How to watch NFL without cable

Note: this page contains affiliate links.  That means if you buy something using one of the links, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you (it helps pay for my Netflix).

Concise guide on how to watch the NFL without cable

The channels that broadcast NFL games

  • Sunday Day games (FOX and CBS)
  • Sunday Night football (NBC)
  • Monday Night football (ESPN)
  • Thursday Night football  (FOX, NFL Network, Amazon Prime Video)
  • Superbowl (NBC)

The channels you will want to have to watch the NFL without cable are as follows:

  • CBS
  • NBC
  • FOX
  • ESPN
  • Amazon Prime video (optional: they will broadcast all the Thursday night games that are also broadcast on FOX)
  • NFL Network (there are 3 Thursday night games broadcast exclusively on NFL Network and the Sunday game in London and 4 Saturday games)
NFL without cable
Channels provided by streaming services that you’ll need to watch football without cable

Note: Philo and AT&T Watch TV aren’t included on this chart because they don’t have any of the channels listed.  They aren’t good options if you like to watch sports.

Analysis

You have lots of options for streaming football.

If you want the NFL Network:

  • $40 – Sling TV (Orange and Blue packages) – you won’t get CBS with this option, but you can watch CBS on your antenna
  • $45 – Fubo TV – does not include ESPN
  • $50 package or higher – Playstation Vue
  • $55 package or higher – DIRECTV NOW

If you don’t need the NFL Network, these packages have all the other channels listed:

  • $35 – Skystream TV
  • $40 – YouTubeTV (this is our favorite streaming company for sports)
  • $40 – Hulu Live
  • $40 – DIRECTV Now
  • $45 – Playstation Vue

Watch Football on your antenna

If your favorite NFL team is from your local area, you willl be able to watch their games on OTA (over the air) channels, CBS, NBC and FOX.

Read all about antennas here.  If you are getting rid of cable and want to watch sports, you are going to want an antenna!

NFL Game Pass

Get 5% cash back from NFL Game Pass with Ebates.

Replay every game from the season with NFL Game Pass.  They have full broadcast replays, games condensed to 45 minutes and coaches film (shows all 22 players on the field).

Notice that it says replay.  This is not for live games.

7 day free trial

One payment of $99 OR

Four payments of $29.99

NFL Sunday Ticket

This is only available to DIRECTV Customers OR non-DIRECTV customers who live in select multi-dwelling buildings where DIRECTV is not available.

College students – check and see if you are eligible for NFLSundayTicketTV U

NFL Sunday Ticket is available for out of market games only.

Understanding Blackouts and Out of Market Games

Sports blackouts come into play when a game is broadcast on a regional sports network.

Out of Market Games

Out of market games are games in which neither team playing is from your local area.  For example, if you live in Chicago and are trying to watch a Miami Dolphins vs. San Francisco 49ers game.

Location Blackouts

This means that, if you live outside the area local to your favorite team, you may not be able to see the game.  If you live near Indianapolis but want to watch a Chicago Bears game, you might not be able to view the Bears game, as you are outside the regional network.

Sometimes a game may be blacked out on a regional channel if it is being broadcast on a national network. Channels like ESPN or TNT may have exclusive rights to a game, so the game will not be broadcast on other channels.

Also, some professional sports choose to blackout games if a certain percentage of tickets to the game hasn’t sold.  They want to “encourage” fans to attend the game instead of watching at home.  (I think this just pisses fans off instead of encouraging them to do anything).

College sports are going to be the biggest issue with location based blackouts.

Device Blackouts

Some channels or events can be blacked out on streaming devices or streaming through mobile devices.  Most streaming companies will reference this, but there are few concrete examples given on their websites.

We watch a lot of sports at my house and haven’t run into this problem.  However, we live in a local area to (most) of the teams we watch.  Also, we don’t watch Pay Per View events or (many) boxing events.

According to DIRECTV Now’s FAQs, NFL games cannnot be streamed on mobile devices.

Streaming Companies

Here are links for different streaming companies and how they address blackouts. It’s important to realize that streaming companies don’t have control over blackouts.  If it was up to them, they would give you all the content all the time.

SkyStream TV claims that it doesn’t have sports blackouts EVER.

