A Cord Cutter’s Guide to NFL Streaming vs Free

The 2020 NFL season just started, and it’s always been pretty easy for cord cutters to watch most games either for free or on the cheap. 

You don’t necessarily need to live stream NFL games to see your favorite team on the field for free. And you definitely do not want to use an illegal NFL stream from a shady corner of reddit. (More on that later.)

A very basic antenna setup on an older or brand new TV is the most cost effective route. But if you want ESPN or NFL Redzone there are options that are cheaper than cable, and don’t lock you into a contract. 

I’ll break down all the best choices starting with how to watch games for free. Then I’ll show you some lower cost options to stream NFL games live on all the channels you may want including ESPN and NFL Network.

You will even learn your options for watching NFL RedZone on Sundays. I’ll start with the cheapest options for a full package first. 

What channels are NFL games on?

Here’s how an average week looks for watching NFL games.

Sunday Day Football: FOX and CBS

Sunday Night Football: NBC

Monday Night Football: ESPN

Thursday Night Football: NBC and CBS

You’ll notice that if you live within the range of broadcast towers, you can watch all your games for free with the exception of Monday Night Football on ESPN. No live streaming necessary except for one channel.

Watching NFL for free: what you need to know

If you’re serious about watching NFL games for free with a TV antenna, I have one core principle. 

Don’t buy a cheap antenna because they don’t perform well. You don’t want to see a bunch of pixelation during a major play just because you decided that $20 or $30 was “enough” to spend on an antenna. 

Cheaply made antennas are pretty easy to spot if you know what to look for. If any antenna-maker claims to have a range of 80 miles or greater, then walk away. These antennas are also notoriously inexpensive.

Here’s an example taken from Amazon. 

Be wary of any TV antenna-maker that claims a range of more than 70 miles.

The added irony here is that TV antennas — on their best days and under ideal circumstances — have a maximum range of about 70 miles.

That’s because the Earth is curved (not flat) and digital signals travel by line of sight. Based on my own testing in rural areas, I wouldn’t expect to get a station 55 or 60 miles away with the best outdoor antenna.  It’s possible, but pretty rare.

Look, I’ve been testing indoor and outdoor antennas for years. If you don’t want to go through the steps of how to choose a TV antenna, I’ll quickly mention four picks here.  

The ClearStream Eclipse or ClearStream Flex are among the two best indoor TV antennas that I’ve tested.

For an outdoor TV antenna, Antop BV-400 or the ClearStream 2Max are my two favorites.

(Further reading: Reviews on the best indoor and outdoor TV antennas, and how to choose a TV antenna and OTA DVR.) 

Bottom Line: Stream NFL games vs free

NFL is one of the easiest sports to watch without cable TV. You can even record games with a TV antenna.

A New England Patriots fan living close to Boston will have a much easier time watching most NFL games for free than one closer to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. 

But don’t be too dismissive about how difficult it is to quit cable and watch football.  

The Boston guy has great antenna range, and probably get away with a less costly streaming service if ESPN or NFL Network is essential. 

The New Hampshire guy will need a live TV streaming service that has local CBS, ABC, NBC and FOX stations along with ESPN. But even the New Hampshire guy can save some money compared to using cable or a satellite TV service charging $200 per month. 

As for using illegal NFL streams on reddit and elsewhere, I’d think twice. 

The “nothing can happen to me” mentality isn’t considering one fact. Your Internet service provider can easily dime you out. 

This Houston, Texas law firm now specializes in representing such unfortunate souls. 

So if you want to go the streaming route for NFL games, fine. Just keep it legal. There are plenty of affordable options.

How to Stream NFL Online

A live TV streaming service is the way to go if you must have channels such as ESPN, NFL RedZone and NFL Network. 

Just like with antennas, there are a lot of flavors to choose from. 

Just remember one thing. Trying a live TV service doesn’t tie you down like cable. 

There are no contracts. No more drawn-out phone exchanges with a customer service agent from your cable company. If you don’t like a live TV service as your go-to NFL portal, then just cancel online and try another until you find one you like.

ServiceKey NetworksPriceFree Trial
Sling TV Orange plan: 30+ channels with ESPN, but no locals$30/mo.3=day
Sling TV Blue plan: 45+ channels with NFL Network, no ESPN$30/mo.3-day
Sling TV
Blue + Sports Extra: 57+ channels with NFL RedZone, FS2 and PAC-12 Networks (No ESPN.)$40/mo.3-day
Sling TV Orange + Blue: 53+ with ESPN, NFL Network minor NBC, FOX coverage$45/mo.3-day
Vidgo Core plan: 68 channels with ESPN, FOX & NFL Network$45/mo.3-day
Vidgo Plus plan: 87 channels withNFL RedZone, ESPN, ABC, FOX and NFL Network$55/mo.3-day
fuboTV Standard: 110+ channels with ESPN, NFL Network, local NBC, CBS and FOX.$64.99/mo.7-day
fuboTV Sports Plus: 130+ channels with NFL RedZone, 4 Stadium networks and six PAC 12 networks$73.98/mo.7-day
Hulu + Live TV65+ channels with ESPN, local CBS, NBC, FOX and ABC$54.99/mo.7-day
YouTube TV85+ channels with ESPN, NFL Network, local ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX$64.99/mo.7-day
YouTube TV Sports Plus: 92+ channels with NFL RedZone, Fox College Sports and GOLTV$75.98/mo.7-day

Sling TV

Sling TV is your cheapest option if you are using a TV antenna successfully for all your locals. The Sling Orange plan carries ESPN as part of a 30+ channel package for $30 per month. 

Subscribers get 10 hours of Cloud DVR for recordings. You can upgrade to 50 hours of another $5 per month.

