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The NFL's Christmas Schedule is a Full-Blown Ratings War on the NBA

The NFL is no longer afraid of the NBA when it comes to Christmas, and this year's football schedule includes a triple-header of Christmas day games.

Christmas Day and the NBA go hand in hand. It's become a tradition for many sports fans to cuddle together in matching pajamas while eating leftovers and watching the biggest names in basketball battle it out on the hardwood. This year, the NFL is clearly ready to duke it out with the NBA for Christmas game-day ratings.

While the NFL has shied away from Christmas if it didn't fall on a Sunday, Roger Goodell and the league have unleashed a full-scale assault on the holiday this year.

The NFL vs. the NBA: A Christmas Day Viewership Smackdown

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The NFL's 2023 Christmas game-day schedule packs a powerhouse punch. It presents football fans a Christmas triple-header seemingly gift-wrapped by Santa himself, and all too irresistible to resist. 

The Shield's Christmas game-day lineup kicks off with the defending Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, hosting their longtime AFC West rivals, the Las Vegas Raiders, at Arrowhead Stadium. Placing Patrick "Showtime" Mahomes at the top of the Christmas Day games glaringly shows how committed the NFL is to making its Christmas Day programming must-see TV.  While it's been a disappointing season for both teams, Mahomes and his wide receivers are hoping to get on the same page in front of a national audience. 

The celebration of rivals continues on Christmas Day when two NFC East adversaries, the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, meet at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly. While the Eagles have already clinched a playoff spot, they're hoping to turn things around and get right before another potential Super Bowl run. Meanwhile, Giants fans are enjoying the ride with backup quarterback Tommy DeVito, who has taken the league by storm thanks to his Italian heritage, hilarious agent, and playmaking ability. 

The NFL Christmas present will conclude with Lamar Jackson's Baltimore Ravens marching into Santa Clara, California, to face the San Francisco 49ers in a matchup that could be pivotal for the MVP race. Jackson has had a strong (and healthy) season, while Brock Purdy and Christian McCaffrey have stolen headlines as potential MVP candidates given their consistent play all season. 

Here's what the triple-header looks like:

  • Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs, Dec. 25, 1 p.m. ET, CBS and Nickelodeon
  • New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, Dec. 25, 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox
  • Baltimore Raves at San Francisco 49ers, Dec. 25, 8:15 p.m. ET, ABC

Fans have grown accustomed to only sometimes watching NFL games on Christmas, given the fluctuation of which day of the week the holiday falls on. Meanwhile, the NBA has long been reliable Christmas Day entertainment. This year, the NBA will have quite a game-day schedule to contend with, possibly the most challenging viewer decision in years. NBA or NFL a 2023 Christmas Day game-time dilemma.   

The History of the NFL Christmas Schedule  

Santa Claus video tapes the coin toss prior to the game between the San Francisco 49ers and the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 16, 2010 in San Diego, California. The Chargers defeated the 49ers 34-7. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

Macy's Day Parade, football and Thanksgiving go together most magically — partly because Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday, and the NFL plans for Thursday games. However, Christmas Day is unpredictable — it can fall on any day of the week depending on the year. And unlike the NBA, the NFL schedule isn't lucky enough to pull Christmas Day ratings yearly.  

The NFL is limited to only having the fortune to play on Christmas Day if it falls on a Saturday, Sunday, Monday or a rare Thursday. The NFL has broadcast 27 Christmas Day games to date, and this year's 2023 matchups will bring the league to an even 30. 

The first year the NFL tinkered with Christmas Day games was 1971. Two playoff games were played that year: the Cowboys versus Vikings and the Chiefs versus the Dolphins. The Chiefs-Dolphins game has become a historical touchstone for the NFL, remaining the longest game in league history — clocking in at 82 minutes and 40 seconds of game time. The overtime nail-biter is revered by many as the greatest NFL Christmas Day game ever played. 

Chiefs owner Clark Hunt was at that historic Christmas Day game. However, according to his father — the late, great Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt — "The Christmas Day aspect is very vivid to me," Hunt recalled, "because there was a great hue and cry, the league was criticized for scheduling the game on Christmas Day. ... About the fifth quarter — it was already dark — Clark went to sleep, and he slept through the longest game. I didn't have the heart to wake him up."

One can wager that Clark Hunt won't be sleeping through the Chiefs' fourth Christmas Day game appearance this season. But football fans will never forget that 1971 Christmas Day overtime Dolphins win. 

For the remainder of the '70s and '80s, the league avoided Christmas Day play when it could, still struggling to gain support for hijacking the beloved holiday's attention. The NFL schedule didn't attempt to light the Yule log again until 1989, when Christmas Day fell on a Monday and fans watched the Minnesota Vikings beat the Cincinnati Bengals. Momentum began to build throughout the 1990s and 2000s to today, when it feels as though fans can't get enough football on their TVs no matter the day. 

The NBA Needs to Protect Its Christmas Day Dominance

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The NFL has made it abundantly clear it isn't afraid to bully the competition. NFL Vice President of Broadcasting Mike North said just last year, "Christmas, when it falls on an NFL game day, we've had a lot of success there, all due respect to our friends at the NBA. It is something that our friends are interested in. If Christmas falls on a Sunday, it makes perfect sense."

This year will be the fourth straight year the NFL has played on Christmas Day, and the NBA-NFL Christmas Day rivalry is getting chippier with every passing Christmas. The NBA had grown accustomed to solely controlling the Christmas Day cheer; now, the NBA must match the NFL's anticipated star-studded rivalry triple-header. 

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has become the NBA's personal Grinch who stole Christmas. What can NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and that league put up against the NFL to protect their place among the greatest Christmas classics such as "Home Alone," "A Christmas Story," "Elf" and Christmas Day basketball?

Week 16 is an NFL schedule Christmas takeover, with games on the 21st, 23rd, 24th and 25th. The NFL is shoving its cleats at the throat of the NBA to steal the ratings and dominate Christmas viewership. 

According to Sportsmedia Watch, during last year's debut Christmas Day NFL tripleheader, "the NBA's five-game Christmas Day slate averaged a 1.8 rating and 4.31 million viewers across ABC and ESPN — up a tick in ratings and 5% in viewership from last year (1.7, 4.08M). Compared to two years ago, when Christmas took place in the opening week of the season, ratings fell 10% (from 2.0) and viewership 4% (from 4.47M)."

With the NFL schedule putting up Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson on Christmas Day, the NBA will need a LeBron James/Steph Curry-size Christmas miracle to outshine the NFL this year.  

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