Watch NFL Online: The Definitive Cord Cutters Guide
It’s pretty easy to watch NFL games online without a cable subscription, and avoid a hefty cable bill every month.
You don’t need to rely on illegal reddit NFL streams. These days, you can watch NFL games on Roku, iPhone, tablet or PC for free or a lot less money than cable TV. This guide will quickly break down all your options so you can watch NFL games online without cable.
But listen, you don’t have to pay for a streaming service to watch most local games on FOX, CBS and NBC. I’ll show you how to watch all the games on those networks for absolutely nothing.
You can watch most games of your local team for free in many parts of the U.S. without paying a dime. All you need is a trusty TV antenna to start watching games on local channels like CBS, FOX and NBC. With the right equipment, you can even pause, rewind and record those same free games coming to you in HD quality.
I spend all year testing out various streaming services and hardware. Setting up a cheaper solution for streaming live NFL games is pretty easy once you learn your options. You may even get a better picture too. I’ll get back to that a little later.
What channels are NFL games on?
Here’s how an average week looks for broadcasting NFL games.
- Sunday Day Football: FOX and CBS
- Sunday Night Football: NBC
- Monday Night Football: ESPN
- Thursday Night Football: NBC and CBS
There are few approaches you can take to watching the 2018 NFL Season. Here are your options in a rough sense, but there are more choices that I’ll detail below as well.
- You can either go completely free using a TV antenna. If you’re in range of broadcast towers, you’ll get NBC, CBS and FOX in beautiful HD quality (1080i or 720p) for free.
- Subscribe to a live TV streaming service. You’ll get ESPN for Monday Night Football. And you’ll have a good shot at getting most or all of your local channels and ESPN.
- Do a little bit of both (like me).
What are the advantages to doing a little bit of both?
A combination of a TV antenna and low-cost live streaming service might be an ideal depending on price and where you live. Cord cutting is all about being a little ad-hoc sometimes.
So you may subscribe to Sling TV for $25 per month so you can get ESPN. It may turn out that Sling TV doesn’t have coverage for your local NBC or FOX stations. But that’s no problem because you get beautiful antenna reception and can pick up those channels.
So now you’re crushing it with watching NFL games because you’re paying anywhere from $25 to $40 per month, depending on what kind of Sling TV package you choose. Nice!
The other real secret here is to pay as little as possible for Internet. My new guide on How to Get the Best Deal for Internet without Cable can help you with that. No matter what you decide, cutting the cord and getting rid of cable will be a better option than paying hundreds of dollars per month. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of more options in detail.
Watch NFL Games Live with an Antenna
A TV antenna is the best way to watch NFL games free because you have a one-time cost for equipment.
Any local channels you get – which hopefully include NBC, CBS and FOX – will be yours free for life.
There’s an added benefit too.
By using a decent antenna, you’ll be getting an uncompressed High Definition digital signal that will be either 1080i or 720p. Compare your picture quality to what you got through your cable company and you might be surprised. Cable companies have to compress the digital signal to pipe it into your home through a cable cord. That comes at the expense of picture quality.
You just need to live reasonably close to the broadcast towers for those stations.
Head over to AntennaWeb.org and punch in your address to get an idea of where and what direction your towers are in.
How to Record NFL Games Using an TV Antenna
There are a bunch of choices if you want to DVR and have live rewind options with OTA channels. I use a HDHomeRun Quatro and subscribe to Plex Pass ($5 per month) for Live TV and DVR service. You can read my review of Plex Live TV & DVR. I made a short video about it as well.
If Plex Pass isn’t for you, then chances are you just want to get a Tablo Dual Lite, which you can basically just plug in and start using to record whatever football game or other show you please.
Let’s say you own a TCL Roku TV.
If you do, then you probably already have the option to rewind live TV channels from your antenna. You just need to buy a dedicated flash drive and plug it into the back of your television.
An antenna isn’t a solution for everyone. It’s best for people who follow your local teams. If you’re a Dallas Cowboys fan living in Detroit, you might be better off with NFL Game Pass. But generally, most people can use a live TV streaming service detailed below.
