The NFL today suspended Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games of the 2015 season for his role in the scandal involving underinflated footballs. While the ramifications of the sit-down — which amounts to one-quarter of the regular season — are many, the first casualty could be NBC, which will televise the season opener between Brady’s New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, September 10. Both franchises have national followings, but one of the main draws was going to be the matchup of veteran marquee quarterbacks Brady and the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger. Both have won multiple Super Bowls (four for Mr. Bunchen, two for Big Ben) and are likely to be Hall of Famers. Perhaps most important for NBC, Brady arguably is the face of the league, someone who can draw casual fans and even NFL nonfans.
The suspension won’t affect any other primetime NFL games, as the Patriots don’t play a second night game until Week 6, when they play the Indianapolis Colts on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. That one, which will be Brady’s season debut because of his team’s Week 4 bye, could land among the year’s most-watched games with Brady facing perhaps the league’s best young QB in Andrew Luck. Oh, and the Colts are the team that Brady and the Patriots are accused of cheating against when footballs were found to be inflated below league mandates during the AFC Championship Game in January. That said, NBC could get a make-good for losing the opener if it chooses to use its flex-scheduling option to make Colts-Patriots the Sunday night game that week. The network can make two flex changes from Weeks 5-10.
The Brady suspension also will affect one of the more intriguing matchups of the upcoming season when the Patriots travel to Dallas to play the surging Cowboys. That Week 5 game matches two of the NFL’s most popular — and most loathed — teams, and both are expected to be contend for the Super Bowl next season. It’s an afternoon game, but Cowboys-Patriots should do quite well.
Speaking of big numbers, Brady had a hand in the very biggest: His team’s thrilling late win over Seattle in this year’s Super Bowl was the most-watched program in U.S. history, drawing 114.5 million viewers.
Along with the punishment for Brady, the Patriots were fined $1 million and must forfeit their 2016 first-round draft pick and the fourth-rounder in 2017. Brady can appeal the suspension.