The NFL regular season will kick off in a few weeks, and if you don’t want to mess with rabbit ears, cable subscriptions, and regional blackouts, that means it’s time to look into your streaming options. Like previous years, it’s a mess.
This year, Twitter is getting into the streaming video mix with Thursday night streams, DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket is expanding its availability to more people, and PlayStation Vue and Sling TV are adding NFL Network. Which is all to say: streaming NFL games is somehow more complicated than previous years, even though it looks like you have more options.
As always, you can get the majority of in-market games from CBS, Fox, and NBC with a good antenna, but that can be unpredictable and still requires a TV, instead of giving you the freedom to watch on any screen you like. Let’s run down your other options.
Earlier this year, Twitter purchased the streaming rights to 10 Thursday Night Football games. Alongside Twitter’s online stream, CBS, NBC, or the NFL Network will broadcast these games on cable and over-the-air:
Week 2, Sept. 15: New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
Week 3, Sept. 22: Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Week 5, Oct. 6: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
Week 6, Oct. 13: Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
Week 7, Oct. 20: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Week 11, Nov. 17: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
Week 13, Dec. 1: Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings
Week 14, Dec. 8: Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
Week 15, Dec. 15: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
Week 16, Dec. 22: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
At this point, it’s still not clear exactly how these streams will work, though we can safely assume that Twitter’s NFL landing page will walk you through the process once the season starts. Twitter will also have pre-game Periscope broadcasts and in-game highlights. You won’t need a Twitter account to view the feed, and the NFL Network will broadcast all the games not included in the Twitter deal.
Sling TV and PlayStation Vue Have Most Over-the-Air Games
Unfortunately, channel availability complicates things a bit. Plus, even though they’re streaming video services, both are still susceptible to regional blackouts, so you’ll only get the same games as your local over-the-air networks, which sucks.
Sling TV’s top-tier $40/month Orange+Blue plan is the one you want. It comes with Fox, NBC, ESPN, and the NFL Network. That means you get all the Thursday, Sunday, and Monday night games alongside whatever local games are on Fox on Sunday. CBS, however, is not on Sling TV, so you can’t stream games that air on CBS, sadly. If you don’t want Monday Night Football on ESPN, you can drop down to the $25/month Blue plan. Also, Sling TV’s local network plans are only available in certain markets, so check availability before you sign up. They offer a seven day free trial if you want to give it a test run before committing. I’d recommend signing up for the trial before the first regular season game so you can get a full weekend to see how it works, and maybe stream a pre-season game or two and see how you like it.
Sling TV also added NFL Network and NFL RedZone this year. NFL Network gets you all the preseason games going on right now, alongside the upcoming Thursday night games, though some regional blackouts may still occur for those Thursday games. For $5 extra/month you can add NFL RedZone, the channel that bounces between every live game based on which one is the most interesting at a given moment, and depending on what’s available on what network, it may be worth it.
With PlayStation Vue you can stream ESPN, NBC, Fox, and CBS games, although region restrictions will limit your access to some channels. The NFL Network and NFL RedZone are also on the way this season. The NFL Network is included in the Core and Elite plans, but you have to shell out $40 for RedZone for the full season. If you head over to their plans page and enter your zip code, you’ll see which live channels are available to you under which plan. For example, here in Los Angeles I can get ESPN, NBC, Fox, and CBS, but in Denver I can only access ESPN and CBS, so your mileage will vary. Like Sling TV, PlayStation Vue has a seven-day trial, so I recommend giving that a shot before you sign up.
NFL Sunday Ticket Offers Out-of-Market Games to Some Households and Students at Some Universities
First, you can only sign up for it if DirecTV is not available at your home or apartment. To check your availability, head to the NFL Sunday Ticket page and enter your address. If you’re a student and you qualify, you can get a subscription for half-price at $24.99/month.
Verizon subscribers get access to local market Sunday afternoon games, Sunday night games, Monday night games, and Thursday night games. You can also subscribe to NFL RedZone for an extra $1.99/month. The catch is that not only is this exclusive to Verizon customers, it’s also exclusive to phones, so you have to watch football on a tiny screen.
Stream Live Games from Fox, NBC, and ESPN with a Cable Password
Now, if you have a cable subscription (or at least have access to someone’s login information,) you can log in to a few apps to stream live games. This includes most of Fox’s games, NBC’s Sunday night games, and ESPN’s Monday night games. Here’s where you need to go the day of the game:
These streams give you access to a ton of games, so if you do have a cable password, it’s a sure-fire way to stream the bulk of the season. In my experience, all three web apps work well with a Chromecast too, if you want to stream to your TV.
The Bottom Line: These Are Your Most Convenient Choices
Streaming NFL games is still a confusing mess. Let’s recap by walking through the best options for online streaming:
Twitter will stream most Thursday night games, the rest will be on NFL Network.
In-market Sunday games on CBS, Fox, and NBC (the same ones offered over-the-air with an antenna) are available to stream with a Sling TV or Sony Vue subscription. This is your best overall option if your don’t have an antenna or access to over-the-air channels for whatever reason.
Out-of-market games (games not being broadcast on your local over-the-air stations) are available on NFL Sunday Ticket. This is likely your best overall option if you want to watch non-local teams.
Fox, NBC, and ESPN games are accessible from mobile devices and computers with a cable subscription authentication. This is your best option if you have cable or you’re borrowing someone’s cable login information.
There’s almost no way to get access to every game on the cheap or from a single service, especially if you like to watch a non-local team. Prepare to jump through some hoops to figure out how to stream the games you want. As confusing as it is, at least there are more options this year.