Posted February 07, 2014

2013-14 NFL Announcer Rankings

NFL media
Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth have been together on NBC since 2006. (Ray Carlin/Icon SMI)

Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth have been together on NBC since 2006. (Ray Carlin/Icon SMI)

For the third consecutive season, the privilege — and challenge — of continuing Dr. Z’s annual tradition of ranking the NFL’s announcing teams falls right here.

The not-so-secret truth behind the task is that there is no way to be right (though, if the past has taught us anything, most will still argue the rankings below are wrong). I polled five people casually this week just on their top three announcing teams, and all five responded with different answers.

Each NFL TV viewer has a unique ear, a different set of criteria he or she wants met by those calling the games. So, let us know what you think of this year’s announcing teams, either in the comments or on Twitter. With that, the 2013 rankings:

Outside the top 10: Bill Macatee and Steve Tasker, CBS; Marv Albert and Rich Gannon, CBS; Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick, FOX; Chris Myers and Tim Ryan, FOX; Dick Stockton and Ronde Barber, FOX; Spero Dedes and Steve Beuerlein, CBS; Sam Rosen and Heath Evans, FOX; Andrew Catalon and Adam Archuleta, CBS.

A few of these pairings, like Catalon and Archuleta or Rosen and Evans, simply do not call enough games to really register as threats to the upper echelon. Others just didn’t get the job done.

It pains me some to have Albert and Stockton here for the second consecutive year, given how long they’ve been in the broadcasting game. Albert, 72, clearly has some issues keeping pace with the speed of the NFL game. (Plus, for me, he’ll forever be an NBA announcer — I can’t hear his voice without also reminiscing on the brilliant NBA on NBC theme song.)

Stockton, 71, has not fared much better, and together with Ronde Barber produced some real flubs this year. The Detroit-Washington game in Week 3 was of particular note. That one started with a sack by London Fletcher, whom Stockton referred to as “the old man from the sea.”

“Great play by the old, old man,” Barber added.

Just … what?

Stockton also failed on multiple occasions to nail Brian Orakpo’s name, and he changed his pronunciation of Roy Helu with each carry — “Hello,” “HE-loo,” etc.

The Macatee-Tasker and Dedes-Beuerlein pairings have promise, the latter mainly because Dedes is an up-and-comer. But they’re both buried on CBS’ depth chart.

Brennaman and Billick again probably are the most high-profile tandem to miss out on the top 10. The slight happened for the same reasons it did last year: Billick botches simple calls as much as he adds real insight, and Brennaman’s approach runs too preachy for my taste.

10. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, CBS

Hearing Jim Nantz’s voice calls to mind visions of Augusta or the Final Four. That can be a bit problematic from an NFL standpoint, given that he is CBS’ No. 1 play-by-play man for the league.

Perhaps his silky smooth delivery would be more memorable were he not paired with Simms, consistently among the most frustrating color commentators out there. Simms’ missteps have paved the way for one of the funnier Twitter accounts out there, @philsimmsquotes, which tracks his oft-nonsensical sayings.

A couple of the better ones: “You know the protection is good when you look down the field and no one is open” and “When running an offense you spend a lot of time thinking about how to score.” The account also tracks how many times per game Simms uses the phrase “talked about” — as in, “Well, you know, Jim, we talked about how important …”

CBS may never shift this pairing from the No. 1 spot. We all know what we’re getting at this point.

9. Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf, CBS

Those of you who have played football video games in the past know the announcers therein eventually become a bit of a nuisance because the canned calls start repeating. (My least favorite of all: In the NCAA Football franchise, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit had the same exchange after almost every offensive penalty, with Corso yelling, “Beep beep beep! … I’m telling everyone that this offense is going in reverse!”)

Shy of John Madden’s sound effects (“BOOM!”), Dierdof has been the closest real-life version of a video-game announcer. Most of the time, he’s stuck to the script, offering generic commentary — i.e. over the course of a few snaps in the Houston-Baltimore game, he hit us with “That’s a big-time play” and “That’s a big challenge.”

He also did more right than he was given credit for by viewers. Just before halftime of that same game, Dierdorf cautioned that Houston punter Shane Lechler sometimes got too much distance on his punts.

“He could turn the field around,” Gumbel said.

“Well, yea, but he also could set up a big return,” Dierdorf noted. Lechler then bombed a punt that Tandon Doss raced back for a touchdown.

