September 15, 2021 13:25
How to Stream NFL Games Without Cable
Streaming services from Amazon Prime to YouTube TV give football fans viewing options this year
By James K. Willcox
Updated September 10, 2021
Football fans who have decided to cut the cable cord have plenty of options for streaming NFL action this season. With the right streaming services, you can watch Sunday afternoon games on CBS and Fox, Sunday Night Football on NBC, and Monday Night Football on ESPN. Thursday Night Football is spread out across Fox, Amazon Prime/Twitch, and the NFL Network. Additionally, some games will be available on new streaming services, such as Peacock from NBCUniversal and Paramount+ from ViacomCBS.
If you’re using a cable-replacement streaming service, you may already have access to a decent number of games. However, live local channels aren’t available on all cable-replacement streaming services in all markets. You’ll need these channels to watch games in your area, so review the channel lineups before subscribing to a service such as Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, or YouTube TV.
Here are just a couple more notes before we list all your streaming options.
First, Verizon no longer has an exclusive deal to stream games to smartphones and tablets, so you’ll be able to catch a good number of games regardless of your cellular provider.
Second, Fox Sports plans to show Thursday Night Football games in 4K HDR, or high dynamic range, as it did last year. (The games are actually produced in 1080p; Fox then upconverts them for viewers with 4K HDR TVs.)
Games in 4K HDR will be available through the Fox Sports and Fox Now apps on Apple TV 4K and select Roku devices, plus FuboTv and YouTube TV streaming packages that carry the channel. Additionally, some viewers can get 4K service from pay-TV providers such as Altice/Optimum, Comcast Xfinity, DirecTV, and Verizon FiOS.
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Amazon Prime members can watch 11 Thursday Night Football games this season. The games will be simulcast on Fox and the NFL Network, and you can also see them on Amazon's Twitch channel. (Starting in 2022, Amazon Prime will become the exclusive home for NFL Thursday Night Football; the games won't be available on Fox and the NFL Network.)
The agreement, which covers 15 games next year, is part of a long-term deal that runs through 2032. Each game will also be televised free in the participating teams’ home markets. Amazon will also air one preseason game per year.
We expect that, like last year, Amazon will get one or two exclusive late-season games, and will show a wild-card playoff game that's also on other networks.
Sign up here: Amazon Prime Video
AT&T is spinning off the company's TV and video businesses, including DirecTV and AT&T TV, into a company called New DirecTV.
AT&T TV plans start at $70 per month for a package with about 65 channels. You can watch NFL games on all four broadcast networks—ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC—in most markets, plus ESPN. The only games you won’t get are the exclusive Thursday Night Football games on NFL Network.
There’s no longer an option, even with pricier plans, to get the NFL Network, NFL Red Zone, or NFL Sunday Ticket. However, AT&T TV subscribers can get NFLSundayTicket.TV if they are unable to get satellite where they live. With this service, you can stream live, out-of-market NFL regular season games every Sunday.
Meanwhile, AT&T TV Now and AT&T TV will soon be folded into a single brand called DirecTV Stream.
Sign up here: AT&T TV
CBS All Access
CBS All Access has morphed into Paramount+ (see below).
DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket
NFL Sunday Ticket is the most comprehensive NFL package you can get, offering every Sunday afternoon out-of-market game. (It doesn’t include games shown on your local channels.) DirecTV has the exclusive rights to the package this year, so you have to be a DirecTV subscriber.
As we noted above, parent company AT&T lets people who can’t use a satellite dish for DirecTV’s regular service watch the football package through a streaming service. That includes lots of people living in apartments or townhouses, college students, and people in single-family homes where an obstruction prevents satellite TV reception.
If you meet the eligibility requirements, you can get NFLSundayTicket.TV for $294 a season. A step-up Max plan costs $100 more, and adds NFL Red Zone and DirecTV Fantasy Zone. You can also add NFL Game Pass, which streams every regular season game after it airs, for an additional $100.
College students can get NFLSundayTicket.TV U, which includes everything in the TV Max plan, for just $100. Game Pass can be added for another $100.
You can't get any of these packages with AT&T TV, which is the new name for the DirecTV Now cable-style streaming service (described above).
A lot will change down the road, because DirecTV's deal for the NFL Sunday Ticket package is set to expire at the end of the 2022 season. There are reports that several companies, including Amazon, Apple, Disney, and YouTube, are interested in acquiring the rights.
Sign up here: NFLSundayTicket.TV
The sports-centric FuboTV, one of the few places to watch NFL games in 4K with HDR (from Fox), costs $65 a month. With it, you get games on CBS, Fox, and NBC in many markets.
Thanks to a long-awaited deal with ESPN, FuboTV also gives you access to Monday Night Football, plus the NFL Network to stream Thursday Night Football games. (Some of those are also available on Amazon and Fox.)
NFL RedZone, with game highlights and replays from every Sunday game, can be added as part of FuboTV’s $11-per-month Sports Plus add-on pack.
Sign up here: FuboTV
Hulu + Live TV
Priced at $65 per month, Hulu’s live TV service, called Hulu + Live TV, provides access to ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC local broadcasts in many markets.
You can also get CBS Sports, ESPN, and Fox Sports. But the big news for 2021 is that Hulu reached a deal for the NFL Network to be available on Hulu + Live TV. That's important to sports fans, because the NFL Network has eight exclusive Thursday Night Football games that aren't available on Amazon or Fox.
