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Ratings and viewership are way up for AFC and NFC championship games

AFC Championship - New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos

Denver’s Peyton Manning and New England’s Tom Brady speak after the AFC championship game on Sunday.

(Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

Peyton Manning is returning to the Super Bowl, but you probably knew that. Chances are pretty good, in fact, that you were watching as he and the Denver Broncos punched their tickets to the big game with a 20-18 win over the New England Patriots in the AFC championship.

Turns out quite a few people spent their Sunday afternoon tuned in to the game on CBS -- 53.3 million to be exact. That’s the second-most viewers ever for an AFC championship game, behind the 54.9 million who watched the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the New York Jets in 2011.

That game, however, was shown in prime time back East. This year’s AFC showdown was the earlier of the two NFL conference championship games. It also got an overnight rating of 31.8, said to be the highest for an AFC championship game since Denver vs. Cleveland way back in 1987.

This year’s late game was a blowout -- a 49-15 Carolina Panthers win over the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC championship game -- and it showed in the ratings. Not that 45.7 million viewers and a 26.8 overnight rating is anything to sneeze at. Still, it was up 19% from the 24.2 overnight rating for last year’s late conference championship game, New England vs. Indianapolis.

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