Sure, it was clunky how Dierdorf got there — “The one thing about Shane Lechler, every now and then he launches a kick that, you’ve heard the saying before, outkicks his coverage …” — but he got there nonetheless.

Now that Dierdorf is retiring, people may miss his simple charms more than they expect. Gumbel certainly could, depending on how CBS chooses to pair him up from here.

8. Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston, FOX

As mentioned in each of the past two years’ announcer rankings, it is impossible to separate Albert and Johnston from Tony Siragusa, and together the whole production brings back bad memories of when Monday Night Football overcrowded its booth with sidekicks like Tony Kornheiser and Dennis Miller.

Networks do not often split announcing teams up once they’re together, so Albert-Johnston-Siragusa probably will continue to trot out there each Sunday — even though they were sidelined in favor of Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch for the playoffs. That said, it would be terrific to see what a strong play-by-play man like Albert could do if he drew a more consistent team.

7. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, FOX

No matter where Buck and Aikman fall in these rankings, the cry is always that they’re too high. So, I’ll just get this out of the way: I kind of like Buck.

That has not always been the case, either for baseball or football. As mentioned in this space last year, though, Buck has improved in the one area that really belabored his broadcasts: emotion. Of course, his critics will point to Super Bowl XLVIII as evidence that he still has trouble cranking it up to 11, even on the sport’s grandest stage. His broadcast there was humdrum at best, though the blowout nature of the game certainly didn’t help.

Aikman also rarely does him any significant favors. There may not be another color commentator who has to backtrack as much on close calls after seeing replays, though to Aikman’s credit he does correct himself when he’s wrong in that regard. And he has some head-scratching moments, like one many viewers picked up on in that Super Bowl: saying that the Broncos needed four touchdowns and three two-point conversions to erase a 29-0 lead. That would have done the trick, I suppose, but that’s 31 points.

Still, there’s something to be said for this team’s experience. Fans see more of them than almost any other pairing, so the criticisms come naturally.

6. Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots, CBS

Whether anyone realizes it or not (probably not since this is CBS’ No. 5 team), Harlan is one of the NFL’s top play-by-play men — he again handled Super Bowl radio duties for Westwood One. This pairing simply does not have the same standing within its network as veteran groups like Nantz-Simms, and it’s not as effective as Ian Eagle-Dan Fouts.

There usually are not any glaring errors when Harlan and Wilcots call a game, but occasionally the small mistakes add up. For example, during Week 6′s Cincinnati-Buffalo game, Harlan referred to star Bills linebacker “Kiki” Alonso. Moments later, Wilcots hit us with this: “The pursuit of the Buffalo Bills’ defense was so … indicated on stopping the run that they were not prepared for this reverse action.” Did he mean “predicated” there? Or that the Bills tipped their hand before the snap? Wilcots has a few of those moments per game.

Still, this pairing is more steady than not.

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.

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116 comments
tjleafe
tjleafe

Who out there remembers Pat Summerall, I'm sure many do.  Who remembers Ray Scott?  I'm sure many less.  These guys where they true greats.  They understand the importance of silence and allowing the game to broadcast itself, something all true knowledgable fans treasure.  Todays constant verbal barrage on most of these broadcasts render many unwatchable. 

zzloz77
zzloz77

Boys,Boys....First...Simms & Terico STINK...Fouts' team should be CBS' # 1 crew...But ...

NONE OF THIS MATTERS !

You talk about "atmosphere" & "flow"...well, you can toss those out as long as Networks JAM

self promos & commercials at the slightest opportunity...THAT'S what RUINS telecasts.

We get all excited and into a game only to have Bud or Ford (not Rob) or whatever , deflate ANY

momentum the game has...and have you noticed that in a lot of occasions-College ball too-

the prerequisite 2 minute ad or time out is more like 2 1/2 to 3 minutes...

LONG LIVE TIVO !...The ONLY way to watch a single game.

P.S....No comments about The Red Zone Channel guy ?...

Now THERE'S a blathering boob with too much to say and loudly.

DouglasWade
DouglasWade

Four touchdowns and three two point conversions is 30 points. Not 31.

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

Jon Gruden has said this about almost every player on every team:


"Ya know, (insert player name here) has done one heckuva job for (insert team name here)"


Gru dog has to gooooooooooo.