Sling TV

FuboTV

Playstation Vue

Hulu Live

DIRECTV Now

YouTube TV

Alright, that’s it!

If you want to learn about watching ALL THE SPORTS, I’ve got you covered.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that watching football without cable is totally doable and you’re ready to cut the cord!  Head on over to Living the Stream for our step by step guide to getting rid of cable.

If you want more help, check out my Services page.  I can create a personalized streaming plan for you or we can have a one on one consultation to talk through all  your options.

Lastly, get answers from me and other people in our Facebook group, Living the Stream: Help Desk

How do I watch sports without cable?

Sports are, by far, the biggest concern that people have when looking to cut the cord.  It was my family’s limiting factor when we were looking at getting rid of cable.  If we couldn’t watch our sports, we had to keep cable.

Good news: there are A LOT of options for watching sports. There is a learning curve but it’s still relatively easy and completely doable.  Stick with me, I’ll try to outline the easiest options first, then get more complicated towards the bottom.

Something to take into account:  my husband is a sports purest.  He will only watch sports live.  He will never watch a DVRed game.  He doesn’t even like to pause a game for a few minutes to grab snacks from the kitchen.  So DVR and Live TV pausing were not important to us.  

Note: this page contains affiliate links.  If you click on a link and buy something, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.  It helps pay for my Netflix.

The Cons

There are a few drawbacks to watching streaming sports. Even if you choose a streaming service that has a DVR and the ability to pause live TV, some streaming services state that these features aren’t available for some live sports because of licensing rights.  That isn’t to say that it’s impossible (cable companies don’t seem to follow the same restrictions…) it just isn’t 100% guaranteed.

My husband was also adamant that I let you know, it is not easy to flip between games on most cord cutting options. For example, during college football season, if you’re trying to watch a game on ESPN through your streaming service and want to jump to a network game through your antenna, there is no one button quick way to flip back and forth.  The ESPN streaming app is particularly bad in that even for multiple games within the app there is no, one click way, to flip between them.

Update:

We are currently using YouTubeTV (fall of 2018) and they have a feature that shows the last 5 channels you’ve watched.  This makes it easy to switch back and forth between games!

Moving along.

The very first thing you need to figure out is which sports you want to watch.  Since we are local to Chicago, I’ve included information for the local teams that we watch.

Sports Channels

See our guide to: How to watch the NFL without cable

  • MLB
    • Check with your favorite team, most MLB games air on either Fox regional sports network or NBC regional sports network
    • Twitter
    • ESPN
    • MLB Network airs some out of market games
    • World Series and All Star Game – FOX
    • Chicago Cubs (WGN, NBC Sports Chicago, ABC, ESPN)
    • White Sox  (WGN, NBC Sports Chicago) – ok so we don’t watch the Sox, but my dad is a Sox fan so I had to include this.
  • NHL
    • Check with your favorite team, most NHL games are televised on either Fox regional sports network or NBC regional sports network
    • Chicago Blackhawks (NBC Sports Chicago, WGN)
    • Stanley Cup Playoffs (NBC, NBCSN, USA, NHL Network)
  • NFL
    • Chicago Bears (NBC, ESPN, FOX, CBS)
    • Sunday Night football (NBC)
    • Sunday Day games (FOX and CBS)
    • Monday Night football (ESPN)
    • Thursday Night football  (FOX, NFL Network, Amazon Prime Video)
    • Superbowl (NBC)
  • NBA
    • Chicago Bulls (NBC Sports Chicago, WGN, ESPN, NBA-TV)
  • College basketball
    • Villanova (FS1, FS2, ESPN, ESPN2, CBSSN, FOX)
    • March Madness (TBS, TNT, TruTV, CBS)
  • College football (CBS Sports Network, ESPN channels, Fox sports channels, more on this below)
  • Premiere League soccer (NBC, NCBSN, CNBC, USA)
  • Track and field events – college and professional (NBCSN, NBC, ESPN)

Most major professional sports are broadcast on regional sports networks. This means that if you live outside that region, you won’t be able to see those games.  However, most of the stand alone sports streaming services (MLB TV, NHL TV etc.) will air live games if you live outside area for your team.

