There have been some personal marquee moves made across the NFL in a wild offseason. The league’s lead announcing teams are no different as most of the networks that will carry live regular season games for the 2022 season have made big changes.
Only CBS, with Jim Nantz and Tony Romo, will have the same combination for its top game of the week, still on Sunday afternoons.
Fox will have a new top play-by-play man, Kevin Burkhardt, along with a new color commentator during the similar window with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman signing with ESPN and “Monday Night Football”. Meanwhile, Kirk Herbstreit is crossing over from lead college football duties at ESPN to join Al Michaels to call “Thursday Night Football” on Amazon Prime. Michaels’ departure from NBC means Mike Tirico will replace him next to Cris Collinsworth on “Sunday Night Football.”
ESPN got tired of its former ‘MNF’ trio of Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick being overshadowed by the sometimes alternate ManningCast featuring Peyton and Eli and spent a lot to keep Buck and Aikman together on a new stage. Amazon, going solo for the first time in midweek without a simulcast, tapped into established prime-time presences in Herbstreit and Michaels.
There are many underrated pairings on Fox and CBS that bring quality for regional broadcasts, but how do the four new NFL broadcast booths rank vs. Nantz and Romo?
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1. Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth, NBC
Michaels is a legend but in terms of delivery, knowledge and preparation, Tirico, 55, is the current best NFL play-by-play man in the television business, finally back in that role post ESPN, “MNF” and Jon Gruden. Tirico came to NBC knowing he might replace Michaels, 77, in that capacity sooner rather than later, and it happened for a non-retirement reason. Tirico is coming off a strong stint as the new Bob Costas on NBC Olympics work. As good as a presenter he is, he’s smarter and more excitable at calling action.
Collinsworth gets a lot of undue heat for some occasional odd comments, but few do as much studying players as the Pro Football Focus boss and he also has good experience with Tirico given the latter’s few fill-ins for Michaels.
2. Jim Nantz and Tony Romo, CBS
Nantz, who has been a smooth natural for the classic spring combination of March Madness and The Masters, has improved over the years with his work during the fall, finding a necessary different voice from college basketball and golf majors. The quick chemistry with Romo has helped as Nantz wasn’t as good with Phil Simms.
Romo started off hot going all Nostradamus in predicting plays, but he’s settled into a more well-rounded analyst without one impressive gimmick. He brings his intelligence, humor and emotions at the right times to complement Nantz, and Nantz feeds well off his energy.
MORE: Meet Kevin Burkhardt, Fox’s reported replacement for Joe Buck on NFL games
3. Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen (likely), Fox
Fox’s loss is also Fox’s big gain. Burkhardt, with his good work on MLB presenting, is kind of their version of Tirico. Only 48, Burkhardt has been acing his team for several seasons. He started rising with current 49ers GM John Lynch and kept it up with the very likable Charles Davis before Davis became the No. 2 color man to Romo at CBS. Coming off his initial season with Olsen, Burkhardt may have found his long-term partner.
Olsen isn’t a big-name former quarterback and needs a little more polish with the personality part — not surprising given his limited experience. But he’s a lot closer to one former Cowboy (Romo) than another (Jason Witten) with his smarts and insight.
Tom Brady didn’t retire, Drew Brees is still at NBC for Notre Dame and there’s no indication Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger wants to announce. The Mannings aren’t happening. Really, between Olsen and Aqib Talib, Fox has the better options in-house. Burkhardt, much like Tirico, carries plenty of gravitas to rank the final duo this high.
4. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, ESPN
Congratulate ESPN for no longer having the worst NFL announcing group. But in the end, given ‘MNF’ doesn’t offer the same consistent marquee game quality of “SNF,” the network paid a ton with branding and public opinion in mind vs. a true major upgrade from Levy, Griese and Riddick.
Buck has always been at his best with baseball — and more interview and presentation duties — and that hasn’t changed. Aikman remains sharp, but he’s had some ups and downs with the quality of analysis, too, as he’s gotten older. They are a fine well-known duo with solid chemistry, but there’s no question NBC, CBS and Fox (with Burkhardt promoted to replace Buck) have the overall edge in NFL game delivery.
5. Kirk Herbstreit and Al Michaels, Amazon Prime
There’s good reason to be skeptical about this one. Herbstreit will have his short-week attention split preparing for two similar but very different sports that each are difficult to break down well. He was so-so with Chris Fowler in his limited previous NFL experience. He also has worked for a long time with Fowler, while Michaels is coming off working with the late John Madden and Collinsworth.
Could Herbstreit and Michaels end up surprising with a great brand-new connection? Yes. But it’s hard to see given how they were slapped together to raise Amazon Prime’s profile as quickly as possible vs. the rest of the networks. At the very least, Buck and Aikman will keep clicking together.
Michaels has been so good with NFL for so long, there’s no question that he will take Herbstreit some time to get up to speed on his new sport in relation to all the color men above.