The 2014 NFL draft kicks off Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. EDT, when the Houston Texans will select their No. 1 overall pick. As in previous years, the draft will overlap with two NBA playoff matchups, between the Brooklyn Nets and the Miami Heat and the Portland Trailblazers and the San Antonio Spurs, respectively. And though the NBA playoffs involve, you know, actual sports being played, ratings for the games usually don’t come close to those of the draft.
That proved true last year: Even though the 2013 draft was bereft of quarterbacks or big-name college stars in the first round, its 7.7 million viewers handily beat ratings for the three games played that evening combined, including the one involving LeBron James, a reliable ratings grabber.
Expect the same tonight. There’s plenty of basketball left for NBA fans this season; the playoffs will continue for another month or so. For the (more numerous) NFL die-hards, however, the draft is a lifeboat in the middle of the seven-month sea of the football off-season. Still, the quality of play and drama that characterized the NBA’s Round 1 made a strong case that the playoffs’ early rounds are worth watching. No single game will beat the draft, but the combined ratings have potential to be closer than in previous years.
So, if you’re a fan of both football and basketball, which of tonight’s prime time events should you choose? Read on for the pros and cons of both, starting with football’s biggest offseason night:
2014 NFL draft
Network: ESPN, NFL Network
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Why you should watch: The most interesting NFL drafts have three things: superstar college players, lots of quarterback prospects, and uncertainty over the top picks. By that standard, this year’s draft has it all. There’s not quite a consensus No. 1 pick: most analysts are fairly certain the Houston Texans will select defensive end Jadeveon Clowney first overall, but there’s a distant possibility the team could go another direction, surprising everyone and throwing the rest of the top round into disarray. The lack of certain draft order also means that there could be a lot of trading picks at the top of the draft.
Things only get more interesting from there. Even if Clowney goes first, there is still drama to be had over the fate of the three big-name quarterbacks in the draft: Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, and Teddy Bridgewater. All three have watched their draft stock fluctuate wildly over the past few weeks: Bridgewater, out of Lousiville, was widely regarded as a No. 1 pick mere months ago, but now he may drop to the second round. Meanwhile, Manziel’s small size, improvisational playing style, and, um, eventful off-the-field life have made him the most polarizing quarterback prospect since Tim Tebow. A few days ago, it looked like the Cleveland Browns were a lock to draft him with the fourth pick, but that’s been called into question recently.
And the intrigue should continue into the late rounds. Even people who aren’t football fans will be watching where Michael Sam, the first openly gay Division I college player and an All-American defensive end, will be drafted. If no team picks him, the NFL could face a lot of unwelcome scrutiny. If you have even a passing interest in the draft, this is going to be a good one.
Why you should skip it: This year's draft is two weeks later than usual, which has given analysts two extra weeks to talk about it. And talk about it. And talk about it some more. You may be tired of the draft already, and you wouldn't be alone. Plus, as an actual viewing experience, even the most fascinating drafts get tedious after about 20 minutes, or right after your team has made its selection. You could easily save yourself several hours by looking at a list online once the draft is completed on Saturday. Furthermore, if you root for a good team, you’re going to have to wait for a bit before anything happens that will affect you directly (on the flip side, if you root for, say, the Jacksonville Jaguars, you’re about to have your best night of football all year). Plus, why watch a nonsporting event when there are a few really good games just a channel over…
NBA playoffs: conference semifinals
Time: Brooklyn Nets vs. Miami Heat (Game 2) at 7:00 p.m.; Portland Trailblazers vs. San Antonio Spurs (Game 2) 9:30 p.m.
Why you should watch: Round 1 made the best case ever (seriously, ever) that the NBA playoffs are worth tuning into before the Finals. The games were hard-fought and close, and the fallout from Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s taped racist remarks added an extra level of intrigue. Would the players go on strike? Would the Clippers players be able to cope with suddenly being thrust into a very uncomfortable national spotlight, asked to navigate delicate racial politics and team obligations, while still playing playoff-level basketball? (No and yes).
The matchups in the second round hold just as much promise. The Clippers face the Oklahoma City Thunder, both teams many experts think could make the finals. LeBron James and the Miami Heat cruised through one of the only easy first-round matchups to face the Brooklyn Nets, a team with whom they do not get along, to say the least.
Why you should skip it: The Clippers have the night off, and the Heat handled the Nets fairly easily in Game 1. Neither of tonght’s games are series deciders, so you could watch the draft in its entirety and still get your fill of basketball. The good news is, you can have it both ways. Nets-Heat tips off an hour before the first draft name is called.