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Inside the Numbers

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Inside the Numbers: History of Sunday Night Football


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – On Sept. 24, 1978, the New England Patriots defeated the Raiders in Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, 21-14, in a game that began at 9 p.m. eastern time. It was the NFL's first Sunday night game since the 1970 merger and though no one knew it then, it was the first seed in what has grown into the colossus of Sunday Night Football.

Motivated by the success of Monday Night Football – then in its ninth season – the NFL began scheduling prime time games on other nights. That year, three were played on Sunday and another on Thursday – another seed that has provided the league much fruit. The Giants joined the Sunday night party on Oct. 6, 1985, when they dropped a 30-29 decision to the Dallas Cowboys in Giants Stadium.

Beginning in 1987, Sunday night games became a weekly staple of the league schedule. ESPN televised the games through the 2005 season. In 2006, ESPN began broadcasting Monday Night Football and the Sunday night games moved to NBC, where they became the league's premier weekly showcase and currently enjoy an unprecedented run as television's top-rated primetime show for nine consecutive years.

The first NBC Sunday night regular season telecast was a blockbuster: on Sept. 10, 2006, the Giants hosted the Indianapolis Colts in the first game in NFL history in which the starting quarterbacks were brothers, Eli and Peyton Manning. The Giants lost, 26-21.

Through the years, the Giants – with many successful teams, marquee players and a home in the nation's largest media market – regularly played on Sunday nights. But those appearances diminished recently as the team struggled. The Giants did not play on a Sunday night in 2019 and were not scheduled to play in the league's showcase night game this season until the NFL flexed their game this week against Cleveland from 1 p.m. to prime time. San Francisco's game at Dallas was moved from 8:20 to the early afternoon.

This is the 15th season the Sunday night game has been considered the league's premier weekly event. Dallas, Green Bay, New England, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are the only teams to appear each season. When they play Sunday, the Giants will tie the Chicago Bears for second with an appearance in 14 of those seasons. Cleveland will increase its number of seasons appearing on Sunday night since 2006 to … three.

The Cowboys have played in an NFL-high 50 Sunday night games since then, followed by New England, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with 36 each. Directly behind them are the Giants with 35.

The Giants last played in a Sunday prime time game on Sept. 16, 2018, a 20-13 loss in Dallas. Their most recent Sunday night victory was a 23-10 triumph in Denver on Oct. 15, 2017. And they last hosted a Sunday night game on Dec. 11, 2016, a 10-7 victory against Dallas.

View rare photos of the storied history between the Giants and Browns ahead of their preseason matchup.

While some teams must regularly stay up late, others seldom play under the lights. Jacksonville has appeared just once on Sunday Night Football, losing in 2008 to the Steelers. Miami has played only twice, while Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Tennessee and – in five days - Cleveland have three appearances. So, in flexing Dallas out of a Sunday night game for the first time, the league replaced the Cowboys with a team that will have 47 fewer appearances in the league's most-watched game.

Sunday night records can be measured two ways, and in neither one has the Giants fared particularly well.

The first is from 1978, which is when the Official NFL Record & Fact Book starts listing each team's Sunday record. The other is from 2006, which is the starting point used by the Elias Sports Bureau, the league's official statistician. But Elias counts any game that is part of the SNF "package" as a Sunday night game. The package includes season-opening games played on Thursday and Thanksgiving night.

The Giants' SNF package games include the openers in the seasons following their victories in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI – Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008 and Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012 – as well as their Thursday night games in 2016 in Philadelphia and Washington in 2017, the latter on Thanksgiving. It does not include their Thanksgiving night game in Denver in 2009, which Elias said was not part of the package.

Since 2006, the Giants are 13-22 (.371) in Sunday night package games (12-19, .387 only on Sunday nights).

Dallas' 27 victories are the most in those games during that time, followed by New England (22) and Pittsburgh (21). The Cowboys also have the most losses (23), with their NFC East rivals the Giants (22) and Philadelphia (18) directly behind them.

