The NFL just passed its first post-election ratings test, but there are warning signs ahead

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Week 10 of the NFL marked the first weekend of football in the post-election world, and early signs point to a noticeable uptick in TV ratings.

According to NBC, "Sunday Night Football" between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks drew an overnight rating of 14.3 — the best primetime figure since Week 1, a 13% improvement from last season, and the best Week 10 rating in five years.

Similarly, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Business Insider that ratings for the late afternoon game between the Cowboys and Steelers boasted a whopping 17.8 rating, up from last year's Packers-Vikings game (17.2).

This is welcome news, to be sure. Underwhelming NFL ratings have been the story of the season, and most prominent among the handful of pet theories to explain the poor numbers has been the election and its 24-hour coverage. In early October, the NFL itself cited the election in a memo sent out to the league's "media committee" trying to explain the 11% drop in ratings.

The election is now over, and ratings are on the rise, but let's not be too quick to conflate correlation and causation here. At least not after one good week. A primetime game between the Patriots and Seahawks is a slam dunk destined for good ratings, as is any matchup between two franchises as hugely popular as the Cowboys and Steelers. These games took place the first week after the election, yes, and more viewers tuned in than earlier in the season, yes, but it's still far too early to chalk this up to much else. It's certainly possible that the timing just worked out well.

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The highest-paid player on all 32 NFL teams 2016
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The highest-paid player on all 32 NFL teams 2016

32. Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns — $10,200,000

Position: Cornerback

2016 earnings breakdown: $10.1 million salary and $100,000 workout bonus.

One thing to know: The Browns have not had a player making more than $11 million in a season since 2013.

(Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

31. Jack Conklin, Tennessee Titans — $10,211,933

Position: Right tackle

2016 earnings breakdown: $450,000 salary and a $9.8 million signing bonus.

One thing to know: Conklin, a rookie, is the only player on the roster making more than $7.5 million this season. 

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

30. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals — $10,700,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $10.5 million salary and a $200,000 workout bonus.

One thing to know: Dalton will not make more than $13.7 million in a season until 2019 when his earnings will jump to $16.0 million.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

29. Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — $12,500,000

Position: Defensive tackle

2016 earnings breakdown: $6.0 million salary and $6.5 million roster bonus.

One thing to know: The last time McCoy was not the highest-paid player on the Bucs was 2013 when the honor went to Darelle Revis.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

28. Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks — $12,569,000

Position: Cornerback

2016 earnings breakdown: $12.6 million salary

One thing to know: Russell Wilson is a close second at $12.3 million.

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

27. Kelechi Osemele, Oakland Raiders — $13,200,000

Position: Guard

2016 earnings breakdown: $6.7 million salary and $6.5 million in bonuses.

One thing to know: Osemele signed a 5-year, $58.5 million contract with the Raiders as a free agent this past offseason. His earnings will drop next season to $6.7 million.

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

26. Ndamukong Suh, Miami Dolphins — $13,500,000

Position: Defensive tackle

2016 earnings breakdown: $3.5 million salary, $10.0 million signing.

One thing to know: Suh takes up just $12.6 million of the team's salary cap space this season. However, that number jumps to $19.1 million next season and $26.1 million the year after. It is more likely that he will restructure his contract before then.

(Photo by Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)

25. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers — $14,300,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $11.9 million salary and $2.4 million in bonuses.

One thing to know: Kaepernick has not started a game since Week 8 of the 2015 season.

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

24. Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings — $15,278,000

Position: Free safety

2016 earnings breakdown: $5.3 million salary and $10.0 million signing bonus.

One thing to know: Adrian Peterson, who will miss most of the season with a knee injury is second on the list at $12.0 million.

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

23. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons — $15,750,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $15.75 million salary

One thing to know: Ryan is in the third year of his five-year, $104 million extension. His $23.8 million salary cap figure will remain the same next year, before falling to $21.7 million in the final year of the deal.

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

22. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears — $16,000,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $16.0 million salary

One thing to know: At one point, Cutler's 7-year, $126.7 million contract was named the worst quarterback contract in the NFL.

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

21. David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers — $16,757,117

Position: Left tackle

2016 earnings breakdown: $757,117 salary, $15.0 million signing bonus, and $1.0 million roster bonus.

One thing to know: Aaron Rodgers, at $12.6 million, is the only other player on the roster making at least $10 million this season.

(Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

20. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys — $16,800,066

Position: Running Back

2016 earnings breakdown: $450,000 salary, $16.4 million signing bonus 

One thing to know: Only seven running backs have larger contracts than the 4-year, $25.0 million rookie contract Elliot signed after being drafted fourth overall in this year's draft.

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

19. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions — $17,000,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $17.0 million salary

One thing to know: Stafford has thrown 22 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions under new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

18. Malik Jackson, Jacksonville Jaguars — $18,000,000

Position: Defensive Tackle

2016 earnings breakdown: $8.0 million salary, $10.0 million signing bonus

One thing to know: Jackson just sneaks into the list this year with a $10.0 million signing bonus. His total earnings in Year 2 of his 6-year, $85.5 million contract will fall to $13.5 million.

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

17. David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers — $18,100,000

Position: Guard

2016 earnings breakdown: $2.1 million salary, $16.0 million bonus

One thing to know: DeCastro was originally scheduled to make $8.1 million this season, the final year of his rookie contract. Instead he signed a 5-year, $50 million contract extension, just three months after responding to a question about his future by saying, "I’m making a lot of money this year. What am I worried about?"

(Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

16. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams — $18,968,308

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $450,000 salary, $18.5 million signing bonus

One thing to know: The gave up six draft picks for the right to draft Goff, including their first-round pick next season. Based on how the Rams played in Week 1, that could be a top-3 pick

(Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

15. Cordy Glenn, Buffalo Bills — $19,000,000

Position: Left Tackle

2016 earnings breakdown: $3.0 million salary, $16.0 million bonus

One thing to know: Glenn makes the list this year thanks to his new $60.0 million contract and $16.0 million signing bonus. His total earnings next year will fall to $11.0 million.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

14. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins — $19,953,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $19.95 million salary

One thing to know: Cousins received the franchise tag from the Redskins, giving him a 1-year, $19.95 million contract with no bonuses. That base salary is the largest in the NFL this season.  If he receives the franchise tag again next year, his salary is expected to jump to something in the neighborhood of $24.0 million.

(Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

13. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers — $20,000,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $13.0 million salary, $7.0 million signing bonus

One thing to know: Newton's $103.8 million contract and $60 million guaranteed both rank sixth among quarterbacks. 

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

12. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals — $20,250,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $7.2 million salary, $6.8 million signing bonus, $6.4 million roster bonus

One thing to know: Palmer's $158.4 million in career earnings ranks fifth among active players.

(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

11. Brock Osweiler, Houston Texans — $21,000,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $4.0 million salary, $12.0 million signing bonus, $5.0 million roster bonus

One thing to know: Osweiler had started just seven games in his four-year career before signing a 4-year, $72.0 million contract as a free agent with the Houston Texans.

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

9t. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers — $22,000,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $10.5 million salary, $5.5 million signing bonus, and $6.0 million in other bonuses.

One thing to know: Rivers has already made $173.9 million in his career and still has $45.0 million left on his 4-year, $83.3 million contract.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

9t. Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets — $22,000,000

Position: Defensive End

2016 earnings breakdown: $7.0 million salary, $15.0 million bonus

One thing to know: Wilkerson's $86.0 million contract is second only to J.J. Watt among defensive ends. 

(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

8. Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs — $23,500,000

Position: Outside Linebacker

2016 earnings breakdown: $7.4 million salary, $8.5 million signing bonus. and $7.6 million in other bonuses.

One thing to know: In a perfect example of how quickly large contracts change, Houston signed a 6-year, $101.0 million contract prior to the 2015 season and then had that deal restructured prior to the 2016 season. 

(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

7. Von Miller, Denver Broncos — $25,100,000

Position: Outside Linebacker

2016 earnings breakdown: $2.0 million salary, $17.0 million signing bonus, and $6.1 million other bonuses.

One thing to know: Miller signed a 6-year, $114.5 million contract just months after being named the Super Bowl MVP. The total value surpasses Ndamukong Suh's deal as the largest among defensive players.

(Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

6. Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles — $27,299,000

Position: Defensive Tackle

2016 earnings breakdown: $1.3 million salary, $26.0 million signing bonus

One thing to know: Cox makes this list thanks to his huge $26.0 million signing bonus. Next year, his earnings drop to $4.2 million, before going back up to $12.7 million in 2018. With his contract counting $22.0 million against the cap in 2019, look for Cox to rework his contract in the next two years.

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

5. Tom Brady, New England Patriots — $28,764,705

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $764,705 salary, $28.0 million signing bonus

One thing to know: Brady has said that he wants to play until he is 45 (through the 2022 season) and that he wants to play 10 more seasons (through the 2025 season).

(Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

3t. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens — $29,000,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $4.0 million salary, $25.0 million signing bonus

One thing to know: Flacco restructured his last contract, basically turning his 2013 contract into a nine-year, $187 million deal with six years remaining.

(Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

3t. Olivier Vernon, New York Giants — $29,000,000

Position: Defensive End

2016 earnings breakdown: $1.8 million salary, $20.0 million signing bonus, and 7.3 million in other bonuses.

One thing to know: Vernon's $20 million signing bonus was the second-largest among defensive players, behind only Fletcher Cox's $26.0 million signing bonus.

(Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

2. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts — $30,000,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $12.0 million salary, $18.0 million signing bonus

One thing to know: Andrew Luck's new 5-year contract is thelargest in NFL historyin terms of total value ($140.0 million) and guaranteed value ($89.0 million).

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints — $31,250,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $1.0 million salary, $30.0 million signing bonus, and $250,000 workout bonus.

One thing to know: Brees was in the last year of his contract and was set to take up an enormous $30 million in salary cap space. He recently extended his contract, lowering his salary-cap hit to $17.3 million, thanks to a $30 million signing bonus.

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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Week 11, on the other hand, will be much more telling. Next week's Sunday night game features the Redskins and the Packers — certainly not a terrible slate but nothing near the level of intrigue that the Super Bowl rematch between the Patriots and Seahawks provided. The same can be said about the Monday night game between the Texans and the Raiders.

And even when they have been bad, NFL ratings are still massive as compared to other sports leagues. Game 7 of the NBA Finals between the Cavaliers and the Warriors drew a 15.8 rating and 31.0 million viewers. Compare that, again, to the 17.8 rating the Cowboys and Steelers brought in on a Sunday afternoon, a number that will translate to 30-31 million viewers.

With six weeks of regular season football left, ratings will probably continue to rise. Week 10 was a success, ratings-wise, because the games were great. Let's see what happens when, inevitably, they aren't.

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