Fox | 'Fox NFL Sunday', noon, Ch. 13
Pregame show: Once the best NFL pregame show, Fox NFL Sunday alternates between being an interesting, opinionated show and a bad sitcom. When analysts Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Michael Strahan and Jimmy Johnson start talking over one another and try to outdo each other with cornball jokes that only they get, the show becomes something of a mess. I'm not sure if it's because these longtime panelists have become bored, but the high jinks and shenanigans have grown more frequent in the past couple of years, and the show has deteriorated because of it. If the crew can shake that instinct to clown around and, instead, get back to NFL talk, the show has enough strong personalities to make it a good show. If they can't, maybe it's time for Fox to think about shaking up the cast. It will be interesting to see if Strahan, who just replaced Regis Philbin as co-host of Live! with Kelly Ripa, has the energy to do the talk show Monday through Friday in New York, then be prepared for Fox NFL Sunday in Los Angeles. NFL insider Jay Glazer remains the best part of the show. Impressionist Frank Caliendo will not return. Comic relief will be provided by Saturday Night Live alum Rob Riggle. There is a rumor that Caliendo could end up on ESPN.
Announcing teams: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman are Fox's No. 1 pair. These two are top shelf and second only to NBC's Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth as the best in NFL circles. Former Bucs safety John Lynch is a rising star as an analyst. I like play-by-play man Kenny Albert, but I'm not a fan of his partners, Moose (Daryl Johnston) and Goose (Tony Siragusa). Veteran Sam Rosen is a pro's pro, and I can't figure why Fox keeps dropping him farther and farther back on their depth chart. He gets too many clunker games. Then again, that could be good for us if the Bucs turn out to be lousy.
tom jones' two cents
Today is the first Sunday of the NFL season, which means most of us will be camped out in front of our televisions today and every Sunday (and Thursday night and Monday night) for the next three months. So here's our Two Cents broadcast guide for the NFL season.
NBC 'Football Night In America', 7 p.m., Ch. 8
Pregame show: When your hosts are Bob Costas and Dan Patrick, you're already halfway to being the best pregame show on television. When your analysts are the classy Tony Dungy and the polarizing Rodney Harrison, then you're all the way there. This season, Hines Ward joins the cast, and as long as he doesn't step on the toes of Dungy and Harrison, the show should continue clicking. The plan for now is to have Ward reporting mostly from the game site, meaning he probably won't have much interaction with Dungy and Harrison.
The biggest advantage Football Night in America has is that it's not a true pregame show. It's actually a pre- and postgame show. It previews the Sunday night show but also has the benefit of showing highlights from that afternoon's games, including games that ended only moments earlier.
Announcing team: Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth are the best announcing team in the NFL by far. They're smart and funny and realize that a good broadcast isn't measured by how many words you say, but which words you say.
CBS | 'NFL Today', noon, Ch. 10
Pregame show: Just a few years ago, NFL Today was the Two and a Half Men of the pregame shows. That is to say, it was the show with the sophomoric humor and very little substance. But over the past year or two, the show has matured. Host James Brown and analysts Dan Marino and Bill Cowher have helped the show grow up, and it's usually Marino and Cowher at the center of intelligent debate. I'm not a fan of Shannon Sharpe, who isn't as interesting or as funny as he thinks he is, and I often feel that Boomer Esiason says crazy stuff for the sake of saying crazy stuff. Overall, NFL Today has dropped the jokes and juvenile behavior and created a show that has a nice blend of features and debatable topics that allow the analysts to show off their knowledge and experience. I've always liked Charley Casserly, who was CBS's NFL insider, but he will be replaced this season by Jason La Canfora, who comes over from the NFL Network.
Announcing teams: The vanilla Jim "Hello, friends'' Nantz will once again partner with Phil Simms to make up CBS's top announcing team, but I don't care for that team as much as what is considered the No. 2 unit of Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf. Actually, CBS has two of the most underrated announcing teams in the business with Marv Albert and Rich Gannon making up one crew and Ian Eagle with Dan Fouts on another. Eagle and Fouts might be the most underappreciated duo in the NFL.
NFL Network | 'NFL GameDay Morning', 9 a.m.
Pregame show: The network's Sunday programming actually starts at 7 a.m. with a show called First on the Field. It will be hosted by Melissa Stark with analysts Sterling Sharpe and LaDainian Tomlinson and insider Michael Lombardi.
The big pregame show — called, appropriately enough, NFL GameDay Morning — starts at 9. I have this love-hate relationship with GameDay. Sometimes I love it. Sometimes I don't. Some days, analysts Steve Mariucci, Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner, Deion Sanders, Warren Sapp and Michael Irvin are insightful and entertaining. Other times, they are annoying and arrogant. Warner is the best of the lot, but Sapp can be solid when he isn't trying to be outrageous. Actually, you can say that about most everyone on the show.
Announcing team: Play-by-play announcer Brad Nessler and Emmy-nominated analyst Mike Mayock make up the network's announcing team. Not flashy but solid — a meat-and-potatoes team. And don't most of us football fans live on meat and potatoes?
ESPN | 'Sunday NFL Countdown', 10 a.m.; Monday NFL Countdown, 7 p.m.
Pregame show: The biggest complaint folks seem to have about Sunday NFL Countdown is host Chris Berman, who has become a bit of a caricature of himself. Berman could go a long way toward improving his game if he dropped dated impressions. He still relies heavily on Howard Cosell and John Facenda imitations. Facenda, the one-time voice of NFL Films, died nearly 28 years ago. Cosell has been dead for 17 years. The last time Cosell worked a Monday Night Football game was 1983. That means most people in their early 30s don't even remember Cosell. It's time for Berman to drop these dated references that are lost on much of his audience. Meantime, the schtick of the rest of the crew — Mike Ditka (the old, crusty coach), Keyshawn Johnson (the superstar/diva), Cris Carter (the hard-working veteran) and Tom Jackson (the wise man) — is starting to feel old, too. But the entire panel is smart, and the discussions are still strong enough to keep viewers tuned in. The best part of the show are the updates from ESPN's stable of reporters scattered across the league. If there's breaking news on a Sunday morning, Sunday NFL Countdown is the place to find it.
Announcing team: Big change on Monday Night Football this season as ESPN goes to a two-man booth. Ron Jaworski leaves the booth for the studio, leaving Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden to call the games. I'll miss Jaworski, but I get the feeling Gruden will be better having the analyst role all to himself. If Gruden could just add a little more bite to go along with all his praise, he would be the best in the business.