Complex licensing agreements mean that it’s going to be difficult for you to watch NFL games without cable, even if you have a digital, over-the-air antennae. CBS, NBC, and FOX may be showing most of the games for free, but you can’t always access every game. Local affiliates will show different games at the same time, and some games may only appear on cable channels with their own licensing agreements (ESPN, NFL Network).
You have several options to bypass cable. One we already mentioned: purchasing a digital OTA antenna and capturing some of your local NFL games. However, there are multiple ways to get NFL games without cable, including new and popular OTT services like Sling TV, FuboTV and others. You may also consider using Kodi, a media center application that opens up online streaming options you may not have known existed. Our guide below will help you find where to stream NFL games without a cable package.
How to Watch NFL Games Without Cable
The number of online streaming services offering cable TV without the hefty cable package seems to be increasing every day. Where there was once only Sling TV as the go-to OTT service, now you’ll find a handful of other services, including the sports-centric FuboTV, Hulu Live TV, PlayStation Vue, DIRECTV NOW, and even YouTube TV. We’ll take a look at all of these below and explore how you can get NFL games without cable using each of these services.
What is OTT?
Each of these streaming services falls under what is considered OTT, or “over-the-top”. This term is applied to content providers that offer services through an internet connection. OTT services like Sling TV and others are growing increasingly more popular and competitive in their pricing structures, allowing you to pick and choose packages that offer only the type of channels you’re looking for.
Sling TV is the service that started the current wave of OTT services. Alongside this, Sling TV is also still one of the cheapest options you’ll find as well. For just $20 a month, you can purchase the Sling Orange cable package that includes 29 channels. What makes this a good option for the NFL fans among us is the fact that Sling TV comes with ESPN. You’ll be able to catch any and all NFL games broadcast by ESPN. This includes having access to other streaming services that come along with an ESPN subscription, including the ESPN app.
If you’re looking to expand your NFL sports watching through Sling TV, you’ll find that the Sling Blue package ($25 a month) also includes the Fox and NBC over-the-air channels. Given that these two networks also have broadcasting rights for NFL games, you’ll have significant coverage for the 2017-2018 season through Sling TV. What you’ll be missing are any games broadcast through CBS, which is not included in any Sling TV packages. Although CBS is also an OTA network it is likely that the network has started limiting rights to OTT services that might compete with its own CBS All Access service.
The relatively new FuboTV service is designed with the sports fan in mind. Where Sling TV focuses mainly on providing entertainment channels, FuboTV is an OTT service that specializes in sports networks of various kinds. For NFL fans this means that access to some of the larger networks carrying NFL games, including CBS Sports, Fox Sports and NBC Sports.
Oddly, FuboTV does not include ESPN. In fact, of the several different services we’ve reviewed here for NFL games without cable FuboTV appears to be the only one that does not include ESPN.
FuboTV comes in at $34.99 a month for over 64 mostly sports-related channels. Unlike most of the other services, FuboTV does not offer multiple packages. Instead, the $34.99 price tag (a limited time offer, as the service is normally $49.99 a month) includes more channels than most other services offer at a similar price point, but far more limiting if you’re looking for more US-based sports.
You’ll find that FuboTV is best if you’re a bigger soccer or baseball fan. Nevertheless, the US sports channel options available here will get you some NFL games during the 2017-2018 season.
Hulu Live TV is Hulu’s venture into the OTT game. The service is still considered “Beta” as of this publication date so you might find some limitations regarding who can access the service and functionality. However, Hulu Live TV looks like it’s going to be a contender for anyone who wants access to most NFL games without cable in 2017 and beyond.
For $39.99 a month, Hulu Live TV offers up more than 50 channels, including the major networks that are broadcasting NFL games this year. CBS, Fox and NBC are all there. You’ll also get Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN News, and the NBC Sports Network.
To help distinguish itself from the increasingly-crowded OTT market, Hulu Live promises 50 hours of cloud DVR storage, the option to watch on two screens at the same time, access to the regular Hulu streaming service and the option to watch on a large number of popular streaming devices.
With its price point and the channels offered, Hulu Live TV looks to be one the best options for anyone looking to watch NFL games this season.
Sony decided to enter the OTT market with its PlayStation Vue service. Despite the name, PlayStation Vue does not require you to have a PlayStation. In fact, PlayStation Vue users can watch their live and on-demand TV through Vue using a large variety of devices. There is even a PlayStation Vue Kodi addon that allows users to access their Vue account through Kodi.