Sling Orange + Sling Blue has a more robust channel lineup for watching NFL coverage because you get ESPN and NFL Network. 

Sling Orange + Sling Blue costs $40 per month. But if you want NFL RedZone too, then you’re paying $50 per month because you need the Sports Extra bundle. 

At that price, it’s worth considering your other live TV streaming options.

New Sling TV customers can sign up for a free three-day trial. But if I knew that I was getting Sling TV for NFL season, I would just prepay for a couple of months because then I could get a free streaming device or possibly an antenna package. 

Since there is no contract, you can cancel whenever you want.  

Vidgo 

Vidgo is a new player in the live TV streaming realm. Like other live TV services, you can use a Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV or mobile app for its service. 

Vidgo’s Core plan has 68 channels including ESPN, ABC, FOX and NFL Network for $45 per month. There is currently no Cloud DVR option, but has 72-hour playback for a number of channels. 

Vidgo currently does not carry CBS or NBC stations.

The Vidgo Plus plan has 87 channels, including NFL RedZone, ESPN, ABC, FOX and NFL Network. The Plus plan costs $55 per month. 

Vidgo lets you stream on up to three devices at once and has a “watch party” feature for its mobile app. A free 3-day trial lets you use their service and see if it’s worth it.

Hulu with Live TV 

Hulu with Live TV has local FOX, CBS and NBC stations in pretty much every corner of the U.S. 

ESPN is included in a subscription so you’re covered for live streaming Monday Night Football.

You get 65+ channels total and 50 hours of Cloud DVR.

A subscription costs $54.99 per month. Hulu subscribers also get unlimited access to its on-demand library that people pay $5.99 and up every month for.

So you’re essentially getting your NFL fix, dozens of live TV channels and a second streaming service for the same price as a number of competitors. 

You can stream live NFL games at home, or online by using your smartphone or PC. If not everyone wants to watch football, no worries. You can stream live TV on up to two screens at once.

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 activate dozens of apps on your streaming device. Hulu will show you what local and regional sports networks are offered in your area before deciding whether to sign up.

Hulu has a free 7-day trial — even if you already subscribe to Hulu’s on-demand service. 

You can also get Hulu + Live TV as part of the Disney+ bundle. The bundle includes ESPN+ and saves you $5.99 per month.

fuboTV: Stream NFL Network

fuboTV is a good fit for someone seeking a full-on replacement of cable or satellite TV service. 

It has 110+ channels in its standard bundle, including local ABC, FOX, NBC and CBS stations. NFL Network is part of the standard channel bundle.

For the first time this year, fuboTV can boast that it has 100 percent NFL coverage with the recent addition of ESPN networks. 

Subscribers get 30 hours of Cloud DVR. 

NFL RedZone is part of the Sports Plus add-on bundle. It costs $8.99 per month and adds 20 more channels including all PAC-12 Networks and Fox College Sports networks.

You can check out what local CBS, FOX and NBC affiliates are in your area. Fubo also has NBC regional sports networks, FS1 and FS2 and Big Ten Network.

A&E, HGTV, FX and Vice are also part of the standard channel lineup.

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. 

You can check out fuboTV with a free weeklong trial.

CBS All Access 

CBS All Access might be part of an ad-hoc cord cutting solution. 

Let’s say you’re subscribing to Sling TV for $30 per month to get ESPN or NFL Network.  

But for whatever reason, you can’t get CBS with your TV antenna. CBS All Access is a pretty good solution for $5.99 per month. 

You’ll get to stream Sunday NFL games through a local CBS station. There are also live streams for CBS Sports HQ and CBSN, the 24/7 digital news network.

Subscribers get access to thousands of popular TV shows such as “CSI: Miami” and originals, including “Star Trek: Picard”. It’s kind of like a mini-Hulu for all CBS shows and movies.

CBS is already adding a broader selection from content from Viacom-owned networks. And next year, CBS All Access will be rebranded as the Paramount+ streaming service. 

Try out CBS All Access free for 7-days to see what you think.

YouTube TV 

YouTube TV has a slick interface and pretty much every channel you need to live stream NFL games. There is nationwide coverage of local NBC, CBS and FOX stations along with ESPN. 

A subscription now costs $64.99 per month. An account comes with up to six profiles, and unlimited Cloud DVR. 

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 Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, Android TV devices and on your smartphone and PC. You can try out YouTube TV free for a week

Amazon: Thursday Night Football

Amazon Prime members can once again stream Thursday Night Football football games for free. These are the same games that also air on broadcast TV. 

So Amazon isn’t essential for streaming NFL games, but if you’re already a paying Prime member, it’s an easy way to watch a game on a Roku or Smart TV. Amazon has a 30-day free trial to Amazon Prime.

What’s the Best Way to Stream NFL games?

It’s time to make a decision. So let’s recap a few key points. 

A TV antenna is the best route for free NFL games, except Monday Night Football on ESPN.

Sling TV is your cheapest option for Monday Night Football on ESPN under the Orange plan. It costs $30 per month. Remember, the Sling Blue plan has NFL Network but not ESPN. A combo solution is possible. But you’ll probably need some other way to get locals unless you’re one of those lucky souls that live in the dozen or so cities where there’s local NBC and FOX coverage. A three-day free trial is available, or you can prepay to get a free streaming device.

Hulu + Live TV has ESPN and all locals CBS, NBC and FOX stations needed for streaming games live. You get the added bonus of having full access to Hulu’s on-demand library of movies and Hulu originals for $54.99 per month. Hulu has a free 7-day trial that works even if you already subscribe to Hulu on-demand. 

fuboTV now has ESPN and all your locals as part of a larger 110+ channel bundle. A subscription costs $64.99 per month. Fubo has NFL Network included in the standard channel bundle. New customers can sign up for a free 7-day trial.

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