Some teams/sports have a lot of channels listed.  This doesn’t mean that every game is broadcast on all those channels. Each game is broadcast on one of those channels, it changes for every game.  If you want to see every single game, you will need all those channels.

If you want to watch sports without cable, you’re definitely going to want an antenna

We use an antenna. (It’s not that scary, I promise!) to watch lots of sports.  Yes, this is limited to your regional sports.  We use it primarily to watch the Cubs on WGN.  We also watch NFL, NHL and NBA games on our antenna.  It is going to be your best bet for local sports.

You will get ABC, CBS, NBC,  and FOX (plus a lot more channels!) all completely free with an antenna.

The downside is that you can’t DVR or pause live TV  with the standard antenna set up.  There are products out there that will allow you to do this, you can look into AirTV, Fire Recast, Tivo and Tablo. But we aren’t going to go into those right now  (and we also haven’t personally reviewed them yet).

Sports on Streaming Services

Most people will want to subscribe to a streaming service to ensure that they don’t miss any games.  Watching sports using an antenna is great, but it isn’t going to get you every channel

Regional channels

Some teams air their games on regional channels.  The good news is that some streaming services carry these local channels.  Examples for us would be, NBC Sports Chicago, Comcast Sports Net, Fox Sports Chicago.

If your favorite teams play on regional channels in your area, you will have to look at which streaming services offer local channels in your area. You should be able to enter your zip code on the website of each streaming service to get a list of the local channels they offer in your area.

What streaming service should I use to watch sports?

This is always the hardest part.  My advice is that the very first thing you should look at when choosing a streaming service is whether or not they have the channels you want to watch.  If you want more information on choosing a streaming service, look at our Live TV Streaming Services page.

I made this handy dandy chart to show which streaming services have the most popular sports channels in their line up.  The second chart shows the league specific channels (NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB and the Olympic Channel).

Sports 1Sports 2

Analysis

YouTube TV ($40), DIRECTV Now ($60 and up), Playstation Vue ($45 and up) and Hulu Live ($40) have all the main channels that I listed.  The cheaper packages for DIRECTV Now and Playstation Vue, don’t include all of the channels that I listed.

Fubo ($45) does not have ESPN but it has lots of specialty sports channels. If you are into specialty sports or international sports, definitely check them out.

Don’t sign up for Philo or AT&T Watch TV (which isn’t on the chart) if you like sports, they don’t have any of those channels, not even the major networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC).

To compare other aspects of these streaming services (DVR, pausing live TV, number of screens etc.) check out the Live TV Streaming Services page.

If you don’t plan on signing up for one of the big streaming services (as listed above) you can still get a lot of sports from an antenna and by subscribing to stand alone channels.

Summary

Alternatives

Here’s where it can get complicated.  If you don’t want to subscribe to one of the streaming services above, you still have options to watch sports.

You can look into a stand alone streaming app to download onto your streaming device (all are supported on Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, and Apple TV, plus more)

ESPN app

ESPN has a free app that broadcasts games live.  Here is the catch:  you need to log in using your TV provider AND your TV package must include ESPN.  So you must have cable in order to use it.  That doesn’t help us very much.

Some streaming companies will allow you to log in to the ESPN app…but if you already get ESPN from them, I’m not sure why you would want to.  We find it much easier to navigate YouTubeTV (our streaming service) than the ESPN app.

ESPN +

This is a new,  stand alone streaming service by ESPN.  It allows 5 screens at one time.  Free 7 day trial, then plans start at $5/month.

Their website says that they will include a “selection” of live games.  So, it is not a stand alone way to watch ESPN. It’s meant to supplement ESPN in your streaming package.

Don’t rely on this if you don’t get ESPN in your streaming package.

MLB TV

  • Follow all teams – $116/season or $25/month
  • Follow 1 team – $90/season
  • Students get MLB TV for free
  • 35% discount for members of the military

It looks like they will prorate the season.  For example, it’s September 1st as I write this.  The current price for the rest of the 2018 baseball season for 1 team (Chicago Cubs, obviously) is $16.

