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NFL midseason announcer review: Rating the top broadcast teams through the first half of the season

Though they've moved from Fox to ESPN, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman remain the best broadcast pairing in the NFL.Frank Franklin II

A progress report through half of the NFL season on the top broadcast teams …

Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, ESPN: Disney is getting what it paid for when it brought the longtime No. 1 team at Fox over to bring a big-event feel back to “Monday Night Football.” It still takes some getting used to hearing them in prime time on ESPN after more than 20 years calling the premier Sunday afternoon game on Fox, but they remain the best broadcast pairing in the league. Aikman made perhaps the most incisive comment I’ve heard all season when he compared rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe to obscure 1990s backup Bill Musgrave during the Patriots’ Monday night loss to the Bears in Week 7. The comment was a window into how other quarterbacks see Zappe’s skill set.

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Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit, Amazon Prime: Michaels remains excellent, but he deserves better than an array of mediocre-at-best matchups and a, well, mediocre-at-best NFL analyst in Herbstreit. CBS’s Kevin Harlan hit Michaels’s situation on the nose this past week during an interview with Damon Amendolara: “It’s a little different swimming in those Thursday night waters than it is Sunday night, isn’t it? I think he’s finding that out. It’s been kind of an eye-opening experience for a guy that loves the limelight and a guy that deserves to be there as maybe the best TV voice in the history of the NFL.”

Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth, NBC: Tirico can call anything well and is probably the most polished play-by-play voice of anyone, but the chemistry isn’t quite right with Collinsworth, who had such an effortless give-and-take with Michaels.

Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen, Fox: Burkhardt is seizing the chance that he was overdue to receive, and after they call the Super Bowl this season, fans will realize that Olsen is better at this than Tom Brady ever will be.

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Jim Nantz and Tony Romo, CBS: Romo seems more focused this year. He’s turned down the volume on his sound-effects machine.

Remembering Hickman

When the late-’80s/early-’90s golden age of daily sports highlights shows is considered, I suspect the version that would be first cited as the most entertaining is the Dan Patrick/Keith Olbermann-hosted version of “SportsCenter.” Clever and influential to the point of chronic imitation, they deserve to be remembered that way.

But if you were around in those days, you might remember that they had an equal, and at least to me, a slight superior. My highlight show go-to in those days was CNN’s “Sports Tonight,” when Fred Hickman and Nick Charles hosted the 11 o’clock edition. They were smooth, friendly, and had flawless chemistry, taking sports seriously but not themselves.

A sad reminder of their engaging excellence arrived this past week with the news that Hickman, who was diagnosed with cancer in February, died Wednesday in Florida at age 66. (Charles died of cancer in 2011; he was the subject of a wonderful Joe Posnanski column near the time of his passing).

Hickman achieved plenty in his career — he was the first voice ever heard on the YES Network, the first host of “Inside the NBA” on TNT, and also hosted several programs for ESPN for a number of years. But I’ll always remember him as an affable half of the best tandem of sports hosts I’ve ever had the good fortune to watch.

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Nice move by WEEI

WEEI made a wise move in hiring Christian Arcand this past week as a producer for its afternoon-drive “Merloni, Fauria & Mego” program and weekend host.

Arcand’s dismissal from 98.5 The Sports Hub last month because of misguided budget cuts from parent company Beasley Media was unjust, and he has plenty of listeners who are happy to see him land on his feet.

Arcand isn’t the trolling type, but a good-natured sort, and he should be an effortless fit with hosts Lou Merloni, Christian Fauria, and Meghan Ottolini. Their show still lags well behind The Sports Hub’s powerhouse “Felger and Massarotti” program in the afternoons — in the recent summer Nielsen ratings, “Felger and Mazz” was first with a 19.6 share, while “M, F & M” was third at 6.0.

But it has become significantly more enjoyable with Glenn Ordway’s retirement in June 2021— his overbearing presence turned every show he was on into some faded version of his old “The Big Show” — and Ottolini’s addition in April. Arcand’s arrival should enhance it even more.

Twitter advice? Check

Fake accounts have always populated Twitter, but predictably, they became much more difficult to identify and avoid this past week with Elon Musk’s woefully misguided — and apparently already abandoned — decision to allow blue-checkmark verification for anyone willing to pay $8 a month.

Phony accounts purporting to be LeBron James, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Adam Schefter tweeted fake but believable “breaking news” that duped thousands of users.

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Here’s some advice on avoiding playing the Twitter sucker for phony accounts: Step 1: Check the @ handle to make sure it’s not a slightly misspelled variant on the real person’s account. Step 2: Check the account’s follower and following numbers. The real Woj, for example, follows 1,999 accounts and has 5.7 million followers. Step 3: If Steps 1 and 2 reveal a fraud, block like vintage Bill Russell.


Chad Finn can be reached at chad.finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.