Your Two Cents guide to NFL television
The NFL season kicked off Thursday night in Green Bay, and today the league gets into high gear. We look at what to expect on TV this season, from the pregame shows to the game broadcasts. Here's the Two Cents "Football Television Guide.''
Best pregame show
ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown is expanding to three hours, with a starting time of 10 a.m. It's easy to knock some of things ESPN does, and at one time or another, everyone on this pregame show seems to get under my skin. But pound for pound, there's not a better Sunday pregame show. The mix of personalities -- Tom Jackson, Mike Ditka, Keyshawn Johnson, Cris Carter and, this season, Bill Parcells -- always makes for interesting, intelligent debates. Listening to this crew bat around the controversy of the day is about as good as it gets on Sunday morning. Of course, ESPN doesn’t have the time constraints that CBS and Fox have with their hour-long shows. But to ESPN’s credit, its show never has dead air. ESPN does a deft job of bouncing from reporter to reporter at various game sites, and the features are usually informative and/or entertaining.
The other pregame shows
Fox NFL Sunday is like an old pair of jeans. It's comfortable because analysts Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Jimmy Johnson have been around for so long. Relatively new guy Michael Strahan goes between being really good and really bad. Keep any eye out for changes, because the show has a new executive producer.
The NFL Network's NFL GameDay Morning has added Kurt Warner, and that should improve the show. Its only problem (well, besides most people in the Tampa Bay area not getting the network because they have Bright House Networks cable, which doesn't carry it) is that GameDay Morning has too many analysts (Warren Sapp, Michael Irvin and Steve Mariucci) who say outlandish things simply to be outlandish. The hope is Warner brings calmness to the hyperbole.
CBS's NFL Today has the potential to be a good show, especially because it has a couple of real keepers in analysts Dan Marino and Bill Cowher. But I'm not a fan of Shannon Sharpe and Boomer Esiason (who also likes to be controversial just to be controversial), and this show kills way too much time laughing at jokes that aren't funny. When these guys are serious, they are occasionally good.
NBC's Football Night in America is outstanding, but it benefits from being able to do something the other shows can't: show fresh highlights from that day's games.
Best pregame analyst
I always thought of ESPN's Tom Jackson as the voice of reason of pregame shows. Then he damaged his credibility last season when he missed badly on a Jets-Pats prediction and then said he was trying to fire up the Jets with his pick. Still, that's just one slip, and it shouldn't wipe out 25 years of good broadcasting. When Jackson and NBC's Tony Dungy talk, you get the feeling they mean what they say and aren't just trying to get their names in newspapers and blogs. Also, keep an eye on ESPN's Bill Parcells. He has been very good in the past as an analyst, mostly because he's so arrogant he doesn't care whom he offends, insults or criticizes.
Best pregame host
All the pregame hosts are solid -- yeah, even ESPN's Chris Berman, who takes a lot of heat from fans and media critics alike. Sure, he's a little full of himself, his shtick of imitating Howard Cosell (''He could go all the way … '') has grown weary, and he's a bit of a shill for the NFL, but it's not easy being the traffic cop for the too many personalties on Sunday NFL Countdown. Give Berman credit for the show never veering over the curb. CBS's James Brown, Fox's Curt Menefee and the NFL Network's Rich Eisen are solid, but no one is better than NBC's Bob Costas. NBC's Football Night in America also uses Dan Patrick as a co-host and he's sensational in setting up analysts Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison. Take your pick between Costas and Patrick. Good thing is, you can watch them both because they are on the same show.
ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen seem to have most of the info you need on Sunday morning, but Fox's Jay Glazer is a must-see right before kickoff. He seems to break a big story a couple of times a month, which is not easy in a sport as heavily covered as the NFL. Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network and CBS's Charley Casserly are solid, too.
Best announcing team
NBC's Al Michaels is the best play-by-play man in the business. NBC's Cris Collinsworth is the best game analyst in the business. They work together, making it a no-brainer to call them the best broadcasting team in the business. ESPN's Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden are a close runnerup. Gruden is this close to being one of the all-time broadcasting greats. He just needs to simmer down a bit on the praise.
* CBS has added play-by-play guy Marv Albert, who will work with Rich Gannon. They have a chance to be one of TV's best teams, but I miss Albert calling Monday night games on radio's Westwood One broadcasts.
* Most underrated team: CBS's Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts.
* Most underrated game analyst: CBS's Dan Dierdorf.
* Most overrated team: CBS's Jim Nantz and Phil Simms.
* Most overrated analyst: A tie between Fox's Tony Siragusa and Daryl Johnston. Unfortunately, they work together.
* Aside from the NFL Network's Kurt Warner, the other new guy to check out is Chad Pennington, the semi-retired QB who will work some games for CBS.
* Best game broadcast: NBC's Sunday Night Football. Then again, NBC does only one game a week, so it better be good.