Why are NFL ratings down this season?

NFL ratings are down. And that's something that doesn't happen often, considering that the league has cemented itself at the top of American sports. 

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Ratings for the NFL's biggest prime-time games dropped about 12 percent from last year during the first couple weeks of the season. They were down in Week 3, too, including the lowest-rated Monday Night Football broadcast ever

If you ask some people, they'll tell you it's because of recent player protests during the national anthem, like Colin Kaepernick taking a knee. 

In a way, it makes sense that people would turn to anthem protests to explain the drop in ratings. Seeing the NFL take a ratings hit is unusual and so are the protests.

But there are other factors at play too.

For example, that lowest-ever Monday night rating should probably be taken with a grain of salt. 

The first presidential debate, which was aired the same night, was the most-watched debate ever. That's bad news for a football broadcast happening at the same time. 

Plus, political coverage as a whole has put up big numbers throughout the election cycle. It's not unthinkable that it could be cutting into the NFL's viewership a bit. 

Another possible factor in the NFL's ratings slide: A lot of the games weren't as good as usual. 

Several star quarterbacks were on the sidelines during prime-time games due to an injury or suspension. Plus, nearly half of the prime-time games through Week 3 were decided by 14 points or more. 

Still, it's early in the season, and ratings have plenty of time to bounce back. Professional football is still the most-watched sport in the U.S. by a long shot. 

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