How to Watch NFL Online with Streaming
When we talk about live streaming NFL games, we’re using a streaming device like a Roku, Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV.
But you may also be someone who watches on your smartphone. That’s cool. A lot more live TV streaming services are catching onto the desire to watch on mobile devices or a PC. Many live TV streaming services have mobile apps, but only a few are really good in terms of letting you watch NFL games without restrictions.
Hulu with Live TV: Best Option to Watch NFL Online
So why do I like Hulu with Live TV the best for live streaming NFL games?
Hulu with Live TV has the most local FOX, CBS and NBC stations than any other live TV streaming service in the U.S.
And ESPN is included in your subscription of 50+ channels so you’re covered for watching Monday Night Football.
A subscription costs $40 per month, and includes 50 hours of Cloud DVR. Hulu subscribers also get unlimited access to its on-demand library that people pay $7.99 and up every month for.
So you’re essentially getting your NFL fix, a bunch of cool live TV channels and a second streaming service for the same price as a number of competitors. You can watch live NFL games at home, or on the go using your smartphone. Hulu’s Live TV service has apps for Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, Fire Stick, iPhones and Android devices. You can even watch on Nintendo Switch and Xbox game consoles.
You’ll be able to use your subscription to sign in to almost 40 apps on your streaming device.
Hulu with Live TV offers a free trial for a week.
If you don’t like it, you can simply cancel online. No more drawn-out phone exchanges with a customer service agent from your cable company.
fuboTV: NFL Live Stream Without Cable
fuboTV is a worthy runner-up because it has a the second-highest number of local FOX, NBC and CBS stations in the U.S. that you’ll need for key games throughout the season.
But there’s one thing you should know up front: there’s no ESPN. So if Monday Night Football is really important to you, then you’ll probably want to consider another option.
You’ll get 80+ channels, and 30 hours of Cloud DVR for $44.99 per month.
CBS, CBS Sports Network, FOX and NBC is all within the fuboTV channel lineup. They added NFL Network to its basic channel bundle, and NFL RedZone as an add-on bundle just before the start of the 2017 NFL season.
You can check out what local CBS, FOX and NBC affiliates are in your area. Fubo also has coverage for 80 percent of regional sports networks in the U.S. FS1 and FS2 are part of the entry-level bundle along with PAC-12 Networks and Big Ten Network.
You will also find entertainment channels like A&E, HGTV, FX and Viceland.
If you miss a recording, fubo has a pretty unique backup. The “lookback” feature works like an on-demand of sports that aired in the last 72 hours. You can use your subscription to sign in to Fox Sports Go and about 30 more apps including NBCSN and Big Ten Network. Read my full review of fuboTV to get a broader look at the channel lineup and features.
You can check out fuboTV with a free week-long trial.
How does NFL Game Pass work?
NFL Game Pass is a $99-per-year service that lets subscribers watch regular and post-season games as soon as they’re over. You can watch out-of-market live preseason games, and full replays of regular and post-season games on-demand.
During live regular season games, you can listen to the games as they happen, but you’ll have no video. NFL Game Pass has apps for Roku, Apple TV, Xbox 360 and Xbox One game consoles. On mobile, there’s an app for iPhone, iPad and Android smartphones and tablets.
So it’s not geared for watching regular and post-season NFL games live, but it may be a good fit if you’re OK with watching games as soon as they’re over. It’s a cheaper alternative to NFL Sunday Ticket via DIRECTV.
The restrictions on some live preseason games are kind of whacky due to blackout restrictions. If you’re considering NFL Game Pass, you check on their site to see if your local NFL team is available live.
NFL Game Pass has a free trial, and allows you to make quarterly payments.
NFL Game Pass and VPN: Does it still work?
Some NFL fans in the U.S. have been employing various workarounds to watch live regular season and post-season games using a VPN service. I haven’t tried this personally, but it’s a much discussed topic in forums like Reddit.
You’ll need to set the service so it looks like you’re streaming in a country that has no blackout restrictions. (Example: So you say you’re in the U.K. through your VPN service, but then subscribe to the Game Pass U.K. version, not the U.S. version). I haven’t tried this method personally. But, according to users on Reddit, it’s still an option for using a NFL Game Pass account to watch live game without blackout restrictions.
