Looking ahead to the NFL 2021 season, I fear my Pittsburgh Steelers have a long, hard row to hoe. But, at least, with a lot of luck, we'll have a full season with minimal Covid-19 interruptions. Still, you'd be wise to stay home and watch your games by streaming them.
We'll have more regular-season games than ever since the NFL is going to a 17-game season. In total, we'll have an 18-week, 272-game regular season. It kicks off on Thursday night, September 9, in Tampa Bay and concludes with 16 division games in Week 18 – two games on Saturday, January 8, and 14 games on Sunday, January 9, 2022.
It used to be a real pain to stream NFL football games. Now, it's easier than ever, but there are still some problems to avoid to make sure you'll get to enjoy your game instead of wanting to throw your TV on the street.
These days most of the services will work with any streaming device. That said, before putting your money down for any streaming service, make sure it will work with your device of choice.
The prices of streaming services vary wildly depending on how you subscribe to them. Be sure to shop around. If you don't, you can waste a lot of money. But, if you do, you can find some real deals.
First, the easiest way to get most games is by subscribing to a live TV streaming service. Of these, you want services that carry local CBS, NBC, and Fox channels. Not all of them do. For example, Philo doesn't have any local stations. Others only have local stations for some areas. Before subscribing to any service, check the fine print and make sure you get your local stations.
By and large, Sunday NFC games are on Fox, AFC games are on CBS, and Sunday night football is on NBC. Monday night football is only on ESPN. Fox has the most Thursday night games, with some streamed on Amazon Prime Video, but a few games are only available on the NFL Network.
Live TV Streaming Services
For your best live streaming services, which include NFL games, check out:
(Formerly AT&T TV, AT&T TV Now, and DirecTV Now)
Despite the confusing name changes, the service and offerings remain largely the same. That means, unfortunately, it tends to be expensive.
DIRECTV Stream has four tiers:
- Entertainment comes with 65+ channels and 40,000 Video on Demand (VoD) titles for $70
- Choice with 90+ channels and 45,000 VoD selections for $85
- Ultimate with 130+ channels and 55,000 VoD selections for $95
- Premier with 140+ channels and 65,000 VoD shows for $140.
All offer your local ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC channels in most, but not all, areas. Except for the bottom-tier Entertainment offering, all packages come with the NFL Network, regional sports networks, and HBO Max.
DIRECTV Stream used to offer a generous 500 hours of cloud DVR storage. Now, it offers a mere 20 hours of video storage. You can get unlimited DVR storage for an additional $10 a month. You can also get limitless storage if you elect to get the Premier package. In either case, if you want to skip or fast-forward through commercials on recorded shows, that will cost you another $15 a month.
On the other hand, you can stream up to 20 -- yes 20 -- devices simultaneously on your home network. There is one quirk for pro football watchers, you can only stream local Fox NFL games to three devices.
The NFL RedZone Channel, which shows you every touchdown from every game, every Sunday afternoon, is available in the Sports Plus add-on package for $11/month. You cannot, I'm sorry to say, get NFL Sunday Ticket, which shows all live out-of-market Sunday games, but is not available on DIRECTV Stream. To watch those games, you still need a DirecTV satellite TV account, to be able to show you can't get DirecTV satellite TV, or be a student at an approved college or university.
The two-year contract offers the same services for $10 less a month per package. It's not a great deal. It also, shades of old-style cable companies, comes with a penalty charge if you decide DirecTV isn't for you
Are you a serious sports fan? And when I say "serious," I mean besides watching the US holy trilogy of football, basketball, and baseball. Do you want to watch the English Premier League, F1 Racing, and cricket? Yes? Then, you should check out FuboTV.
That said, FuboTV does cover, in many areas, CBS, Fox, and NBC. Besides sports, FuboTV is a full-fledged streaming service with all the usual stations. It comes with three English-language plans.
The first, Starter, has 108 channels and 250 hours of video DVR storage, and you can stream to up to three screens at once for $65 a month. This comes with a free trial.
Pro currently offers 108 channels, 1,000 hours of cloud DVR storage, and up to 10 screens for $80 a month.
The top tier, Elite, offers over 170 channels, 1,000 hours of cloud DVR storage, and up to 10 simultaneous screens, for $80 a month.
All tiers include ESPN and The NFL Network. Another nice feature is you can fast-forward or skip commercials on your recorded shows.