Blackout rules apply for local teams, for home and away games.  If you are streaming a game from your local area, the game will become available 90 minutes after the game’s conclusion.  So, in my opinion, MLB TV is great if your favorite team is not from your local area.  (See above, we must watch all sports games in real time in my household)

CBS All Access

CBS All Access is for CBS only.  It does not include CBS Sports Network. If games are on CBS (not CBS Sports Network) then you will be able to watch them on the CBS All Access app.

Limited Commercials is $6/month

No Commercials is $10/month

Students get a 25% discount.

7 day free trial for CBS All Access for Amazon Prime members

NBA League Pass Digital

Blackout rules apply for all games broadcast on NBA League Pass.

  • One Team
    • $18/month
    • $99 annual
  • All Teams
    • $29/month
    • $170 annual
  • All Teams and In-Arena Stream (instead of commercials, you see what’s going on in the arena – kinda cool!)
    • $40/month
    • $210 annual

There are a couple other options too, like audio only or one game only streams.

Blackout restrictions apply.  For Blackout information on NBS League Pass, visit here. If a nationally televised game is blacked out, it will be available 3 hours after it aired.  If a locally televised game is blacked out, it will be available 3 days after it aired.  Live audio of all games is available on NBA League Pass (also probably for free on the radio).

SO, NBA League Pass is a good option if your favorite team is not local to your area.

NHL.tv

  • All Access: $140
  • Single Team Pass: $110
    • You can upgrade your Single Team Pass to an All Access Pass for $30, anytime
  • Monthly pass: $25
  • Student and Military discounts available

NHL.tv offers you the option to choose between the announcers for either team for every game.  You can pause and rewind live games.  They also have an interactive timeline and you can jump back to highlights (cool! If anyone has used this, let me know if it works well!).

You can also watch up to 4 games at once.  You can choose picture in picture or a mosaic view. Each game will have several camera angles that you can choose from, including a first person ref cam at some games.

All of these features sound cool, but games are subject to blackout restrictions.  Meaning, you can’t use NHL TV to watch teams from your local area.

Blackout games will be available 48 hours after they air.  All Stanley Cup playoff games and the Stanley Cup final game will be subject to blackouts.  Blackouts are calculated by where you are viewing a game, so if you are traveling, you are subject to blackouts where you are physically watching the game.  Not your billing address.

NFL Game Pass

Get 5% cash back from NFL Game Pass with Ebates.

Replay every game from the season with NFL Game Pass.  They have full broadcast replays, games condensed to 45 minutes and coaches film (shows all 22 players on the field).

Notice that it says replay.  This is not for live games.

7 day free trial

One payment of $99 OR

Four payments of $29.99

There is an NFL Game Pass for European viewers that airs all live regular season games.

NFL Sunday Ticket

This is only available to DIRECTV Customers OR non-DIRECTV customers who live in select multi-dwelling buildings where DIRECTV is not available.

College students – check and see if you are eligible for NFLSundayTicketTVU

Blackout rules apply, NFL Sunday Ticket is available for out of market games only.

NFL Network/Fox Sports Go/NBC Sports

These apps require you to sign in with a cable provider. You can use your streaming service as a cable provider log in.  However, your package must include the channel in order to view content.

Other College Sports

If your college team isn’t local to you and isn’t televised in your area, you still have options!

SportsLive is a streaming company that partners with over 70 colleges to provide streaming coverage of over 30 sports.  It is $10/month or $100/year.  With your subscription, you get access to all their streaming content.

The other option that I’ve come across is to visit your school’s website and see if they offer streaming options.  My husband went to West Point, they offer a streaming service called Knight Vision. (West Point football games usually air on CBS Sports Network as well). Knight Vision is powered through a company called SideArm Sports.  You can check here to see the list of schools they support.

Are there other sports you want to know how to watch?  Soccer?  UFC? NASCAR? (I didn’t know NASCAR was all caps until my spelling was corrected when typing this). Please let me a comment and let me know! I’d love to hear from you.

OK so now you know, watching sports without cable is totally doable (even easy!).  So what else is holding you back? Let’s get you started with streaming!  First things first

If you want more help, check out my Services page.  I can create a personalized streaming plan for you or we can have a one on one consultation to talk through all  your options.

Lastly, get answers from me and other people in our Facebook group, Living the Stream: Help Desk
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