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How to Watch the NFL Without Cable TV

There are plenty of ways to follow the NFL without paying an arm and a leg to your local cable company.

by Chris Brantner
Sep 7 2016, 1:00pm

Image: Craig Lloyd/Flickr

Pretty much everyone loves football. Cable TV? Not so much. So with the 2016-2017 NFL season starting up this Thursday, you might be wondering if you can ditch your cable contract and still catch all the action. If that's the case, you'll be glad to know that there are more options than ever to watch football over-the-air and online.

Let's take a peek in the cord cutter's playbook.

Free Ways to Watch

You know that whole idea that nothing's truly free? Well, when it comes to watching football without cable, the saying doesn't hold up.

1. Use an antenna.

While an antenna doesn't help much for many sports that have sold rights to premium and regional sports networks (I'm looking at you, MLB/NBA/NHL), the NFL is a completely different story. Assuming you get good reception, your antenna will get you the following coverage:

  • Multiple games all day on Sunday
  • Nationally broadcast Sunday Night Football on NBC
  • Your home team's Monday Night Football appearance
  • 10 Thursday Night Football games on CBS and NBC (and if your home team is playing one of the few TNF games that NFL Network has sole rights to, it will be simulcast on a local affiliate)

In other words, you can see all your home team's games, plus a whole lot more. Check antenna reception for your location here.

2. Log in to TV Everywhere Apps for Individual networks.

Pretty much every network has an app these days. These apps typically offer on-demand content, and in best case scenarios, they'll have a live stream of the network. Here are the network apps that will be streaming NFL games live this year:

The catch? You have to log in with username and password from a pay-TV provider. The easiest way to get past this is to bum a login from a friend or family member. If you can't do that, you have a few other options.

WatchESPN is the easiest app to use, as some ISP credentials will work. Logins from streaming services like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue will authenticate as well, making it pretty easy to stream ESPN on a wide variety of devices. View a full list of providers that will work here.

For NBC Sports and FOX Sports Go, the only non-cable login that will work comes from PlayStation Vue. Oh,and you may have noticed, CBS is missing from the lineup. It's unclear at this time if it will be streaming any of their games.

3. Go to Twitter.

Sure, it used to just be a place to catch up on the news and bitch about whatever is currently trending, but Twitter is desperately attempting to reinvent itself by becoming a destination for live streaming major events. For the NFL season, Twitter has secured the rights to live stream 10 Thursday Night Football games. Here's a list of the games Twitter will stream. Don't want to watch them on your laptop or phone? Twitter is in talks with Apple TV to launch an app, but who knows if it will be out in time. However, at the very least you could use Chromecast to cast the tab to your TV.

4. Find a pirated stream (at your own risk).

I'll give you the disclaimer right up front on this one. Try this one at your own risk. There are lots of places online that will host pirated streams. In other words, you find the site, and you watch for free. However, there are a number of issues that come along with it:

  • Pop-ups—Be prepared to get bombarded with a shitload of pop-ups. However, sometimes ad block will take care of this.
  • Malware—It's easy to get tricked into downloading something from one of these sites that will really screw up your computer.
  • Poor quality—Often, pirated streams are pretty low quality. However, every now and then you'll get lucky and find an HD stream.
  • Connection issues—It's not uncommon for pirated streams to drop out midway, leaving you scrambling to find another to finish your game.
  • It isn't exactly legal—The word "pirated" entails you're watching something unsanctioned. While you probably won't get in trouble, you never truly know.

Haven't scared you off? Then you might want to check out r/NFLstreams.

Cheap Cable TV Alternatives

If you don't mind paying a little bit, there are a few good cable TV alternatives that could prove useful for live streaming football.

1. Sling TV

The NFL Network on Sling TV. Image: Sling TV

Sling TV is a live streaming service that starts out at $20 per month for Sling Orange, which includes ESPN, making it an easy way to watch Monday Night Football online. In some markets, Sling carries FOX and NBC, but you need the Sling Blue package for those ($25 per month). Sling Blue is also the first cable-less option for NFL Network (and NFL RedZone for $5 more per month with the Sports Extra package).