Here’s a link to the NFL Game Pass in Europe if you’re going to try that out.
Can I watch Thursday Night Football on DirecTV Now?
Yes. DirecTV Now has local affiliates for CBS and NBC throughout much of the country. Their local channel lineup isn’t as widespread as Hulu’s, but it’s pretty strong.
The live streaming service works on Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Fire Stick.
Before you sign up, it’s best to do a quick check on their local channel search engine just to make sure there’s coverage in your area. While you’re checking that out, you can also see what Regional Sports Networks are available in your area as well.
DirecTV Now also carries ESPN across all four of its channel bundles. So you could get the entry-level channel bundle called “Live a Little”, which gives you 65+ channels for $40 per month.
You will also get some general entertainment channels like AMC, A&E and HGTV, and a vast on-demand movie selection. If you want to watch some football on the go, DirecTV Now can be streamed to your smartphone, tablets and PCs.
You can take advantage of a free 7-day trial and just go online to cancel before the trial date is up if you are unsatisfied with the service.
Stream NFL Games on PlayStation Vue
PlayStation Vue offers local FOX, NBC and CBS in select markets. The entry-level channel bundle for PlayStation Vue is $45.
You’ll get roughly 48+ channels including ESPN in that package. You should also get some locals depending on where you live. You can get NFL Network on the Core package, which costs another $5 per month.
PlayStation Vue is a great service. It has Cloud DVR, and works on nearly every streaming device like Roku and Fire TV. You can learn more about PlayStation Vue in my detailed review of their service. Sony offers a 5-day free trial for new PlayStation Vue customers.
Sling TV: Watch NFL Games Online
Sling TV is making a push to become the de-facto live streaming service for NFL games.
Last year, the company announced a new section at the bottom of their site where you can enter a city, state or favorite team to see a schedule of upcoming NFL and NCAA football games.
Within the results, you can see whether the channel is within the Sling Orange channel lineup, or Sling Blue.
Let me save you some time.
If you’re looking to get both ESPN and NFL Network, you’re going to have to get the Orange and Blue plans for $40 per month.
Want NFL RedZone? Then you must have a subscription to Sling Blue, and get the Sports Extra bundle for another $10 per month. The Sports Extra bundle also has PAC 12 Network, Golf Channel, NHL Network and a few others that you might like.
Let’s say you got yourself a snappy new TV antenna that got you FOX, NBC and CBS crisp and clear on your TV. You’re fine with that and just want ESPN.
Then all you need to do is subscribe to Sling Orange, which gives you 29+ channels including ESPN for $25 per month. Fifty hours of Cloud DVR costs an extra $5 per month.
You can check out Sling TV has to offer with a free 7-day trial. Get a free Roku Streaming Stick, or a discount on a Roku Premiere+ or Airplay TV and Adapter Bundle if you prepay for two to three months.
CBS All Access: Watch NFL Online with a Live Stream
CBS All Access might be part of an ad-hoc solution for you. Let’s say you’re subscribing to Sling TV for $25 per month to get ESPN, FOX and NBC. But for whatever reason, CBS isn’t offered in your area. CBS All Access is a pretty good solution for $5.99 per month. You’ll get to live stream NFL games through a local CBS station. There are live streams for CBS Sports HQ and CBSN, the 24/7 digital news network.
Subscribers get access to thousands of popular TV shows like “TKO: Total Knockout” and “CSI: Miami” and originals, including “Star Trek: Discovery”. It’s kind of like a mini-Hulu for all CBS shows and movies.
I’ve been subscribing to CBS All Access for a couple of months now and I’ve been pretty happy with the service. Try out CBS All Access free for 7-days to see what you think.
YouTube TV: Stream NFL games live without cable
YouTube TV has a slick interface and lots of local NBC, CBS and FOX stations along with ESPN for $40 per month. An account comes with up to six profiles, and unlimited Cloud DVR. ESPN is in the mix, so you’re covered for Monday Night Football games.
