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As playoffs begin, NFL celebrates regular-season TV ratings

NEW YORK -- Twenty percent was the number NFL commissioner Roger Goodell threw around last summer.

That was the worst-case scenario projections for the number of games blacked out in local markets this season because tickets didn't sell out. It wound up at less than 9 percent - higher than the last few years, but still better than any season before 2005.

Instead, these were some of the most notable figures for the NFL as it heads into the playoffs:

» 16.6 million. That was the average number of viewers for regular-season games, up 14 percent from last year and the highest total since 1990 (though there were fewer potential viewers back then).

» 105 percent. The difference between the average audience for NFL games and the average of 8.1 million viewers for all the prime-time programming on the Big Four networks during the current TV season (not including NBC's Sunday Night Football). In 2002, the difference was 52 percent, showing how well the NFL has held up in an age of fractured audiences that has sent ratings plunging for other mainstream programming.

» 89 percent. The percentage of the time an NFL game was the highest-rated show for the week in each local market. In 2001, it was 55 percent.

"Nationally we had some great stories this year, including two 13-0 teams for the first time, Brett Favre going to the Vikings, five new division champions and the best passing season ever," Howard Katz, the NFL's senior vice president for broadcasting, wrote in an e-mail. "We had some luck with both 13-0 teams playing in prime time in the same week and Favre facing his old Packers team."

FOX averaged a record 19.1 million viewers, and its 11.4 average rating was the highest since 1995 and up 9 percent from last year. The network's national games rank as the highest-rated program this television season.

The average 17.2 million viewers on CBS were the highest for the AFC package in 23 years, and ratings were up 4 percent from last year.

Ratings for the Sunday night games on NBC were up 15 percent from last season. The games were the most-watched Sunday prime-time show in all but one week, compared with nine of 16 weeks in 2006.

ESPN's Monday Night Football had the highest rating of its four seasons, up 17 percent from last year.

"It didn't hurt to have a couple of undefeated teams and a couple of great quarterbacks on those undefeated teams taking teams on a run as the season went along," NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth said.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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