Reporter explains how ESPN got Cowboys-Bucs playoff game

Jan. 4, 2011; New Orleans, LA, USA; ESPN logo prior to the 2011 Sugar Bowl between the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Ohio State Buckeyes at the Louisiana Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN was viewed as the big winner among the TV networks when they landed the Dallas Cowboys-Tampa Bay Buccaneers playoff game for the Wild Card Round. The Cowboys are the most popular NFL team and frequently draw the greatest amount of viewers. Likewise, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady is the most famous NFL player, and he draws big TV audiences as well.

How did ESPN land the dream playoff game rather than FOX, NBC or CBS? Some thought it might have been related to ESPN having Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, who teamed to call many notable NFC playoff games over the last two decades, thanks in part to Aikman being a former Cowboys star quarterback. But that’s not the reason.

Sports media reporter Andrew Marchand wrote in his weekly newsletter that the reason ESPN got the game is largely rooted in logistics.

ESPN has the Monday night game, and the NFL will put a 4-5 game on Monday night so that all the matchups for the Divisional Round are set except for one team. The reason is the 2-7 and 3-6 games can affect matchups. But once those games are played, the 4-5 matchup cannot affect the matchups.

In @AndrewMarchand’s weekly sports media newsletter, he tells you why ESPN got Cowboys-Bucs tonight. And it’s not because of Buck/Aikman or any other factor. pic.twitter.com/Mk3gD5B8TG

— Ken Fang — Very Asian (@fangsbites) January 16, 2023

Last year, which was the first season of the expanded playoff field to seven teams per conference, ESPN had the 4-5 NFC matchup between the Rams and Cardinals on Monday night.

Maybe ESPN just got lucky this year that two of the biggest TV draws happened to be the 4-5 seeds in the NFC.

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