For an additional $10 per month, you can get a sports add-on pack that includes NFL RedZone, with 7 hours of Sunday Night Football action, plus the ability to stream all RedZone programming from the 2020 NFL season before the 2021 season begins.
Sign up here: Hulu + Live TV
Locast is a streaming service that provides free over-the-air broadcast channels via the internet. It’s currently available in 36 markets across the country. Locast lets you watch any games that broadcast on affiliate ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC channels.
There's a twist, though. The company is a nonprofit that doesn’t directly charge consumers for content, and it’s relying on a copyright exception granted to nonprofits. To make money, it asks for donations of at least $5 per month. (Locast will regularly interrupt programming to ask for that donation until you pony up.)
If this seems too good to be true, it might be. ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC Universal have sued Locast in federal court, alleging that the service violates their copyrights by sending TV content to customers without paying for it. The broadcasters want the service shut down and are asking to be paid damages.
Sign up here: Locast
If you subscribe to a pay-TV service, you may be able to watch football when you’re on the go by using a network's mobile app. The following apps all require authentication, meaning that you need to be a cable or satellite subscriber.
• CBS Sports: In addition to those who get Paramount+, the network is letting “authenticated” CBS viewers—meaning those who get CBS through a pay-TV service—stream games via the CBS Sports app, and online at CBS.com.
• Fox Sports: The Fox TV Everywhere app offers live coverage of local-market games and regional sports networks. You can also access the games through most cable-style streaming services, such as FuboTV, Hulu + Live TV, and YouTube TV. You can watch NFL games via FoxSports.com on your laptop or tablet and some streaming devices—including Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku. You get access only to the channels in your TV lineup.
• NBC Sports: NBC will stream every 2021 Sunday Night Football game live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports App. Both require authentication that you have a cable, satellite, or live streaming TV subscription, and both will let you watch football on an Android or iOS smartphone or tablet, computer, Samsung smart TV, many streaming players, and Xbox game consoles. The games will also be available on NBCUniversal's Peacock streaming service (see below).
• WatchESPN: ESPN’s mobile app delivers Monday Night Football, along with shows such as SportsCenter, to your computer, smartphone, tablet, Xbox game console, and streaming players, including Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and Roku. The newer $5-a-month ESPN+ streaming service doesn't have live Monday Night Football games, though they are coming in 2023. ESPN+ will have one exclusive game (a regular season international game) starting in the 2022 season.
NFL Game Pass
NFL Game Pass lets you watch pretty much any game you want, but with one big caveat—you’ll have to wait until the game’s original broadcast is over.
Priced at $99 for the season (or four $30 monthly payments), the streaming service lets you watch replays of all the regular season games, plus games from prior seasons. It doesn't include the Super Bowl.
Sign up here: NFL Game Pass
NFL Mobile App
Formerly a perk only for Verizon wireless customers, the NFL mobile app now lets you stream NFL games, regardless of what carrier you use.
Access is free, and the same programming is also available on Verizon’s Yahoo Sports App for mobile devices. It's limited to live local-market games and prime-time national games. It includes playoff games and the Super Bowl nationwide. But you can't watch Sunday afternoon out-of-market games, which are controlled by DirecTV.
Sign up here: NFL mobile App
Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access)
If you like watching Sunday afternoon football games, you'll want access to CBS. Cord-cutters can use the company’s new Paramount+ streaming service, which replaced CBS All Access. It offers access to the entire CBS NFL football season, though this year the Super Bowl shifts to NBC.
You'll also get an AFC Wild Card showdown, AFC divisional playoff contests, and the AFC Championship game. Also included are all the NFL-related pregame shows, including "The NFL on CBS," plus "Inside the NFL," which is moving from Showtime to Paramount+.
The games will be available on both the $5 Paramount+ ad-supported service and the $10-a-month ad-free version. You can also stream games on mobile devices, something that had previously been exclusive to Verizon cellular customers.
A new deal, signed a few months ago, will bring an expanded schedule of games, including some with NFC teams, to both CBS and Paramount+ starting with kicks in 2023.
Sign up here: Paramount+
Sling TV is something of a mixed bag for football fans. Though it includes NBC, Fox, the NFL Network, and ESPN, it's missing ABC and CBS. Also, you'll need to subscribe to both the Blue (NBC, Fox, NFL Network) and Orange (ESPN) plans to get all the games. Each plan costs $35 a month, but you can get a combined plan for $50 a month.
Because Sling TV lacks CBS, you won’t get the AFC games that network shows on Sunday afternoons. One bit of good news is that Sling has restored access to the NFL Network, and you can add NFL Red Zone as part of an $11-a-month Sports Extra add-on.
Sign up here: Sling TV
After a price hike, YouTube TV now offers 70-plus channels for $65 per month. It includes all the major broadcast networks—ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC—plus the ESPN networks and Fox Sports. Last year YouTube TV added the NFL Network, plus the ability to add NFL RedZone in the Sports Plus tier for an additional $11 per month.
Also, YouTube TV now has a 4K HDR option, which costs an additional $10 a month for the first year. The company recently announced that it would have some Thursday night games in 4K this year.
Sign up here: YouTube TV