New Orleans's .700 winning percentage (14-6) is the league's highest, followed by Seattle's .688 (16-7-1) and Buffalo's .667 (2-1).

The Browns? They are seeking their first Sunday night victory after losing to Pittsburgh on Sept. 14, 2008 and the Rams on Sept. 22, 2019. Both of those games were in Cleveland, so the Browns will try to triumph for the first time in their initial Sunday night road game.

Many of the same teams appear on the lists that begin in 1978. Since then, the Giants are 22-30-1 overall on Sunday night, including 11-12 at home and 11-18-1 on the road.

Elias examined the games since 1978 that were played on Sunday and started at 7 p.m. EST or later and found these numbers:

Most games: Dallas (71), New England (54), Pittsburgh (54), Giants (53)

Most wins: Dallas (35), New England (32), Pittsburgh (29), Green Bay (29)

Most losses: Dallas (36), Giants (30), Chicago (26)

Highest Win Pct.: Miami (19-9, .679), Green Bay (29-16, .644), Seattle (26-16-1, .616)

Lowest Win Pct.: Cleveland (1-10, .091), Cincinnati (3-16, .158), Detroit/Tampa Bay (6-13, .316)

The Giants and Browns will both look to improve on their uninspiring Sunday night numbers when they meet this week in MetLife Stadium.

*For the second time in three weeks, the Giants will face an opponent that played the previous Monday night. Cleveland lost last night to Baltimore – the Giants' opponent next week – 47-42 in a wild and thrilling game. On Dec. 6, the Giants defeated a Seattle team that had won six days earlier in Philadelphia. Since 1990, the Giants are 13-18 against teams that played the previous Monday night.

*The Giants rushed for 78 yards in their loss to Arizona on Sunday. This season, they are 5-3 when they exceed 100 yards on the ground and 0-5 when they don't.

*None of Daniel Jones' 21 passes Sunday were intercepted, extending his streak to a career-long 121 consecutive throws without a pick. His previous long was 110 passes without an interception, from Nov. 4 to Dec. 1, 2019. That streak was ended by Green Bay's Kevin King.

*The Giants were outgained by 231 yards on Sunday, their largest disparity since Minnesota enjoyed a 279-yard advantage (490-211) on Oct. 6, 2019.

*In the last two weeks, the Giants had 100 net passing yards in their victory in Seattle and 81 in the loss to Arizona. It's the first time they've played consecutive games without more than 100 passing yards in either since Dec. 24-30, 2006, when they had 59 yards against Washington and 94 at Washington. The Giants were also 1-1 in those games.

*Cornerback James Bradberry is tied with Tampa Bay's Carlton Davis and Miami's Xavien Howard for the NFL lead with 17 passes defensed.

*Defensive lineman Leonard Williams is tied with Seattle safety Jamal Adams for eighth with 8.5 sacks and tied with the Ram's Aaron Donald for third with 24 quarterback hits.

*The Cardinals rushed for 159 yards on 43 carries, the highest totals by a Giants opponent since Dallas ran for 172 yards on Nov. 4, 2019 and Tennessee had 45 rushing attempts on Dec. 16, 2018.

*Sunday's meeting with Cleveland will be the 1,400th game in Giants history, including postseason games. Here is their record through the first 1,399 games:

Total: 725-641-33

Home: 402-298-16 (not including Super Bowls: 400-297-16)

Road: 323-343-17 (not including Super Bowls: 321-343-17)

*The Giants have played 1,350 regular-season games. They are 701-616-33 overall, including 388-288-16 at home and 313-328-17 on the road.

*Arizona's DeAndre Hopkins caught nine passes for 136 yards in the Cardinals' victory. The nine receptions were tied for the most by a Giants opponent this season; Washington running back J.D. McKissic had nine catches for 65 yards on Nov. 8. Hopkins' yardage total was the highest by a Giants opponent since Tampa Bay's Mike Evans had 190 receiving yards (on eight catches) on Sept. 22, 2019.



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