If you really, really love the National Football League -- and many Americans do -- no Sunday afternoon is complete this time of year without a heaping helping of football. For most people that means settling down in front of the living room or man-cave TV. But, for cord-cutters it's not so easy to get an NFL fix. Still, there are ways and means.
Before jumping into this, I have to point that by far the best and most comprehensive NFL TV coverage comes from DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket. Some of you may think that you can now get NFL Sunday Ticket over the Internet. Technically, that's true. Practically, it's another matter.
Yes, NFL Sunday Ticket Live Streaming is available, but only if you meet a stringent set of requirements. These boil down to you can only get it if you live somewhere where you can't get DirecTV satellite broadcasts. That's not many places.
If you do "qualify" for Sunday Ticket Online, it will cost you some serious coin. If you watch it on a smartphone, tablet or PC, it will run you $199 per season. However, if you watch it on a TV via a game console or a streaming device, it will hit your wallet for $259 for the season. This season it will be available on Xbox One, Sony PlayStation 4 and PS3. Xbox 360, Google Chromecast and Roku.
You want it on both on your mobile gadgets and your TV? Then it will cost you a painful $359 per season. If you just subscribed to DirecTV, which is what the company wants you to do, NFL Sunday Ticket will cost as just over $250 per season.
The only "cheap" way to get NFL Sunday Ticket Online is if you're a college student. At some schools, students can get Sunday Ticket Online for $99 a season.
As always, some local market football games are available from over-the-air (OTA) stations. CBS and Fox continue to show Sunday afternoon games, while NBC broadcasts the Sunday night game. In addition, NBC will broadcast the first game of the season, Steelers vs. Patriots on Thursday night, September 10th.
CBS will broadcast the second through eighth Thursday night games. These will also be simulcast on the NFL Network. In Weeks 9-11 and 14-16, including two Saturday games on December 19 and 26 the games will be televised on the NFL Network. These games will also be simulcast by CBS in the participating teams' primary markets.
The traditional Thanksgiving Thursday night game will be aired on NBC. Fox will broadcast the early game, while CBS presents the 4:30 match.
Sunday night football games, which are broadcast by NBC, can also be viewed on the NBC Sports livestream site
One problem remains for OTA viewers: The FCC's blackout rules are still in effect. That means if your local team doesn't sell 85 percent of its stadium's tickets within 72 hours of the game's start, the game won't be shown in its local area.
And, of course, if you're a die-hard New England Patriots fan living in Indianapolis, you'd better hope that Brady plays well. If he doesn't, and the Patriots don't get many national TV games,you won't be seeing them very often. OTA has its limitations for die-hard football fans.
Monday Night Football belongs to ESPN. ESPN does have an Internet streaming service, WatchESPN, but it's only available to fans who receive ESPN as part of their cable or satellite TV subscription. Not all providers support WatchESPN even if they do offer ESPN. For example, DirecTV, with its own NFL offering, doesn't support it. On the other hand, last year, Comcast, Cox, and AT&T U-Verse broadband customers were also able to stream WatchESPN. Talk to your ISP and see if you're covered.
Another option is to subscribe to Dish Network's Sling TV. This new $19.99 service offers viewers a variety of popular cable channels including ESPN and ESPN2. For an additional $5 a month, the Sports Extra package will bring you ESPNU, ESPNEWS and the SEC Network among others. Spanish-language sports networks, such as ESPN Deportes, are available on the $5 a month Desportes Extra option.
There is also one oddball NFL game that will be available for free over the Internet. That game, the Buffalo Bills-Jacksonville Jaguars game on October 25 in London, will be available on Yahoo.com.
The most affordable option is NFL's own Game Pass. This new $100 a season Internet service lets you see all NFL games... after they're over. In the case of Sunday games, no games are available until after the last of the 4 PM games are over. For what it's worth, you can listen to radio broadcasts of games live. You also get access to earlier games from 2009 until the current season and the past SuperBowl games.
Game Pass is available not just on the Web but also on Android, iOS, and Windows Mobile devices. You can also view it via Apple TV and Microsoft Xbox.
If you live outside the U.S., Mexico Bermuda, Antigua, or the Bahamas, however, you can watch live games with Game Pass.
To the creative mind, this opens an opportunity. You can use a virtual private network (VPN) or web proxy to make it appear that you're watching from Canada or the European Union where you can legally subscribe to the live service. In some countries, such as the Canada and United Kingdom, the Sunday night, Monday night and Thursday night games are blacked out because local broadcasters may carry these games.
The price varies according to country. From an EU country, for example, GamePass for the season and playoffs is 250 Euros, or approximately $280. On top of that you'll need to pay for a VPN service, such as Banana VPN, VPNLand, StrongVPN, or ZenMate. Most of these services will work with Macs and Linux and Windows PCs. Some also offer services for mobile devices. The average cost is about $100 a year.
Another option, if you get excellent Verizon 4G in your neighborhood and you don't mind running up your data bill, is Verzion's NFL Mobile with Live Games. This package lets you watch live Sunday, Monday and Thursday nights NFL games, live regional Sunday afternoon games, and it also gives you access to the NFL Network.
If you want to try the black-market for your games, I recommend you don't. True, there are some services that seem to be reliable, but they're not legal. In my experience sites that use BitTorrent or private VideoLAN streams, such as NFL2Go, to privately broadcast games are, at best, extremely unreliable. At worst, such sites as nfl-live.com which shows up on the first page of a Google search for "NFL Online", are filled with malware. Do yourself a favor, don't even look at any of these sites. It's just asking for trouble.
So are you ready for some football? I know I am. Go Steelers!