America's not out of the pandemic quite yet, but here's a sign that some aspects of life are returning to normal: the NFL's drawing larger TV audiences again.
The NFL released its ratings numbers from the 2021 season, and the league enjoyed a 10-percent bounce from 2020 and the highest average ratings since 2015. The league recorded an average viewership per game of 17.1 million.
Moreover, NFL games stomped the entire TV landscape; during the season, NFL games came in as the top 16, 48 of the top 50, and 91 of the top 100 telecasts.
In and of themselves, ratings don't matter to anyone outside the NFL except advertisers and broadcast executives. But they give context to the league's health relative to other sports and entertainment properties. Pick a reason for the NFL's ratings decline in 2020 — the pandemic, other entertainment options, lack of fans, political messaging — and it's clear that the league has rebounded from the factors that caused the decline.
The top-rated games from the season ran as follows:
Raiders at Cowboys, Week 12, 40.8 million: The Thanksgiving special crushed everything in its path.
Cowboys at Chiefs, Week 11, 28.7 million: America's team vs. one of the NFL's brightest stars is money in the bank.
Browns at Packers, Week 16, 28.6 million: Apparently we like to watch football on Christmas, too; sorry, NBA.
Bears at Lions, Week 12, 28.2 million: If you've ever wondered why the NFL keeps putting the wretched Lions on Thanksgiving, here's why. Clearly we will watch even two garbage teams to avoid helping with the meal.
Buccaneers at Patriots, Week 4, 27. 2 million: People seemed interested in Tom Brady's return to New England.
To slice that data another way, here are the teams that appear the most among the top 20 most-watched games of the 2021 season. If you wonder why the NFL keeps forcing the Dallas Cowboys on America, well, it's clear that America wants to see the Dallas Cowboys:
— Ben Fischer (@BenFischerSBJ) January 12, 2022
This season marked the first time the NFL expanded to 17 games, with 272 total games broadcast over the course of the season. The season included 34 games decided on a final-play walkoff, the most ever in a single season. A total of 49 games were decided by a score in the final minute or overtime, tied for the most ever. And 175 games, or 64 percent of the entire slate, were within one possession in the fourth quarter.
As always, regardless of any off-field concerns or controversies, the best thing football has going for it is football.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.