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Steinberg: Great NFL season

January 19, 2012|By Leigh Steinberg

Remember back to the dispiriting offseason of locked out players and no transactions in the NFL.

Relive the anxiety and angst surrounding whether there would be a season at all (although I wrote repeatedly it would all work out).

Recall the two incredible weeks in which every single draft pick and free agent had to be signed.

Think of the truncated training camp schedule and the number of new coaches and new systems that needed implementing. This seemed an unlikely prescription for the unprecedented success and domination that the NFL produced.

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Start with the unprecedented television ratings for prime time NFL games. Remember how many alternative viewing options there are — hundreds of competing networks, showing comedy, drama, movies, reality. There is competition from the NHL, NBA, college football and basketball, soccer, MLB just in the sports realm.

The NFL achieved a saturation which was unique — not just on Sunday, but Monday nights. The week of Sept. 6-12 the top three Nielsen rated shows were NFL games or pregame, and five of the top 10 shows overall. Half of the top 10 was the NFL prime time. And this trend continued throughout the season with NFL prime time comprising three of the top 10 shows.

Direct TV continued to expand the viewing alternatives with more innovative ways to enjoy the Sunday afternoon schedule. The NFL Network continued to build with a more limited schedule.

In the midst of the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, stadiums were filled. Sports bars were crowded. Memorabilia sales continued to soar. And fantasy football leagues grew. Millions of fans had their own teams and camaraderie with friends as they competed for bragging rights.

$3.5 million for a 30-second Super Bowl commercial is a new high. Polls indicated that the NFL was by two to one the most popular team sport.

I had thought that the advantage this season would be with established franchises with incumbent coaches, systems, and key players. Green Bay, New Orleans, New England, Baltimore, Atlanta, New York and Pittsburgh all benefited from stability. These are "gateway" teams with huge national following. But San Francisco, and colorful coach Jim Harbaugh defied all odds to provide a reinvigorated franchise and division championship in the coach's first year. Detroit returned to national prominence. Houston took a great leap forward.

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