Sony offers four different service plans through PlayStation Vue, which range from $39.99 a month to a somewhat pricey $74.99 a month. The cheapest package, called Access, provides some marginal benefits to NFL fans. Access comes with ESPN, ESPN2 Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2. Unfortunately, this plan does not come with any of the over-the-air networks that stream NFL games.
The sports-specific package that Sony offers comes in at $44.99 a month. However, it only includes a smattering of additional channels, none of which are really going to expand your NFL viewing options. Even on up to the $74.99 a month package you still won’t find CBS, Fox or NBC. Overall, this makes PlayStation Vue an option for those who want NFL games without cable but a fairly weak one.
DIRECTV decided to hedge its bets as a satellite TV service and created an OTT service called DIRECTV NOW. The service has four different packages, much like PlayStation Vue, but offers them at slightly lower prices. For $35 a month you can get 60+ channels. If you want to up the game a bit you can pay $70 to get over 120 channels.
The $35 package will land you a fair amount of what you need if you’re after NFL games. The cheapest “Live a Little” package offers Fox, Fox Sports, NBC, NBC Sports, ESPN and ESPN 2. In case you were counting, all that’s missing here is CBS, which appears to be a running theme for a lot of these OTT services.
The DIRECTV NOW service is separate from the regular DIRECTV satellite service. You can stream online through your internet connection without having to sign up for the satellite service. If you have an AT&T Unlimited Wireless plan, you may be able to get DIRECTV NOW for just $10 a month. DIRECTV provides more information on this through their website.
Although CBS is missing from this option, DIRECTV NOW is one of the best options for anyone that wants NFL without cable for 2017.
YouTube TV is an exciting new live TV service from the ever-popular YouTube. For just $35 a month, YouTube TV users have access to over 40 channels live streaming from almost any device you can think of. If you have friends, you can even share your YouTube TV account with them. The service supports up to 6 separate accounts for the same price. The service also includes cloud DVR, and each of the six accounts gets its own DVR.
For NFL fans, this service may indeed be a godsend. YouTube TV comes with every major network that streams NFL games in 2017: CBS, NBC, Fox, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, ESPN, ESPN2, CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Network. Given the breadth of what’s offered here, YouTube TV is second only to Hulu Live TV.
Here’s the major downside for YouTube TV: it isn’t available everywhere quite yet. Although YouTube continues to expand its available cities every month, as of this time of writing the only cities where YouTube TV is available are the following:
- Dallas-Fort Worth
- Las Vegas
- Los Angeles
- Miami-Fort Lauderdale
- Minneapolis-Saint Paul
- New York City
- Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne
- San Antonio
- San Francisco Bay Area
- Washington DC
- West Palm Beach
On the positive side of things, this list was extremely short in the beginning of 2017. The fast expansion means that YouTube TV is taking off well. There’s a good chance YouTube TV may well be rolled out nationwide by 2018. That said, the number of cities currently offered covers a broad swath of the US.
NFL Game Pass
If you’re not completely concerned with watching every game live, you might want to consider the NFL Game Pass. NFL Game Pass is a streaming service that allows you to watch every NFL season game replay and live out-of-market Preseason games. NFL Game Pass comes in at $99 for the full season.
Unlike the other options, with NFL Game Pass you’ll ensure that you catch every game. Although they won’t be live you also won’t have to worry about missing any game. Additionally, if all you’re looking for are NFL games then NFL Game Pass will be cheaper than paying for a yearly subscription to any of the OTT services listed above. NFL Game Pass also includes increasingly popular condensed versions of most games to help you save time.
What is Kodi? Why Should I Use It?
Kodi is a free media player that can be used with a large number of devices, sucha s Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV boxes, Mac OS, Windows and more. Kodi allows users to access live TV streams for free, although you likely will not get the same quality out of free streams on Kodi.
To learn more about how to watch NFL games on Kodi, check out our guide on How to Watch NFL Games Online for Free.
What’s the Deal with NFL and Cable Anyway?
Licensing agreements are the main reason why you often need cable to access many games. If you want to learn more about licensing agreements, head on over to our partner piece about watching NFL games online for free. We detail out what those look like, up until 2022.
The short version is this: Most games are broadcast on the major free networks with licensing agreements (NBC, CBS, and FOX). The only cable channels showing NFL games are ESPN and the NFL Network. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a cable plan, you can’t watch the online live streaming options offered by NBC, CBS or FOX. In this manner, they force you to either purchase a cable package to watch all of the games possible or turn to alternative methods like Kodi.