ESPN Got Incredibly Unlucky With Its $1.8 Billion Monday Night Football Schedule

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This week's Monday Night Football game between the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings was awful.

It featured two teams with a combined record of 1-10, and it ended up being a total snoozer.

While ratings were still strong, ESPN has to be a bit frustrated that a game it paid $105 million to broadcast ended up being so much worse than expected.

This is becoming a trend.

So far this year, four of the network's first eight MNF games have been worse than expected.

What do we mean by that?

We looked at the preseason Las Vegas expected win totals for teams in each MNF game going into the season, and compared them with the current Football Outsiders expected win total projections.

Las Vegas win totals is generally not a good predictive metric, but it does give you a sense of perception. Since we're trying to see how the general quality of MNF matchups compares with what people thought in the preseason, Vegas win totals is useful.

It turns out that a number of MNF games that looked great in the preseason are actually stinkers. In general, the MNF slate is worse than expected.

For example, the combined expected Vegas win total for the Giants-Vikings game before the season was 16.5 wins. Now, those teams are projected to win a combined 8.3 games.

Here's the total breakdown of MNF game quality vs. expectations:

  • Much worse than expected (-5.0 expected wins): 1 game
  • Worse than expected (-2.0 expected wins): 6 games
  • As expected (between -1.9 and 1.9 expected wins): 8 games
  • Better than expected (+2.0 expected wins): 2 games
  • Much better than expected (+5.0 expected wins): 0 games

In addition, MNF is only projected to air one game between two 10-win teams all year (Seahawks-Saints in Week 13).

The three games that went down the most in quality:

  • Vikings-Giants, Week 7: -8.2 combined wins (16.5 preseason expected wins vs. 8.3 current expected wins)
  • Dolphins-Bucs, Week 10: -4.8 combined wins (15.5 preseason expected wins vs. 10.7 current expected wins)
  • Falcons-49ers, Week 16: -4.3 combined wins (21.0 preseason expected wins vs. 16.7 current expected wins)

The three games that went up the most in quality:

  • Saints-Seahawks, Week 13: +3.8 combined wins (19.5 preseason expected wins vs. 23.2 current expected wins)
  • Colts-Chargers, Week 6: +3.5 combined wins (16.0 preseason expected wins vs. 19.5 current expected wins)
  • Cowboys-Bears, Week 14: +1.6 combined wins (17.0 preseason expected wins vs. 18.6 current expected wins)

The games that got worse got much worse, and the games that got better only got a little bit better.

This is really unlucky for ESPN. As we mentioned before, the ratings are still high, but they're not BONKERS. When you're paying $1.8 billion per year for 17 games, you'd hope that you get a handful of truly marquee matchups.

Instead the quality of MNF matchups is lower than we thought it'd be going into the year.



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