Cowboys an even bigger draw than usual this season

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The Dallas Cowboys always move the needle, but especially when in contention.

Fueled by a recent six-game winning streak, the Cowboys have generated impressive numbers this season. On Monday, when the streak was snapped against Washington, their overtime loss drew ESPN’s highest Monday Night Football rating in five years (11.4) and the ninth-largest audience in cable television history (18.8 million viewers).

That came just two weeks after FOX drew a 17.4 and 30 million for its Week 6 NFL national window, featuring Cowboys/Seahawks in most of the country. The Cowboys’ upset of the defending champions propelled the network to its largest regular season NFL audience (excluding Thanksgiving) since 1995.

Sandwiched between those multi-year highs was a 15.6 and 27 million for the Week 7 national window, featuring the Cowboys’ win over the Giants. There was no 19-year record for that game, but it delivered the fourth-largest NFL audience of the season.

Overall, the Cowboys have been featured in three of the four highest rated and most-watched NFL telecasts this season, including the top two. The only non-Cowboys telecast to crack the top four was in Week 3, when CBS coverage featuring a Broncos/Seahawks Super Bowl rematch drew a 15.8 and 27.3 million.

Interest in the Cowboys is usually high regardless of record. Last season, they played in four of the nine most-watched games — more than any other team — and their Thanksgiving Day game against the Raiders topped the charts with 31.7 million viewers. Recall that last year’s team had an 8-8 record, the third straight season of .500 mediocrity.

This year’s team, off to a 6-2 start, has been an even better TV draw. Five times this season, the Cowboys have played nationally or in the featured game of a regional window. Those telecasts have averaged approximately 25.3 million viewers, up 15 percent from around 21.9 million for five such telecasts at the comparable point last year.

If the Cowboys can continue to play well, the team should continue generating bigger-than-usual numbers over the next few weeks. Sunday’s game against the 6-1 Cardinals, which FOX plans to send to 63 percent of TV markets, figures to earn one of the larger singleheader audiences in recent years. Two games against the Eagles — the first on Thanksgiving and the second on a Sunday night — have the potential to attract blockbuster numbers if the teams remain #1 and #2 in the NFC East.

Of course, those games will probably do well even if the Cowboys’ hot start fades, and the NFL is a strong enough television draw that no one team matters much more than the other. Yet there can be little question that the networks are rooting for Dallas to continue its winning ways. It is one thing to air the Cowboys, and another to air the Cowboys when they are actually successful.

Paulsen is the founder of Sports Media Watch and a contributor for Sporting News. Follow him on Twitter @Paulsen_SMW.