With the 2019 NFL season underway, there are plenty of ways to follow the most popular sport in the US. Getting a cable subscription is the simplest solution. It allows you to watch your local team, and a bunch of other teams, without worrying about which channels are available or not.
For cord cutters, football is a bit more complicated. Your best bet is to subscribe to a live TV streaming service, but the sheer number of channels that carry live games — local CBS, NBC and Fox channels, as well as the national feeds of NFL Network and ESPN — means football fans might have to make a compromise (note that CNET is a division of CBS).
The way the NFL has divvied up its broadcasting rights, the only way to get a full football experience is to have all of these channels. Sunday NFC games are largely on Fox, AFC games are on on CBS and Sunday night football is on NBC. Monday night football is only on ESPN. While Fox has most Thursday night games, there are several that are NFL Network-only.
With all of that in mind, here are our recommendations.
Note that CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.
It’s not cheap, but at $54.99 for its “core” package, Sony’s PlayStation Vue checks all the NFL channel boxes. Local channels CBS, NBC and FOX are included in many markets, as are ESPN and the NFL Network. Want Red Zone for following your fantasy team? That’s available for an extra $10 per month.
Many other live TV streaming services carry those local channels and ESPN, but most lack NFL Network and Red Zone. YouTube TV, our overall favorite, has neither of those channels, for example, and neither do Hulu with Live TV or AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now). Sling TV’s Orange and Blue plan for $40 per month gets you the NFL Network, ESPN and, in select major markets, FOX and/or NBC, but you still will lack CBS. (Like Vue, RedZone is available for $10 more per month as part of Sling’s Sports Extra package). FuBo TV has NFL Network and optional RedZone ($9 as part of its Sports Plus add-on) but lacks ESPN.
The chart below sums up those channel differences. The base price is listed after the service name, while a “$” indicates that the channel is available for an additional fee.
In our review of PlayStation Vue we liked its layout and especially its DVR, which comes in handy if you can’t catch the action live. It does have fewer national cable channels than some competitors, but that’s probably not an issue for NFL fans. It allows five simultaneous streams, so multiple users can watch on different devices at once. It’s widely available too, with apps on iOS and Android, the web and on TVs through Roku, Chromecast, Android TV, Apple TV and Fire TV. It’s also available on the PS4 and PS3.
If you don’t care about NFL Network games or RedZone, we recommend YouTube TV, our favorite live TV streaming overall.
Those looking to save some cash might want check out Sling Blue for $25 per month. While it lacks ESPN, meaning you’ll miss out on Monday Night Football, it does include NFL Network and, in select markets, Fox and NBC as well. The catch is that those markets are mainly big cities, so if you live outside one of those areas, Sling Blue might not be for you.
Fox, of course, broadcasts most NFC and Thursday night football while NBC has Sunday night games. CBS, which broadcasts the bulk of AFC games, is not included on Sling at all.
Meanwhile hard-core fans or fantasy football fiends have another reason to choose Sling Blue: It’s the cheapest live TV streaming service with NFL RedZone, a $10-per-month option.
There are some apps that offer CBS’ slate of Sunday AFC games live, including CBS All Access for $6 per month. Depending on where you live, however, your local CBS station (and those NFL games) might not be available. CBS offers livestreaming in many markets; can check for yourself if your area has live CBS streaming here.
Locast, meanwhile, is 100% free. Unfortunately it’s currently offered in only 13 cities and not all will have CBS, FOX and NBC.
Speaking of free, here’s where we mention the ultimate budget alternative: an antenna.
Thursday Night Football is probably the most complicated of the NFL streaming schedule. Most games will be available on the NFL Network, FOX and Amazon Prime Video.
A handful of Thursday games, however, are being shown exclusively on NFL Network. This includes Week 2’s Bucs-Panthers tilt as well as Week 3’s Titans-Jaguars game. Some of the special “Thursday Night Football on Sunday” games will also be NFL Network-only, including Week 6’s Panthers-Bucs rematch and the London Texans-Jaguars game in Week 9.
The week 16 Saturday triple header will also be an NFL Network exclusive.
At $25 per month, Sling Blue is still the cheapest way to make sure you get the NFL Network, though Fubo TV has it in its $55-per-month package. PlayStation Vue offers it as well in its $55-per-month “core” package.
Red Zone options
A frequent fan-favorite way to follow all the NFL action, RedZone is a way to catch all the big plays around the league. The cheapest way to get Red Zone is through Sling by getting its Blue package for $25 per month and then adding Sports Extra for $10 per month.
PlayStation Vue offers Red Zone for $10 per month on top of its regular packages, while Fubo offers it for $8.99 as part of its Sports Plus add-on.
What about Sunday Ticket?
NFL Sunday Ticket is still largely limited to DirecTV satellite subscribers, though those who live in buildings that can’t add a satellite can get a streaming version starting at $293.96 for its To Go package.
The problem here, however, is it doesn’t include your local games. You can only watch games that aren’t being broadcast on CBS, FOX, NBC or ESPN in your area.
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Want Red Zone with your Sunday Ticket? That will cost you $395.99 for the season and still has the same blackout limitations.
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