2013-14 NFL Announcer Rankings
5. Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock, NFL Network
This is a drop for the NFL Network team — after the 2011 season they landed in the “elite” grouping, and after 2012 they claimed the No. 2 ranking. Most of that praise was due to the revelation that was Mayock in the booth. He was extremely comfortable and knowledgeable, and thrived from being paired with the always strong Nessler.
The question after year three of that duo’s time together: Is Mayock’s approach starting to wear thin?
His ocean of knowledge about the NFL draft makes him a go-to source from January to May, but the constant references — “So-and-so is 6-foot-2, 230 pounds and ran a 4.6 40 at the combine … and here’s what he did on the last play” — can drag. There is almost never a moment of silence when Nessler and Mayock are on the air together, mainly because Mayock tends to fill those with facts and figures.
That does not represent a sea change from how he approached the broadcasts over the past two seasons, but it felt more cumbersome this time around.
4. Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden, ESPN
This guy! These guys!!
Gruden is borderline ridiculous — anyone who can get the phrase “Spider 2 Y Banana” into casual football vernacular has to be living a little outside the box. And yet, somehow, it all works for the most part. Maybe you think Tirico’s a little bland or that Gruden’s schtick is too much to take 16 times per regular season. Consider this, though: When was the last time you were not at least a little entertained by this team?
This works for a lot of the reasons that the Ian Eagle-Dan Fouts pairing (still to come) does: They don’t take the job too seriously, and they seem to genuinely enjoy working together. Yes, it can be a little much when Gruden either loves every player like he’s the next coming of Jim Brown or swings the complete 180 to sound utterly disgusted at a team’s effort.
But few announcer teams anywhere (and not just in the NFL) are as worth tuning in for on a regular basis.
3. Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch, FOX
Here’s the first time I really started to take notice of this duo: Week 8, Atlanta at Arizona. The Falcons had the ball about six minutes into what was then a 0-0 game, and the Arizona crowd was into it. As Atlanta lined up for a second-down play, Burkhardt and Lynch highlighted that Tony Gonzalez was lined up wide against man-coverage and then … they stopped talking.
All you heard from there through the snap was Atlanta QB Matt Ryan and the crowd. A similar thing happened before the third-down play. It doesn’t sound like much, but knowing when and when not to talk is a real challenge for announcers — one most fail at.
I grew up listening to Ernie Harwell broadcast the Detroit Tigers over the radio, and of the many, many reasons he is among the greatest announcers of all time is that he allowed the games to breathe. The lulls were artistic, timed perfectly to allow you to get a sense for the fans, the setting, the atmosphere. That’s not to say that Burkhardt and Lynch are approaching some legendary level of broadcasting, but they seem to have this very important aspect down to a science.
There’s also a growing chemistry here. Truth be told, I never gave Lynch much of a thought as a color commentator last year when he mostly was paired with Dick Stockton. This season, he greatly improved, and being on a team with one of the NFL’s up-and-coming talents is part of the reason why.
2. Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts, CBS
This pairing continues to be CBS’ best — which means CBS continues to underutilize it as the No. 3 team on the network behind Simms-Nantz and Gumbel-Dierdorf. (Dierdorf’s retirement may open the door for Eagle and Fouts to slide up at least to the No. 2 spot, which would mean playoff assignments and maybe even top billing on Sundays with Nantz-Simms taking on Thursday night duties next season.)
Fouts is like a combination of Gruden and Dierdorf, yet somehow it works. You’re not going to get much groundbreaking analysis from him, but he will pick up on all the important details from play to play while saving room for the corny jokes that make him the NFL’s version of your embarrassing uncle.
He and Eagle have been working together for years, and that camaraderie shows without being imposing. When calling the Week 14 Dolphins-Steelers game in the snow, Eagle asked Fouts, a former Chargers quarterback, what issues that game’s QBs would be up against. Fouts responded by talking about how important it is to maintain footing on a soggy field.
“Or you could just be drafted by San Diego,” Eagle quipped.
“Worked for me!” Fouts answered, laughing.
Was it an hilarious exchange? Hardly. But it was one that both hit on an important talking point and displayed the light-hearted relationship the Eagle-Fouts group carries.
1. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, NBC
For the second consecutive year, NBC’s Sunday Night Football tandem lands atop SI’s announcer rankings.
Any criticisms of Michaels at this point is nitpicking. Even at 69 years old, he remains a sharp, witty play-by-play man who soars because he does not shy away from any moment. In Week 13′s Giants-Redskins game, he ripped into Jeff Triplette’s crew for a series of botched late calls; in the Pro Bowl, he slipped a gambling reference into his call of the bizarre final play (Antonio Cromartie scored a touchdown that, for some reason, didn’t count).
Michaels may do his best work before the game even starts, setting the stage with equal aplomb no matter the matchup. And he sets up Collinsworth perfectly, time and again.
Those who knock NBC’s NFL team usually are complaining about Collinsworth. He does have his awkward moments. Case in point: While talking about Aqib Talib during the Falcons-Patriots game in Week 4, Collinsworth made a comment that “whatever [players' off-field] issues have been before, they disappear” when they come to New England. This after an offseason that saw Aaron Hernandez being arrested for murder.
But there is not another color commentator capable of picking up on the intricacies of game with the deftness Collinsworth shows. After Pierre Thomas picked up a first down on the ground for the Saints in Week 10 vs. Dallas, Collinsworth noted that the Cowboys might have no choice but to bring a safety down into the box. On the very next play they did just that, and Drew Brees threw a touchdown pass to the vacated spot. When San Francisco blocked a Seattle punt in Week 2, before the replay even rolled, Collinsworth noted that the Seahawks’ players may have heard a whistle coming from the stands.
This pairing has been brilliant for NBC and deserves to be in this No. 1 spot. Another bonus here: Michele Tafoya is the game’s best sideline reporter and only adds to the Sunday night broadcasts.