The official length of last week's thrilling Giants-Cowboys game was 3 hours and 25 minutes, although by my calculations there was only an hour of football worth watching.
That's not commentary on the quality of the game, but rather the endless stream of commercials, "analysis," and challenges that end up taking twice as long the actual football action. For DVR users accustomed to zipping past every commercial, watching a live NFL game can be an unbearable slog, even if the game itself is great. That's why I gave up watching NFL in real time years ago and have never looked back.
While many fans feel that DVRing sports ruins the magic, there's a strong argument that sports are the best programs to record, especially the NFL. Case in point, I watched the Giants-Cowboys game in 59 minutes and 3 seconds. No other TV show has nearly as much nonessential filler, and skipping past it frees up quite a bit of time you would have otherwise wasted.
As good as speed-watching football can be, the reality is it takes some practice and preparation to pull it off. Here are some tips I've accumulated to get you started.
How to speed-watch an NFL game
Start watching at least 2.5 hours after the game starts
To speed through a football game in less than an hour, you need to build up a lot of "buffer time" on your DVR. I typically give myself around 2.5 hours, which covers me for any game that lasts around 3.5 hours. And when you're setting up your DVR to record the game, make sure it's set to record for 4 hours, in case the game goes into overtime.
Social media blackout
Your DVR'd game isn't going to be any fun to watch if you already know how it ends. While you're building up your DVR buffer it becomes surprisingly difficult to avoid the score of the game, between Twitter, Facebook, news sites, texts from friends -- I've even had a game spoiled by seeing the score on a taxi cab. Your best bet is to completely avoid your phone and laptop as soon as the game starts. I tend to use my unplugged time to read a book or catch up on household chores.
Be careful when you start to watch
When I fire up my TV to start watching a game, my TiVo often has the live feed of the recorded game playing or in a picture-in-picture window. I'm now used to quickly navigating to the main menu (with the sound muted) to avoid seeing the score, but it's ruined a game for me in the past. Every DVR acts a little different, so you may want to test yours out before giving it a shot.
Skip through commercials, halftime show, challenges, extra points
The vast majority of an NFL broadcast is completely skippable. Commercials are obvious, but I rarely find it worth it to sit through pregame and halftime shows either. Waiting for officials to decide on challenges can take forever, but with a DVR you can just fast-forward until they announce the ruling. And don't waste your time sitting through extra-point kicks either. As Brian Burke points out on AdvancedNFLStats, "it's a foregone conclusion [that an extra point] will be made, and on the rarest of occasions it's missed, it probably won't affect the game outcome." Skip through and you'll never miss them.
30-second skip through huddles
This might be the most controversial tip, but it can absolutely work. The play clock in the NFL gives teams 40 seconds to snap the ball, which is perfectly timed to use a 30-second skip, if your DVR has one. As soon as a play ends, hit 30-second skip and you'll likely jump right to the offense about to snap the ball. You end up with nonstop action and, in my opinion, it's the absolute best way to watch the NFL.
This method doesn't work for every game, as it depends on how fast the offense operates. For example, it's great when watching my hometown NY Giants, as Eli Manning sets a relatively slow pace, but it won't work for, say, Tom Brady's uptempo no-huddle offense.
Slow down at the 2-minute warning
I spend much of the game frantically skipping through the boring chunks, but once the 2-minute warning gets close, I ditch my fast-forwarding tactics. The end of the half and end of the game are inevitably the most exciting moments, so it's worth slowing down to appreciate them (and experience the tension) in real-time. However, there's still a fair share of commercials at this point, so don't completely take your hand off the fast-forward button.
What you lose
Blasting through a game in an hour isn't compromise-free. I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, but here's what you can expect to miss.
time-shifting your football means you'll have to give up live-tweeting and reading real-time commentary from other NFL fans via Twitter. Along the same lines, you won't be able to text with friends during an incredible fourth quarter comeback.
TV announcer's analysis
If you're skipping through huddles every chance you get, you're not going to hear much of the announcing crew's analysis and commentary. For me, that's more of a bonus than a drawback, but it's up to personal taste.
Scoring and injury updates
While much of in-game commentary may be skippable, updates on injured players and highlights from other games are often worth watching. You can generally slow down (or skip back) once you see highlights or on-field reporters, but sometimes you'll miss news you would have otherwise gotten.
If you're watching the game with a bunch of friends, you'll probably want to put these time-shifting tactics aside. All the boring moments worth skipping are welcome pauses to chat with friends when they're in the room. You're better off watching live if you're with a group.
Give it a shot
While I originally thought speed-watching would lessen the experience of watching a game, I've actually found the opposite to be true. By eliminating all the fluff, I pay attention to every play, whereas the dulling rhythm of a real-time game makes me more likely to zone out.
The experience certainly isn't for everyone, especially if you like the passive experience of just taking in a game, but if you have a DVR, I'd say it's worth a shot. I'd recommend trying it with a noncritical game (i.e., not a crucial division game for your favorite team) and you may end up surprised how you ever watched football any other way.