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YOUR GUIDE TO NFL TV

In the NFL, the game is the thing. But our enjoyment of the game often relies on the broadcast of the game - and before the game, the preview shows. Here's our look at the best and not-so-best of the NFL broadcasts.

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Best play-by-play announcer

Al Michaels, NBC

Calling Michaels the best play-by-play person on TV has almost become cliche, and thus, sometimes you lose track of what makes him so good. Michaels is smooth; he never stutters or stammers. He rarely calls a wrong name or otherwise makes a mistake because he doesn't get ahead of himself or anticipate the wrong thing. He also has a knack for never being overenthusiastic or understated. Each call gets the perfect tone and pitch. It's almost as if he's calling a game he has already seen while the rest of us are watching it for the first time.

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Most underrated play-by-play announcer

Sam Rosen, Fox

Rosen is best known as the TV voice of the New York Rangers, and no one does a better job on hockey. He brings the same level of enthusiasm and professionalism to football. Unfortunately, he's usually stuck with one of the weaker games on Fox. Others who fit in the underrated category include NFL Network's Bob Papa and CBS's Greg Gumbel.

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Most underrated color analyst

Matt Millen, NFL Network

Those who follow network announcers closely wouldn't consider Millen underrated, but fans might. Before taking over as head honcho of the Detroit Lions, he was well on his way to being one of the best in the business. And had he not left the booth for the Lions, he (and not Cris Collinsworth) would've replaced John Madden on Sunday Night Football. Now, many fans are watching Millen with raised eyebrows because of how poorly the Lions did when he was in charge. To those fans, give Millen a chance. He'll quickly prove just how solid he is as an announcer.

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Best studio host

Curt Menefee, Fox

The first instinct was to list NBC's Bob Costas or CBS's James Brown. Both are solid pros without flaws. And it's hard to argue with anyone who thinks either is top dog. But Menefee best seems to realize that the host is not the star of the pregame show. He is the prototypical point guard, dishing off assists to make others look good. Fox's pregame show has some big personalities in Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Jimmy Johnson and Michael Strahan. And it could fly off the rails if Menefee didn't do his job well.

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Most overrated color analyst

Tony Siragusa, Fox

When "Goose'' isn't playing up his "funny guy who's wild and crazy'' shtick, he is quite good. He offers good analysis and is interesting to listen to. But when he sinks to the level of trying to be just a big ol' lug, his shtick gets old in a hurry. He seems to have gotten more aware of that in the past year.

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Most overrated studio host

Chris Berman, ESPN

His Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell imitations during highlights remain tried and true, but you can't help but wince when he tries to be too much of the entertainment. Everyone has different tastes, so maybe Berman is your cup of tea. But these days, pregame shows have so many analysts, the host is probably best when he gets in and out and lets them do the heavy lifting. One reason to cut Berman some slack: ESPN's cast of egos isn't easy to control.

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Best studio analyst

Tom Jackson, ESPN

In an age when too many analysts believe that louder and more outrageous than the other guy equals better, Jackson remains a reasonable, yet strong voice. While some of his partners (Mike Ditka and, especially, Keyshawn Johnson) are busy trying to outdo one another with insults and shocking statements, Jackson is the thoughtful conscience of ESPN's coverage. His opinions are often stronger than his teammates', but his measured tone makes him more credible. You get the feeling that everything he says is what he believes, not what he thinks will fire up viewers.

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Most overrated studio analysts

Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders, NFL Network

Irvin, hired last month, makes this list based on his work at ESPN. Sanders, top left, and Irvin, below, epitomize analysts who spend so much time trying to be funny and outlandish that they can't be taken seriously. These two fancy themselves as football's version of Charles Barkley, but the difference is that Barkley's studio work is not an act.

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Most underrated studio analyst

Trent Dilfer, ESPN

Back when Dilfer was stumbling and bumbling his way around Tampa Stadium for the Bucs, who would've thought he would turn into one of TV's best analysts? The only reason he is underrated is because ESPN doesn't allow him to do more.

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Best studio 'insider'

Jay Glazer, Fox

All the "insiders'' do a solid job: Glazer, CBS's Charley Casserly, NBC's Peter King and the stable of ESPN reporters, led by Chris Mortensen. NFL Network's new addition, Jason LaCanfora, was a heck of a reporter for the Washington Post, and there's no reason to think he won't do well in his new job, too. But if you had to bet on which one is going to have that one great last-minute nugget just before kickoff, you have to go with Glazer.

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Best pregame show: 'Fox NFL Sunday'

No two analysts work better together than Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long. They have distinct personalties, yet they mesh well together and with two other big personalities, Jimmy Johnson and Michael Strahan. Unlike the other shows, the group doesn't do a lot of shouting over each another. And though it has a good time, it doesn't go overboard with jokes and laughter. When it's time to get serious, the guys get serious. Fox consistently has the best features. It has Jay Glazer's inside information, and we even like comedian Frank Caliendo's spot-on imitations.

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Best color analyst

Jon Gruden, ESPN

Sure, it's an odd choice seeing as how he has yet to call a regular-season game. But Gruden is the pick for two reasons. One, he's really good. He has a coach's mentality but passes along his knowledge in ways fans can digest. His preseason work was stellar, and now that he has the bugs and jitters out, he's going to get only better. The other reason the former Bucs coach tops the list is because the field of analysts isn't particularly strong. CBS's Phil Simms, Fox's Troy Aikman and NBC's Cris Collinsworth are solid, and each has his strengths. But everyone is still trying to live up to the gold standard set by John Madden. For now, Gruden has the best chance to do that.

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Most overrated play-by-play announcer

Jim Nantz, CBS

Nantz heads up CBS's lead broadcast team with Phil Simms, but his down-home, boy-next-door coolness seems better suited for golf, which Nantz is quite good at calling. He also is great on college basketball. It's not that Nantz does a bad job on football. Far from it. It's just not his strength. Only because of his high-profile position is he even considered in this category. As far as play-by-play announcers, you could do a lot worse than Nantz.

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