JasonmGomez
JasonmGomez

i miss the ian eagle solomon wilcots pairing.  being a charger fan, they were like the home announcers when the chargers were at the bottom of the league btwn 98-03.  A really underrated team and it shows CBS knows nothing about how its announcers are positioned.  

John925
John925

I can't stand Joe Buck, baseball or football, but especially in baseball.  He's horrendous.  To thosie of you who like him, I say - Joe Buck yourself.

DavidRaymond
DavidRaymond

Fouts always is complaining about the wrong aspect of the call or issue at hand. Nantz should stick to the Olympic diving or his mainstay golf. And Joe Buck comes off as the guy who is always trying to be the smartest in the room, while Aikman is rather stiff and short on stuff to talk about as his comfort zone is very limited or maybe he's jus not that smart. Dierdorf has the voice for announcing but is a pompous know it all that I'm glad to see retire. Gimbel is kind of generic but listenable (is that a word?). So there you have it...

DavidRaymond
DavidRaymond

Al Micheals is the cream de la creme of announcers. Mike Tirico always seems like he won a John Gruden fan club raffle & can't believe he's in the booth with an always entertaining straight shooter and a little emotionally over the top at times Gruden. I don't mind Simms or Collingsworth because they make it interesting with knowledge of the game. Fouts always com

BillFoley
BillFoley

Mike Mayock is brutal. He never shuts up, comments on every single play. Nessler and Mayock bring a rush for the mute button.

IanBlack
IanBlack

I don't actually mind Buck/Aikman -- it is Nantz & Simms that consistently have me reaching for the mute button. They render games completely unwatchable. Nantz is dull and Simms, with good 'ol boy accent and total lack of insight drive me away from CBS coverage. Further to that the CBS studio crew is far & away the worst as well. So disappointed to here that CBS picked up the Thursday Night Package. CBS has already announced a double dose of Nantz and Simms. Gonna have to subscribe to Sirius so I don't have to hear Nantz & Simms anymore...

KevinClugston
KevinClugston

Any ranking that has Chris Collinsworth anywhere near the top doesn't deserve to be paid attention to.  Collinsworth is THE WORST broadcaster on television.

EJ1
EJ1

My top 3 best:  Michaels/Collinsworth; Gumbel/Dierdorf; Eagle/Fouts.  Switch the first two for my top 3 favorites.  I happen to love listening to Dierdorf call a game.


" knowing when and when not to talk is a real challenge for announcers — one most fail at."  Absolutely correct.  This is one of the traits that made Pat Summerall so brilliant.  He was a man who knew the value of not talking too much.  And he had a voice made for football.  My favorite football announcer of all time, and it's not even close.  The man was THE voice of autumn.

therealmdd
therealmdd

Ron Wolfley who does the Arizona Cardinals is the best. I'd listen to him do the play by play for my local Pop Warner team's games. 

JPG
JPG

At this point after the Seahawks' great - don't really give a poop about this list...but did notice some things...such as Troy Aikman's constance apologies given to Peyton Manning and not giving the Seattle's D enough credit.  They guy should be replaced immediately.  He is lame and does not bring enough to the table.

Also, did anyone notice all the home town audio give to the NFL replays, especially the Super Bowl, and not the network audio?

Again, Troy Aikman is terrible and should be replaced immediately.

WarrenSappSucked
WarrenSappSucked

everybody got an F from me. i muted them all all year long.

BreadenBoye
BreadenBoye

Solid list.

Nantz is a studio host. The worst thing about the Seahawks Super Bowl win ... he and Simms may end up calling more Seattle games. I listened to the Chargers radio broadcast (!) in the AFC Divisional round to avoid them. 

In defense of Gruden ... given "so-called" media members were asking players questions like whether they've ever been to "strip clubs in sweat pants" ... it's nice someone is focused on tactics and technique. 


sportsGuy12
sportsGuy12

Dedes is good and underrated, Harlan and Wilcots are good

PhillipJacobs
PhillipJacobs

No  one  will  EVER  EVER  EVER  equal  or  even  come  remotely  close  to  Howard  Cosell , Frank Gifford  and  Dandy  Don Meredith.......Mike  Patrick  and  Pat Haden  on  TnT  and  ESPN  were  a  under rated  pair  also....

alfa062
alfa062

Totally agree with Michaels and Collinsworth at #1.  And I've always liked Dan Dierdorf.....too bad he's retiring.  Most of the rest of the color guys on this list aren't half as good as Dan.  Joe Buck has to go!  He seems SO disinterested in any sport he covers.....like he's bored and has something better to do.  Seems like a nice guy OFF the air, but no personality on the air.  shame  FOX has no one better for their #1 team.

parkbrav
parkbrav

Joe Buck lacks emotion? Duh. The corprobots at Fox hate emotion. Just look at Richard Sherman's coverage

corvettekp
corvettekp

Chris Collinsworth I along with Bob Costas are the worst. Collinsworth predetermines the winner then gives you a biased commentary to follow. Costas is more worried about espousing his left wing socialist viewpoints then talking about football.

unitcaptain11
unitcaptain11

@tjleafe   Amen!


