into the slumping league ratings over the last few years. Some of the national conversations around all these things have changed in recent months, and that may indicate that more and more people have come to terms with their issues surrounding pro football and are coming back for the game itself.

Week 1 offers several other compelling matchups


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The NFL didn’t slow play the drama for the 2021 season. There are some great matchups right off the bat that should continue the trend started by the Cowboys and Bucs and draw a ton of eyeballs.

At 1 p.m. EST, there are several mouth-watering matchups for NFL fans. The Buffalo Bills vs. Pittsburgh Steelers is the heavyweight bout of the early games. It features a team that started 11-0 last season in Pittsburgh and one of the AFC finalists in Buffalo. The winner of this game will, at least for a few hours, be the king of the conference.

That title might change after the late games as the Kansas Coty Chefs and Cleveland Browns face off in a rematch of the AFC Divisional round playoff game. If the Chiefs prevail again, they’ll once again be the prohibitive favorites in the conference. If the Browns can take home the W, they’ll become a trendy Super Bowl pick moving forward.

To cap the day, the Los Angeles Rams take on the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football. Matt Stafford and Aaron Donald are the players to watch. If they can lead their respective units to the heights many think, Rams-mania will take hold. On the Chicago side, if Dalton can keep it close, the Bears might have a chance this season. If not, the calls for Justin Fields will become deafening.

It’s a lot to watch in Week 1, and if the opening game proved anything, it’s that a lot of people will be watching.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference