The incredible ratings the Thanksgiving game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins was the most watched NFL game this season, and one of the most watched regular season games of all-time.
It was the perfect storm for the NFL, seeing rating go down on all their time slots: Thursday nights, Sunday afternoon, Sunday nights and Monday night football. A Cowboys team on a roll, a Redskins team off a playoff appearance and having a good season, and the 4:30 PM slot on Thanksgiving. This resulted in 35.1 million viewers, the league’s most watched game this season, and the NFL’s most watched regular season game since Thanksgiving in 1995, when the Cowboys played the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s also the most watched NFL game broadcast by Fox, who began showing NFL games in 1994.
NFL ratings have improved since the end of election season, which took a serious bit into their ratings, but there were other factors involved: Too many flags and interference in celebrations, too many commercials and very disappointing matchups in hindsight between teams doing poorly this season, or simply bad picks for primetime games in the first place. Even on a bad season the Cowboys are probably the best show in town for TV networks, so when they’re rolling on the longest win streak in the league with rookie sensations like Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott? Throw their rivalry with the Redskins into the pot, and it’s a ratings bonanza.
In comparison with other sports, only one World Series game in the last 15 years had better ratings than Redskins vs Cowboys on Thanksgiving: Game 7 between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs earlier this month, for very obvious reasons. Over 40 millions tuned in to watch the Cubs end the curse, the most watched baseball game since the 1991 World Series, with game 6 that year reaching 40.8 million viewers.
And remember the NBA? Game 7 between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors peaked at almost 31 million, the most watched non-Michael Jordan game in NBA history. Only one NBA game got more than 35 million viewers: Jordan’s last game for the Chicago Bulls in 1998, game 6 of the finals series against the Utah Jazz.
NFL is still king of sports when it comes to ratings (although college football could have some matchups that come close), but it takes an ancient rivalry and both teams in excellent form to give the NFL the numbers it dreams about.