The NFL season begins this week. In a Super Bowl rematch, the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos kick things off on Thursday, September 8.
NFL games are broadcast on CBS and Fox on Sunday afternoons, NBC on Sunday nights and ESPN on Monday nights. The Thursday night game is on NFL Network, but five -- out of 18 -- are simulcast on CBS, followed by another five on NBC. (And, for the record: CNET is a division of CBS.)
But you don't need a cable subscription, however, to enjoy live NFL games. Cord cutters have more options this season than ever before, especially if they opt for online streaming. Live NFL action is coming to PlayStation Vue, Sling TV and Twitter. Verizon Wireless subscribers can stream games on their phones for free. And, depending on where you live, DirectTV's Sunday Ticket can be streamed without a satellite dish.
Like an NFL referee, let's go under the hood for an official review to take a closer look at your professional football streaming options this season.
Non-streaming option: Free over-the-air TV
Let's start with the free option. If you live in an area with good reception, you can get football games for free on over-the-air broadcast channels just by attaching an affordable (under $30) indoor antenna to nearly any TV. In addition to the games on CBS, Fox and NBC, if your local team is playing on ESPN or NFL Network, that game will usually be simulcast on a local station, too. In other words, barring blackouts (if the game isn't sold out), you should be able to watch your local team for free every week. That's a lot more than you can say for baseball, basketball or hockey.
Sony's live TV streaming service offers all the networks -- ESPN, Fox, NBC and CBS -- that show NFL games, and has added NFL Network and NFL RedZone for this season.
There are three Vue subscription plans. The top two plans -- Core for $34.99 or Elite for $44.99 a month -- include NFL Network and its Thursday night games. (The $29.99-a-month Access plan features the basic network games.) Core and Elite subscribers can add NFL RedZone for the season for a one-time charge of $39.99.
Channel lineups vary by region, so check out which channel you get on the PlayStation Vue Plans page.
Sling TV announced last month that it will offer the NFL Network and NFL RedZone channels. With the basic $20 Sling Orange package, you can watch games on ESPN, Fox and NBC. For $25 a month, the Sling Blue package adds the NFL Network's Thursday night games. And for another $5 a month, Sling Blue subscribers can add NFL RedZone, a fast-paced show that bounces around live NFL games to show you every touchdown scored on Sunday.
CBS, which typically carries AFC (American Football Conference) games on Sunday afternoons, is not available on Sling TV. You might be able to get the local CBS station on the aforementioned over-the-air antenna, but note that CBS's online streaming service, CBS All Access, is not a valid workaround for football: NFL games are unavailable because of licensing restrictions.
Unlike the above two options, Twitter is streaming live NFL games free of charge. It remains to be seen how the games will be streamed on Twitter, but you will be able to watch on any Internet-connected device. Twitter will stream 10 Thursday night games, starting week 2 when the New York Jets visit the Buffalo Bills on September 15. Here's the schedule of games, which kick off at 8:25 p.m. ET.:
- Sept. 15: New York Jets at Buffalo Bills*
- Sept. 22: Houston Texans at New England Patriots*
- Oct. 6: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers*
- Oct. 13: Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers*
- Oct. 20: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers*
- Nov. 17: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers**
- Dec. 1: Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings**
- Dec. 8: Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs**
- Dec. 15: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks**
- Dec. 22: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles**
*also on CBS and NFL Network
**also on NBC and NFL Network
Verizon Wireless subscribers can stream the local broadcasts of Sunday afternoon games as well as national broadcasts on Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights via the NFL Mobile app. Live NFL streaming via Verizon previously cost $5 a month and is now included for subscribers, unless you run up data charges while watching hours of the NFL each Sunday while on a cell signal. For $1.99 a month, you can watch the NFL RedZone via the app.
DirectTV NFL Sunday Ticket.TV
DirectTV's Sunday Ticket is the only way to watch every out-of-market Sunday NFL game, whether you subscribe to its $60-a-month Choice package yourself or frequent a sports bar that does.
You don't need a satellite dish, however, to get the Sunday Ticket. DirectTV now offers NFL Sunday Ticket.TV. It costs $49.99 a month and is available only if you live where DirectTV satellite service is not offered. College students can get a Sunday Ticket app subscription for only $24.99 a month. With Sunday Ticket.TV, you can stream games on your computer, streaming devices such as Apple TV and Roku, and mobile devices via the NFL Sunday Ticket app.
Sunday Ticket is great for hardcore NFL fans, serious fantasy football players and those who don't live in the same market as their favorite team.