NEW YORK (AP) -- More than 40 million people watched the NFL's two preliminaries for the Super Bowl on Sunday, a drop of more than 8 percent compared to last year's conference championship games.
The Nielsen company said an average of 43.2 million people watched the games. While that's down from the 47.1 million who watched the conference championships last year, it was a more heartening report than the NFL had gotten only a week earlier. This year's divisional championship round had seen a 16 percent dip in audience size.
Night games generally do better in the ratings than afternoon contests, but not this year. The New England-Jacksonville contest that ended around dinnertime was a better game featuring the league's marquee player in Tom Brady. That game reached 44.1 million, compared to the 42.3 million who watched Philadelphia blow out Minnesota, Nielsen said.
After seeing viewership erosion all year, the NFL will be anxious to see if that extends to the secular holiday of Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 4. The Super Bowl is the most-watched television event each year.
The NFC game boosted Fox's new medical soap, "The Resident," which reached 8.65 million viewers for its premiere episode on Sunday. Television viewers had their stethoscopes handy, with medical shows "The Good Doctor," ''Grey's Anatomy" and "Chicago Med" also landing among Nielsen's 20 most popular programs last week.
With a prime-time football game, Fox won the week by averaging 10.6 million viewers. CBS had 6.9 million, ABC had 4.74 million, NBC had 4.69 million, the CW had 1.53 million, Univision had 1.47 million, ION Television had 1.3 million and Telemundo had 1.2 million.
Fox News Channel was the week's most popular cable network, averaging 2.65 million viewers in prime time. MSNBC had 1.95 million viewers, USA averaged 1.5 million, HGTV had 1.49 million and TNT had 1.46 million.
ABC's "World News Tonight" topped the evening newscasts with an average of 10.4 million viewers. NBC's "Nightly News" was second with 9.8 million and the "CBS Evening News" had 7.4 million.
For the week of Jan. 15-21, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: NFC Championship: Minnesota vs. Philadelphia, Fox, 42.3 million; "NFC Championship Post-Game" (9:39-9:47 p.m. ET), Fox, 26.53 million; "NFC Championship Post-Game" (9:47-10:04 p.m. ET), Fox, 18.88 million; "The Big Bang Theory," CBS, 14.92 million; "Young Sheldon," CBS, 13.33 million; "NCIS," CBS, 9.88 million; "This is Us," NBC, 9.82 million; "Blue Bloods," CBS, 9.45 million; "The Good Doctor," ABC, 9.34 million; "Mom," CBS, 9.26 million.
ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. Fox is owned by 21st Century Fox. NBC and Telemundo are owned by Comcast Corp. ION Television is owned by ION Media Networks.