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NFL games are going online, but here's the catch

NEW YORK — For the first time, every single NFL game will be streamed live this season. But watching them all won’t be easy.

In general, it’s great that the NFL and its television networks are finally taking this step. Last year, most games televised on CBS weren’t streamed at all. 

Things are much simpler this season: All games will be streamed live, regardless of the network. But it’s still tricky to figure out where to find them online, and in many cases you’ll need pricey cable or satellite TV subscriptions to actually watch them.

Here’s a stream-by-stream guide to catching all the online pigskin you can.

Network streams

In general, Sunday afternoon games air on CBS and Fox. Sunday night games air on NBC. These games are free if you catch them on TV with an antenna, but to watch any of the networks online, you’ll need to pony up and get a cable or satellite TV subscription. Even then, you’ll be limited to hometown-team games plus a few other contests your local station broadcasts. If you want more games, you’ll need a DirecTV Sunday Ticket subscription.

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CBS made a few online games available for free last season and might do so again this year, but most of its games will also require a cable or satellite subscription. Games in a subscriber’s local market and all playoff games being aired by CBS are available via the $6-a-month CBS All Access subscription.

Meanwhile, ESPN owns Mondays, while the NFL Network cable channel televises all Thursday games. You can watch online if you’re already paying for a TV package that carries these channels. But some of the Thursday games will end up on CBS or NBC as well - but to stream those games for free, without a TV package, you need to go to Twitter instead (see below).

The NFL Network is also getting a few weekend games , but not Thursday night’s season opener or anything over the Thanksgiving holiday.

To complicate things even more, most network streams are disabled on phones because of a deal the NFL has with Verizon. If you’re a Verizon customer, you can watch for free on the NFL Mobile app or through Verizon’s go90 service. If not, grab a tablet or a PC, or watch on the big screen with a streaming-TV device like Roku or Apple TV.


Twitter will stream 10 Thursday night games live without any device restrictions or sign-in requirements. These are the same games available on either CBS and NBC, not the ones exclusive to the NFL Network. Twitter is expected to provide more details on how to watch closer to the first game on Sept. 15.

PlayStation Vue

Sony’s online TV service carries all five networks that show NFL games, but only in a handful of markets. 

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Elsewhere, you’ll be lucky to find even a few of the broadcast networks on Vue. The service costs $35 or $45 a month with the NFL Network, or $30 or $40 without. The higher price applies to seven markets where Vue offers the best selection of broadcast networks.

Regardless of the market, an additional $40 for the season gets you the NFL RedZone, a channel that switches from game to game to show key plays and scoring.

You need a PlayStation or Amazon Fire TV device to sign up. Some games might be available on other devices once you sign up, but none are on phones unless it’s a game that’s exclusive to the NFL Network.

Sling TV

This online TV service from satellite provider Dish offers Fox, NBC, ESPN and NFL Network for $40 a month. (You can cut the bill in half by opting for fewer channels.) But you’ll only find Fox and NBC in a handful of markets where the local stations are owned by the networks themselves. The NFL RedZone channel costs $5 a month more. CBS isn’t on Sling at all.

Games are available on a variety of PCs, tablets and streaming-TV devices. Games exclusive to the NFL Network will stream on phones, too.

NFL Sunday Ticket

This service from satellite provider DirecTV gives you Sunday afternoon games you can’t get on your local TV station, so it typically excludes hometown teams.

It’s intended for DirecTV subscribers who pay an extra fee, although it’s sometimes possible to just buy the online package, which costs $200 for the season. To qualify, you need to show that you can’t get the regular DirecTV service. For example, you might live in an apartment building or at a location where the satellite signal is obstructed. College students can also subscribe for half price.

There are no restrictions on smartphones.

After the game

All of the requirements and restrictions only apply to live games. Once a game ends, it’s available for streaming through the NFL Game Pass service, which costs $100 for the season. You can also listen to radio broadcasts live online.

College football

While all four major broadcast networks will televise some college games, the bulk will be on cable channels, including some for specific football conferences. Online policies vary, but a cable or satellite account is typically required.

Sling TV and Vue offer ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC Sports Network, SEC Network and beIN Sports, some as part of higher tiers. Vue also has Big Ten and Longhorn networks plus Fox channels devoted to college sports, while Sling TV has Campus Insiders and Pac-12. Neither has the CBS Sports Network. Vue also has Comcast Sports; Sling TV will soon.

Some conferences let fans subscribe separately to view games online. College Sports Live, which is owned by CBS, also offers games from more than 50 schools for $10 a month. But these subscriptions typically exclude any game shown on television.

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