After seven months of no meaningful NFL games, football fans couldn’t wait for the 2021 season to start. TV ratings for Week 1 were among the league’s highest in recent years.

The season’s first slate of NFL games featured a 7% increase in viewership compared to 2020. With an average of 17.4 million viewers, the NFL drew its second-best opening week in the Nielsen ratings of the last five seasons.

The most-watched Sunday afternoon game was CBS’ 4:25 p.m. EDT broadcast of the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns. An average of nearly 20 million people tuned in to the second half, according to CBS, giving the network its second-best Week 1 viewership for that time slot in 23 years.

The Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers delivered big ratings to start Week 1 on Thursday night. The season opener was seen by 26.4 million viewers, including streaming, making it the most-watched kickoff game since 2016.

The season debut of “Monday Night Football” drew its largest audience in eight years. An average of 15.29 million viewers watched the Las Vegas Raiders upset the Baltimore Ravens on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC.

It helped that both primetime games came down to the wire. The Raiders beat the Ravens in an overtime thriller, while the Bucs defeated the Cowboys on a field goal in the final seconds.

An average of 17.64 million people watched the Los Angeles Rams top the Chicago Bears 34-14 on “Sunday Night Football.” Viewership for the blowout was down 7% from last year’s Sunday night premiere, which was decided by three points.

Week 1 of the 2020 season averaged 16.3 million viewers. The NFL remained a ratings monster, though viewership was down by about 10% from the 2019 season.

Compared to other professional sports, the NFL’s viewership decline during the pandemic was marginal.

Tom Brady has joined the ranks of US sports immortals after his seventh Super Bowl win
Tom Brady has joined the ranks of US sports immortals after his seventh Super Bowl win GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Mike Ehrmann