What markets does Sling TV have the locals in? Here's the updated list:

  • NBC—Chicago, Dallas, Hartford, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Diego and Washington, D.C.
  • FOX— Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte N.C., Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Gainesville, Fla., Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Pa., Phoenix, San Francisco, Tampa, Fla. and Washington D.C.

If you sign up for both Orange and Blue, you get the discounted price of $40 per month. Check it out with a free trial here.

2. PlayStation Vue

PlayStation Vue works similarly to Sling TV. You pay a monthly fee that starts at $29.99 per month, and you get to stream live cable channels without the cable contract. Also like Sling, Vue has local broadcast networks in select markets.

PS Vue on the Roku. Image: Roku

  • CBS—Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Harrisburg, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia. Pittsburgh, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, and West Palm Beach.
  • FOX—Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Gainesville, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Tampa, and Washington D.C.
  • NBC—Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Hartford/New Haven, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.

"We're proud to deliver a better TV viewing experience through PlayStation Vue with our groundbreaking interface and cloud-based DVR," Dwayne Benefield, V.P. and Head of PlayStation Vue, told Motherboard. "Our PlayStation Vue plans already have some of the top sports networks such as ESPN and local broadcast stations in select markets."

Vue also recently added NFL Network and NFL RedZone to its offerings.

"By adding two highly coveted sports networks, NFL Network and NFL RedZone, fans are able to experience the upcoming football season like never before," Benefield said.

While Vue offers more channels than Sling TV, it's worth noting that you'll likely pay more as well. In markets where local channels are offered, the base package begins at $39.99 per month. But if you want NFL Network, you'll need to bump up to the next tier at $44.99 per month. And RedZone will also only available with a $39.99 season pass. Maybe add something like, at these prices you might as well start considering paying cable

That being said, PlayStation Vue does offer things Sling TV doesn't. For example, Vue has a cloud DVR that will let you record games and hold onto them for 30 days. It also lets you authenticate all the relevant TV Everywhere apps, while Sling TV essentially only works with WatchESPN.

3. VIDGO

So this one's not out yet, and admittedly, the details are a bit sparse. However, rumors indicate VIDGO will be launching soon with NFL Network and a bunch of other channels that should make the NFL season easy to follow.

"VIDGO is excited to provide consumers more choices for college and professional football games this fall," Shane Cannon, VIDGO CMO told Motherboard. "Our customers will be able to enjoy streaming live sports at home or on the go."

Hopefully, VIDGO will launch early enough that it can provide a solid option for NFL fans.

Watching with a VPN

The NFL offers its own streaming service, NFL Game Pass, which provides access to the entire regular season. Unfortunately, it only lets you watch games on demand. So unless you're someone who has to work on Sundays and can't watch until later, NFL Game Pass probably isn't a great option for you.

That being said, there's a slight glimmer of hope. The NFL also has an international version of Game Pass that costs around $200 (a one-time cost for the entire season) that plays all games live as they air. Inside the U.S., geo-restrictions keep you from accessing the international version… unless you change your I.P. address. How can you do that?

"If you're inside the United States and want access to all NFL games via the full International Game Pass, a VPN provides the best solution," David Lang, Communications Manager of ExpressVPN, told Motherboard. "ExpressVPN has servers in 87 countries, so it's easy to connect to a fast location and stream the NFL in HD. With a VPN, you can do all of this with peace of mind that your browsing habits aren't being tracked." However, if you go this route, keep in mind you could be in violation of the Game Pass terms of service.

While a VPN provides privacy, and you're still paying the NFL for access to their service, keep in mind that this isn't exactly something the NFL wants you to do. So while I wouldn't necessarily put it in the same league as accessing a pirated stream you found on Reddit, proceed at your own risk. Other companies such as Netflix have recently taken measures to keep people from skirting geo-restrictions with VPNs, so who knows how long this will work.

The Options Will Only Get Better

There you have it. There are a ton of ways to watch the NFL this year without having to get locked into a cable contract. The most exciting part? As more and more viewers cut the cord and turn to digital video, these options will only get better. Here's to a great NFL season and a bright cord cutting future!

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