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How to watch NFL games if you don't have cable

Welcome to the cord cutter's guide to the 2017-18 NFL season.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops, desktops, all-in-one PCs, streaming devices, streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
5 min read
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You can watch NFL games three nights a week and, of course, Sunday afternoons. Games are broadcast on  CBS  and  Fox  on Sunday afternoons,  NBC  on Sunday nights and ESPN on Monday nights. A Thursday night game is on the NFL Network each week, but five will be simulcast on CBS, followed by another five on NBC. (For the record: CNET is a division of CBS.)

You don't need a cable or satellite subscription, however, to enjoy live NFL action. Cord cutters can watch on the big five streaming services -- PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, DirectTV Now, Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV -- but channel lineups vary by service. In a first, Amazon Prime members will be able to stream games this year, while Verizon Wireless subscribers will again be able to stream games on their phones for free. And, depending on where you live, DirectTV's NFL Sunday Ticket can be streamed without a satellite dish.

I teamed up with Mr. Cable Cutter from CutCableToday to round up all of the NFL's live streaming options for the 2017-18 season.

Watch this: How to livestream NFL games without cable

Nonstreaming 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, you should be able to watch your local team for free every week. You'll also get to watch the other games on Sunday broadcast on CBS and Fox as well as the 10 Thursday night games that air on CBS and NBC.

PlayStation Vue

PlayStation Vue, Sony's live TV streaming service, offers all the networks -- ESPN, Fox, NBC, CBS and the NFL Network -- that show NFL games, and you can add the NFL RedZone channel for $10 a month extra. (NFL RedZone is a channel that springs to life each fall and shows live coverage from around the league with the promise to show you every touchdown from every Sunday afternoon game. If you play fantasy football, NFL RedZone may become habit-forming.) The $45 Core plan is the cheapest option that includes the networks NFL fans need, and the $10-a-month Sports Pack will get you NFL RedZone.

Channel lineups vary by region, so check out which live, local networks you get on the PlayStation Vue Plans page. In many markets, you can watch on-demand but not live content from CBS, Fox and NBC.

Sling TV

Sling TV splits its live NFL options across its $20-a-month Blue plan and $25-a-month Orange plan, which forces NFL fans into a tricky decision or encourages them to spring for both at $40 a month (you get a $5 discount if you buy both). Here's the deal:

Sling Blue includes Thursday and Sunday games on Fox, NBC and the NFL Network. Sling Orange includes Monday night games on ESPN. And if you want to add the NFL RedZone, you'll need Sling Blue. Blue -- but not Orange -- subscribers can add the Sport Extra package for $10 a month, which includes NFL RedZone. Sling TV does not offer CBS, which typically carries AFC games on Sunday afternoons.

Again, channel lineups vary by region so use Sling TV's GameFinder to check if you can watch your live, local feed of Fox and NBC in your area.

DirectTV Now

Direct TV Now includes CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN. Its basic, $35-a-month package will let you watch games on CBS and Fox on Sunday afternoon, the Thursday night games on CBS or NBC and Monday Night Football on ESPN.

The usual caveat applies: Check the channel lineup in your area to make sure you can watch your local TV stations live.

And please note that you cannot get NFL Sunday Ticket with DirectTV Now. NFL Sunday Ticket lets you watch every out-of-market Sunday NFL Game but requires a DirectTV satellite or meeting certain eligibility requirements (mainly, you live in an apartment that can't get satellite service or you're a student in a US college or university).

Hulu with Live TV

Hulu with Live TV includes CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN, which means you'll get games on Sunday afternoon (CBS and Fox), Sunday night (NBC) and Monday night (ESPN). Hulu with Live TV costs $40 a month, and you should check to see which live channels Hulu offers in your area.

YouTube TV

YouTube TV is the new streaming kid on the block. It's currently available in dozens of major metro markets, with more being added all the time, but it includes CBS, Fox and NBC. If you live in one of its cities, you'll be able to watch games on Sunday afternoon (CBS and Fox), Sunday night (NBC) and Thursday night (CBS and NBC). YouTube TV costs $35 a month.

CBS All Access

CBS's online streaming service has added live NFL games for this season. CBS All Access costs $5.99 a month or $60 a year. Four months of CBS All Access will take you through the NFL season, letting you watch the AFC matchups on Sunday afternoons and the five Thursday night games on CBS.

Amazon Prime

In addition to free, two-day shipping, Amazon Prime members will get 11 NFL games this season. Last year, Twitter paid $10 million for the rights to stream 10 games on Thursday nights, and this year Amazon reportedly paid $50 million to stream 10 Thursday night games plus a Christmas Day game on Amazon Prime Video. Amazon will stream the Thursday games that will be broadcast by CBS and NBC. You can see Amazon Prime Video's NFL schedule here.

Verizon Wireless

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 without any data charges. And a $1.99 in-app purchase will let you watch the NFL RedZone on the app.

Authenticate your credentials for the win

If you live in an area where you can't get a livestream of CBS, Fox or NBC, it's not necessarily game over for you and your NFL-viewing aspirations. You may be able use your login credentials to a streaming service to gain access to a streaming app such as Fox Sports Go or NBC Sports in order to watch live NFL games. You don't necessarily need a cable or satellite TV subscription to prove you pay for TV in order to use a streaming app.

Editors' note: This story was originally published on September 5 and has since been updated.