If you want NFL Redzone, however, that will cost you $11 for the Sports Plus package.
Hulu with Live TV's big selling point is it's the one service, which combines both live TV and a video-on-demand (VoD). It's a powerful package. Besides great original content, like exclusive titles such as Only Murders in the Building, it also has a large catalog of other on-demand shows and movies. On top of that, you get over 75+ live and on-demand channels.
Basic sports are well covered with the ESPN and Fox sports networks. Like most of the other services, it gives you access to local CBS, Fox, and NBC channels in most areas. If you want NFL RedZone, it's available now with its new Sports Add-on.
Hulu with Live TV's interface and performance has been consistently improving over time. I find it the easiest live TV service to use.
Hulu with Live TV's combination of on-demand video and live TV is nice, but it now costs $65 a month. For that, you can also stream two sessions at once and get 50 hours of cloud DVR storage. If you want more, for $10 a month you get 200 hours of cloud storage. With this Enhanced Cloud DVR, you can also record multiple shows at the same time, and fast-forward through any content in your DVR.
For another $10 a month, you can play as many streams at once. But, unlike the other services, you can't easily stream outside your home. As Hulu puts it, "Our Live TV plans are intended for single-home use." Now, you can stream away from home on your smartphone, but if you try to stream on say your dad's Roku, it won't work.
Sling TV's ala carte approach to channels separates it from its competitors. While the others tend to offer only one or two packages, Sling TV offers two basic packages -- Blue, with 43-channels, and Orange, with 32-channels. For other channels, you subscribe to a package, which bundles up to a dozen related channels.
This is a mixed blessing. I like it because it lets me get only the channels I want while it's also a tad confusing. It starts with two $35-per-month channel packages. Some channels are available on both Sling Orange, over 30 channels, and Sling Blue, over 45 channels. Orange is basically an ESPN/Disney package, while Blue offers a Fox/NBC package. Blue also includes The NFL Network. Your best deal, if you want a broad selection of channels, is to combine them for $50.
What you won't get though is your local CBS affiliate. For that, Sling TV urges you to use an over-the-air (OTA) antenna. Sling TV offers its own streaming device, AirTV 2. This lets you watch both Sling TV and your local channels. I've used and liked them both. If you need an antenna, Sling TV offers the AIRTV2 as a bundle with an indoor HD antenna. This currently costs $49.
Sling TV's packages, besides such common offerings as Showtime channels, cost from $6 or $10 monthly. For pro ball fans, the $11 Sports Extra comes with 15 channels including Redzone.
Sling TV's recently upgraded its cloud DVR from a very limited 10 hours of recording time to a much more reasonable 50 hours. If you want more, you can up to 200 hours of storage for an additional $5 a month. You can fast-forward through commercials with this service.
Your streaming options are… interesting. Sling Orange only lets you stream one channel at a time, while Sling Blue allows for three. If you combine them, you can stream four shows at once.
Personally, I've liked Sling TV since it pioneered live TV streaming back in 2016. I like the interface, I like its speed, and I like that I can pick and choose my channels so I get just what I want. Its combined Blue and Orange price is still below that of its main competitors. But, without CBS, you won't be able to stream AFC games. For NFL streamers, Sling TV is a second-choice service.
On the other hand, Sling TV also gives you the cheapest way to watch RedZone. You do this by subscribing to Sling TV Blue for $35 per month and adding the $11 per month Sports Extra add-on. For now, Sling is also currently offering a $25 discount on the first month of Sling Blue. That drops the combined price to $36 for the first month of football.
At $65 a month, YouTube TV is starting to close in on cable prices.
That said, there's a lot to love here. With over 85 channels, it offers more of the most popular channels than its competitors. It also enables you to watch not only your local ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC channels in most areas, but your local PBS stations as well. By CNET's count, out of the top 100 networks, YouTube TV offers the most of them, 78, of any streaming service.
Even so, pro football fans will also need the $11 a month Sports Plus package. This includes NFL RedZone, Fox College Sports, GolTV, and Fox Soccer Plus.
YouTube TV unquestionably has the best cloud DVR. It comes with unlimited storage and a generous nine months to watch recordings. You can stream up to three simultaneous shows at once. And, yes, you can zoom by commercials on your recorded shows as well.