Today's broadcasters think they have to fill each moment with sound. 

They seem to think the sport is boring unless they tell us what the exciting "story-lines" are at every moment.

Michael36
Michael36

@DouglasWade  He meant 4 total TDs with 2 pt conversions on 3 of them.


3 X 8 is 24.

Plus 7 is 31.


I don't understand what you mean.

jj55
jj55

@PhillyPenn   Exactly. If the word "Great!" is ever banned from the English language, Gruden will be struck dumb.

BY
BY

@EJ1  Word up on the Pat Summerrall reference....Great announcer. Ray Scott (First down, Packers) was another guy who knew when to shut up.

EJ1
EJ1

@JPG  I noticed that about the home audio too.  A lot of Steve Raible, very little Buck.  Which was appropriate, because Raible is terrific and Buck is not very good.


FOX has a plethora of lousy announcers.  Myers is especially bland and boring.

destrusdominate
destrusdominate

@JPG  Your comment is showing your mad because you are a Seahawks fan. No one really cares the Seahawks won except for Seahawk fans.

unitcaptain11
unitcaptain11

@JPG   The Denver radio broadcaster said "Let the smack-down begin!" at the start of the Superbowl.  Good call by that guy.


I like how they use the local guys on some highlights.  Steve Raible does a good job for the Seahawks on the radio, for example.

JPG
JPG

@PhillipJacobs Sorry to tell you this but nobody and I mine nobody could stand Howard Cosell.  BUT, the guy could sell his product.  His is the only guy that could promote a couple of 6-6 teams into the most watched product ever.  And he is still missed today.

BreadenBoye
BreadenBoye

@corvettekp  And you're more worried about espousing your right wing viewpoints ... so kettle meet crackpot. 

jj55
jj55

@BY @EJ1 Scott was outstanding. And Paul Christman was the best color guy ever, back in the AFL days...

JPG
JPG

@destrusdominate @JPGMad?  Regarding Aikman just check out what Adam Schein said on Monday's NFL radio program - couldn't have said it better.   Really don't understand what his angle was other than Peyton was another qb just like Aikman.

His obvious bias really stood out.

JPG
JPG

@unitcaptain11 @JPGExcellent point.  It seems that some of these network broadcasters have become corporate mouthpieces and have lost the passion the actually play by play announcers have.

PhillipJacobs
PhillipJacobs

@JPG @PhillipJacobs TRUE , Yes  people  HATED  HIM  including  those  he  worked  with.......But  he  was  good....RRREEEEALLY  good at  his  craft , and  that  trio  MADE  IT  WORK  better  then  anyone  ever  has......

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

@JPG @PhillipJacobs  Oh, not true, America ate him up with a spoon.  Whether it was his marketing of Muhammad Ali, his best selling books, ABC boxing coverage ("Down goes Frazia', down goes Frazia'!") or his Monday Night half-time wrap-up of Sunday's NFL slate which no self-respecting NFL'er in the nation would miss, America loved to hate Howard but couldn't stay away.  I think he cultivated that image.  Cosell WAS Monday Night Football (and Ali's alter-ego).  When he exited, it began MNF's 30 year slide, and counting.

parkbrav
parkbrav

@therednorth1 @parkbravOk, that's your opinion. But it's fact that they cut his mike because the Producers at Fox feared the raw emotion and the unscripted moment

parkbrav
parkbrav

@BreadenBoye @corvettekp  Breaden good point. I would just like to point out that you  are talking to someone whose profile picture features Ronald Macdonald and what appears to be a urinal. 

BreadenBoye
BreadenBoye

@parkbrav @therednorth1  

Agreed Parkbrav.

Fox apparently thinks a dancing robot and studio full of gibbering fools makes up for their having no sense of story.