Cris Collinsworth might be kidding around when he toots his own horn in commercials for Showtime’s “Inside The NFL”, but to hear the New York Times’ Richard Sandomir tell the tale, the former Bengal is one of the few efficiently employed assets on NBC’s cast-of-thousands “Football Night In America”.

From 7 to 8:15 p.m. on Sunday, I counted this multilateral deployment of personnel: (1) Bob Costas and Cris Collinsworth; (2) Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann; (3) Collinsworth with Tiki Barber and Jerome Bettis; (4) Collinsworth with Patrick and Olbermann; (5) Collinsworth and Costas; (6) Costas, Collinsworth, Olbermann and Patrick; and (7) Costas (or was it Collinsworth?) with Peter King.

Collinsworth is clearly the star of NBC™s program, and he is the set™s moving piece; he shifts to everybody else. He is so in demand that two of his segments must be taped so he can watch the late-afternoon games and be prepared to comment on the program.

One of his tasks is to chat in the œplayers™ room (or is it the children™s table?) with Jerome Bettis and Tiki Barber. Collinsworth is designated to ignite commentary from the two, both former running backs. The tactic sometimes works, but the consistency of the setup suggests that NBC is uncertain about what Barber and Bettis can truly do.

Adding Dan Patrick has not yet revived all that was once glorious about his ESPN run with Keith Olbermann. They race through highlights, tossing in lines from their past (if we accept their oldies, shouldn™t we accept Chris Berman dipping back-back-back into his bag of tricks?) and often sounding as if their primary goal is to make each other tee-hee. And it won™t be until after Election Day that Olbermann returns to offering commentaries.

Bringing Patrick and Olbermann together presents a bit of an issue because Olbermann has redefined himself as a solo political broadcaster on MSNBC. Whatever you think of his clear leanings in the presidential race, he is a fascinating, dangerous showman whose expressive face needs to be seen more often than highlight narration allows.