Why are there two NFL games tonight? History of ESPN’s ‘Monday Night Football’ doubleheader


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Football fans can’t always pick which game they want to watch. Especially during primetime windows, when only one game is going on and, sometimes, the game gets to be a little uninteresting to watch, and another option might be preferred.

For back-to-back Mondays this year, ABC and ESPN will give fans a chance to watch two games that will be carried during overlapping times, with the two matchups starting an hour apart. In Week 2, viewers will have their choice between watching either the Panthers host the Saints or the Steelers host the Browns in a pair of divisional matchups.

This will be the second straight season of a doubleheader in Week 2, though there is a long ESPN history of carrying games on the same night.

With that, Sporting News breaks down the reasoning to delay the doubleheader to Week 2, as well as the history of ESPN’s “MNF” broadcast.

Why are there two NFL games tonight?

NFL fans have long enjoyed the Week 1 tradition of a “Monday Night Football” doubleheader. That has been the case since 2006, when ESPN first acquired the final primetime slot of the week.

But starting last year, ESPN pushed back the start of the doubleheaders until Week 2. According to Sports Illustrated, part of the reason for that in 2022 was to put the new pairing of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman on display in a standalone game in Week 1.

Just like last year, the games will also feature staggered starts, with one starting at 7:15 p.m. ET and the next beginning at 8:15 p.m. ET. It will be the same staggered starts for both Week 2 and Week 3. There is a method to the staggered starts, per The Athletic: real-time data on viewer interest for the best start times on Monday.

The network will also have a Week 14 doubleheader where both games will start at 8:15 p.m. ET.

“We’re going to learn more about what optimizes best, and I think by next year we’ll continue to hone on driving the biggest viewership between the two games,” ESPN president of content Burke Magnus said, per The Athletic. “We will learn if it is better to start with the ABC game, the ESPN game, or the other way around.

“Later in the year, in Week 14, we’re doing both games at the same time. The thought there is, can we combine total audience and do a little bit like we used to do in the old days of college football where we create a simultaneous national and regional appeal and use our networks to do that in a single window? Then it combines to sort of like a super audience total number.”

The NFL’s executive vice president of media distribution Hans Schroeder called the league’s partnership with the Disney family of networks a “unique opportunity” to “innovate and create a new viewing experience.”

“You’ll see more look-ins in between the games. You’ll see more coverage between the two games going on, you’ll see things at halftime in those first couple weeks where they go to the other game,” Schroeder said, per The Athletic. “The whole desire is, how do we create a new and different and compelling way for fans to watch games, and how do we continue to test and innovate as we do that? We’re really excited for those side-by-sides with Disney.”

The two sides are in the first official year of a 10-year extension, signed in March 2021 and running through 2033, that increases the number of “Monday Night Football” games from 17 to 23, done by having three doubleheaders per year. The deal is reportedly worth $2.6 billion.

What channels are tonight’s ‘Monday Night Football’ games on?

There will be two “Monday Night Football” games in Week 2. The first will be between the Saints and Panthers at 7:15 p.m. ET, which will be on ESPN and ESPN2. Starting an hour later will be the Browns and Steelers in Pittsburgh, which will begin at 8:15 p.m. ET on ABC.

In the past, ESPN would have started one game at 7 p.m. ET and the next at 10 p.m. ET. But Disney made the change to stagger the kickoffs that will allow for occasional double-box views to watch both games, and have box scores for both games at the same time.

In Week 3, fans can start with the Eagles and Buccaneers at 7:15 p.m. ET on ABC or watch the Bengals face the Rams at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN2.

Below you can see which channel the respective Week 2 games will be on; regardless of which game you want to watch, both can be streamed via Fubo, which carries the ABC family of networks and offers a free trial.

Saints at Panthers

  • Time: 7:15 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN | ESPN2
  • Streaming: ESPN App, Fubo

Browns at Steelers

  • Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: ABC | ESPN+
  • Streaming: ESPN App, Fubo

Who is calling the ‘MNF’ games?

ESPN’s primary “Monday Night Football” broadcast team of Buck (play-by-play), Aikman (color commentator) and Lisa Salters (sideline reporter) will call the Browns-Steelers game in Pittsburgh.

A secondary broadcast team comprised of Chris Fowler, Dan Orlovsky, Louis Riddick and Laura Rutledge will call the Saints-Panthers game in Charlotte.

John Parry will work both games as an officiating expert, as needed.

History of ‘MNF’ doubleheaders

ESPN has had a scheduled doubleheader every season dating back to 2006 except one, which was in 2021. The reason for that was that ESPN and the NFL agreed to a Week 18 doubleheader, which then eliminated the Week 1 doubleheader.

The “MNF” doubleheader picked back up in 2022, with Bills-Titans and Eagles-Vikings.

Date Game results
Sept. 11, 2006 Vikings 19, Redskins 16
  Chargers 27, Raiders 0
Sept. 10, 2007 Bengals 27, Ravens 20
  49ers 20, Cardinals 17
Sept. 8, 2008 Packers 24, Vikings 19
  Broncos 41, Raiders 14
Sept. 14, 2009 Patriots 25, Bills 24
  Chargers 24, Raiders 20
Sept. 13, 2010 Ravens 10, Jets 9
  Chiefs 21, Chargers 14
Sept. 12, 2011 Patriots 38, Dolphin 24
  Raiders 23, Broncos 20
Sept. 10, 2012 Ravens 44, Bengals 13
  Chargers 22, Raiders 14
Sept. 9, 2013 Eagles 33, Redskins 27
  Texans 31, Chargers 28
Sept. 8, 2014 Lions 35, Giants 14
  Chargers 18, Cardinals 17
Sept. 14, 2015 Falcons 26, Eagles 24
  49ers 20, Vikings 3
Sept. 12, 2016 Steelers 38, Redskins 16
  49ers 28, Rams 0
Sept. 11, 2017 Vikings 29, Saints 19
  Broncos 24, Chargers 21
Sept. 10, 2018 Jets 48, Lions 17
  Rams 33, Raiders 13
Sept. 9, 2019 Saints 30, Texans 28
  Raiders 24, Broncos 16
Sept. 14, 2020 Steelers 26, Giants 16
  Titans 16, Broncos 14
Sept. 19, 2022 Bills 41, Titans 7
  Eagles 24, Vikings 7
Sept. 18, 2023 Saints at Panthers
  Browns at Steelers
Sept. 25, 2023 Eagles at Buccaneers
  Rams at Bengals
Dec. 11, 2023 Packers at Giants
  Titans at Dolphins

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