There’s a nice mix of sports channels like FS1, FS2 and NBCSN. Entertainment channels including National Geographic, TNT, Disney Channel, AMC and BBC America are on there, too. YouTube TV works on Roku, Apple TV, Android TV devices and on your smartphone and PC. It’s not a service that works on Fire TV or Fire Stick. You can read my review of YouTube TV, and try it out with a free 7-day trial.
NFL Mobile: Stream Monday Night, Thursday Night Football
Verizon Wireless customers can live stream Monday Night Football, Thursday Night Football and Sunday Night Football. You just need to be a customer of Verizon’s More Everything Plan to get unlimited access to the NFL Mobile app.
The app lets you watch your local team’s regular season games online. You’ll have access to the NFL Network online for free, and you’ll be able to watch NFL RedZone online, too. The app can be used on mobile devices, but not on a TV. So if you watch a lot of games on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone or tablet, then it’s a pretty solid cord cutting option for NFL games.
Watch NFLSundayTicket.TV Online
If you live outside of a DIRECTV’s subscription area, then there’s a chance you can subscribe to NFL Sunday Ticket as a standalone service.
There are two packages: one let’s you watch every live out-of-market game. It costs $69.99 per month for four months. The “Max” bundle adds NFL Red Zone, which gets you every single touchdown from Sunday afternoon games. DIRECTV Fantasy Zone is included. That will cost you $379.96 for the season or $94.99 per month.
Not exactly a cheap option, which is why I recommend an antenna or streaming.
What’s the Best Way to Watch NFL Online or Without Cable?
To quickly start streaming Monday Night Football, Thursday Night Football, and all NFL games in between, I recommend trying Hulu with Live TV free for 7 days. It’s going to be the best solution for most people because right now Hulu has more local CBS, NBC and FOX stations than any other live streaming service. You’ll have ESPN and 50 hours of Cloud DVR to record games when you’re not around.
You can log into apps like WatchESPN, FOX Sports Go and a few dozen others.
But the real value in Hulu with Live TV comes with the extras. Most of Hulu’s competitors are charging around $40 per month. With Hulu, you’re getting the extra on-demand streaming service that people pay $7.99 per month for.
If you already subscribe to Hulu, this option is a no brainer because you’ll be saving money too.
Don’t like it? Fine. Cancel online and try something else on this page.
fuboTV is a solid option if you can live without ESPN, or use another way to watch Monday night games. It’s a better value for you if you want to add channels like NFL Network. Big Ten Network and PAC-12 Network is in the regular channel bundle for college football. fuboTV has a free 7-day trial, and you can look over its channel lineup for your area.
The Sports Plus bundle (an extra $8.99 per month) gets you NFL Red Zone and 15 other channels include all PAC-12 regional networks.
Setting up your own TV antenna/DVR solution combined with a low-cost streaming service like Sling TV for ESPN can be pretty sweet for NFL season. Sling TV only costs $25 per month, or $40 if you go with Sling Blue and Sling Orange.
Either way, you can try out Sling TV free for 7-days.
But getting your antenna and DVR hardware worked out may be a longer term project for you. So you might want to start out with a streaming service, then work on getting your antenna and DVR setup together.
Watch NFL Online: Is NFL Game Pass worth it?
NFL Game Pass is probably only worth it if you’re OK with watching games after they happen, or you’re trying to get a team that’s not local to you.
You’ll get out-of-market live preseason games, on on-demand replays of all regular season and postseason games once the broadcasts ends. NFL Game Pass has a free trial and details what comes with a subscription.
If you go this route, I’d recommend that you pay close attention to the free trial period. That way, you can cancel the service and avoid getting billed if it doesn’t work for you.
Now that I’ve laid out all your options to watch NFL online, I want to hear from you. Tell fellow readers in the comments below how you cut the cord, and kept watching your favorite NFL team. Don’t forget to tell folks where in the U.S. you did it, and how much you’re saving compared to cable.
Want to learn more about cord cutting? Start out on the main cord cutting page to read more how-to guides and reviews.
*Note: This article was originally published Sept. 9, 2017 and has been updated to include new streaming services.