If it wasn't for the price, I could easily recommend YouTubeTV for everyone. As it is, if you're not hurting for money, it's still an excellent choice.
Streaming services with limited live NFL action
This year you can watch 11 Thursday night NFL games on Amazon Prime beginning on October 7. You will not be able to watch the earlier games. Amazon Prime Video is available on essentially all streaming devices and PCs. Its membership will cost $119 per year.
CBS was the first of the big broadcast networks to decide to go into streaming in a big way with CBS All Access. Its biggest selling point is the insanely large CBS catalog of past and new shows as well as live CBS news and sports content. That hasn't changed since the service has been rebranded Paramount Plus.
For football fans what this means is that it includes CBS' Sunday AFC games on Paramount Plus' Premium tier for $10 per month. But, and this is a big but, if Paramount Plus doesn't offer your local CBS station, you won't be able to watch those games.
Peacock will show all of NBC's Sunday Night Football games, and the first Thursday night game to kick off the season. But, while you can watch highlights with the free version of the service, you'll need either the limited ad-supported Premium plan for $5 a month or the ad-free Premium Plus plan at $10 a month to watch the full games or reruns.
Thursday Night Football confusion
Thursday Night Football is messy. Most games will be available on the NFL Network, Fox, Amazon Prime Video, and Twitch, the popular TV gaming streaming service.
But, at least two games, the Week 5 London game between the Jets and Falcons, and the Week 15 Saturday doubleheader will only be shown on The NFL Network. Yes, I know Thursday night football on Saturday. I didn't make this schedule.
So are you ready for some football? I know I am, although, depending on how my Steelers do, I may be regretting that in a few weeks. But, that's life as a fan isn't it?
How much internet speed do you need for streaming?
To make use of any of these services, you'll need broadband internet. If you're living on your own, you may be able to get by with as little as 10Mbp. However, if you're sharing your home with others and/or you want to watch 4K videos, I recommend you get at least a 25Mbps internet connection.
Not sure how fast your connection is? Try one of these Internet speed tests.
Will cutting the cable cord save you money?
Back in 2009, when I first cut the cable cord, I saved over $100 a month and still got to watch all my shows. Now, 12 years later, my internet video streaming bills are closing in on cable TV-level bills. Why? Internet streaming is copying the tired, old cable business models. As a result, almost all the live TV services saw price increases in 2020, and they'll only go up higher in 2021.
So, be picky about what services you get. I subscribe to pretty much all of them, but then I get paid to keep an eye on them. Chances are, you're not so lucky.
You should also check to see if your video needs can be met by one or more of the excellent free video-streaming services. In addition, some services, such as Peacock, offer a free tier with advertising.
What gear do you need for streaming?
You might think, "What do I need a streaming device for? Can't I get all the streaming services I want from my smart TV? But, actually, no, no, you can't.
I wish you could, but today smart TVs are still a poor choice. That's because, generally speaking, TV manufacturers do a lousy job of supporting streaming services. For example, in 2019, older smart TVs from Samsung and Vizio stopped supporting Netflix. If they can do that to Netflix, the most popular of all subscription-based video streaming services, you know they'll neglect other services as well.
Besides, some smart TVs also don't support newer channels. So, for example, if your kids are demanding Frozen 2 on Disney Plus and you have a non-supported Vizio Smartcast TV, you'll have to explain to your five-year-old that they can't watch Anna, Else, and Olaf after all. Good luck with that.
There are a lot of streaming devices out there. Personally, I recommend any of the Roku devices. They don't cost much, they support pretty much all services, and they're easy to use. If you're looking for the best possible one, I recommend the Roku Ultra for $69. If you want to save your pennies, get a Roku Express 4K Plus for $30,
Finally, to make the most of these services, you need a television that's up to managing 4K and high dynamic range (HDR) movies and TV shows. If you're a home theater nerd like me and you've been saving up your bucks, get an LG OLEDG1P series. The 65" model lists for $2,800. If you want OLED goodness without a premium price, check out the LG OLEDCXP series. This line's 65" screen TV costs $1,900. For the best pairing of price and quality, check out the TCL 6-Series. Here, the 65" model costs $1,100. Finally, you don't have to pay a ton of money to get a great TV. The TCL 4-Series works well, and its 65" version only costs $650. No, it's not as good as the others, but it's more than good enough for streaming Sweet Tooth, Leverage: Redemption, or Underground Railroad