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With nail-biting games across the board, NFL playoffs watched by record numbers

Neilson estimates that 90% of the TVs in Kansas City were tuned into the Bills-Chiefs game by the end.

The epic football playoff game between Buffalo and Kansas City reached nearly 43 million television viewers on Sunday, the most for any event since last year's Super Bowl as the NFL struck gold with its rousing weekend.

In the fourth quarter, the Bills-Chiefs game had a 90 audience share in Kansas City — meaning 90% of televisions on at the time were tuned in to the game, Nielsen said. That's an astonishing figure at a time of audience fragmentation. In Buffalo, the share was 86 at the same time.

Overall, the four NFL divisional round playoff games had the highest average viewers on record with 38.2 million tuning in on television and digital platforms, the Nielsen company said on Tuesday. 

Every game over the weekend came down to the final play, meaning the audience swelled toward the end as they reached a climax. When the Bills-Chiefs game headed into overtime, there were 51.7 million people watching, Nielsen said.

Besides it being the highest average for the divisional round since Nielsen started keeping track of viewer averages in 1988, it was a 20% increase over last year and up 12% compared to two years ago.

Kansas City's 42-36 overtime victory over Buffalo averaged 42.74 million on CBS, making it the most-watched divisional playoff game on any network since the 2017 Green Bay-Dallas matchup averaged 48.52 million on Fox. Sunday night's audience peaked at 51.70 million.

Sunday's first game — the Los Angeles Rams' 30-27 win over Tampa Bay — averaged 40 million, making it NBC's most-watched, non-Super Bowl game since the start of its "Sunday Night Football" package in 2006. But the number swelled after Tom Brady helped the Bucs back from a 27-3 deficit to a tie, jumping to 49.2 million people.

San Francisco's 13-10 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night averaged 36.92 million on Fox while Cincinnati's 19-16 win over Tennessee drew 30.75 million.

For the week of Jan. 17-23, seven of the top 10 broadcasts in prime time were NFL related: 

1. NFL Playoffs: Buffalo at Kansas City, CBS, 42.74 million.

2. NFL Playoffs: San Francisco at Green Bay, Fox, 36.92 million.

3. “NFL Pregame,” Fox, 26.94 million.

4. “NFL Postgame,” CBS, 26.91 million.

5. NFL Playoffs: Arizona at L.A. Rams, ABC, 12.78 million.

6. “NCIS: Hawai'i,” CBS, 9.79 million.

7. NFL Playoffs: Arizona at L.A. Rams, ESPN, 8.83 million.

8. “Young Sheldon,” CBS, 7.98 million.

9. “Chicago Med,” NBC, 7.45 million.

10. “NFL Pregame,” ABC, 7.41 million.