NFL streaming: Best ways to watch football live without cable during the 2020 season

10 Sep, 2020 John Mendoza No Comments


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When it comes to streaming the NFL, options abound.


David Katzmaier/CNET

With the 2020 NFL season kicking off on Thursday night, there are plenty of ways to follow the most popular sport in the US. Getting a cable subscription is the simplest solution. It allows you to watch your local team and a bunch of other teams without worrying about which channels are available.

For cord-cutters, live NFL football streaming options get a bit more complicated. Your best bet is to subscribe to a live TV streaming service, but the sheer number of channels that carry live games — local CBS, NBC and Fox channels, as well as the national feeds of NFL Network and ESPN — means football fans might have to make a compromise. (Editor’s note: CNET and CBS are both owned by ViacomCBS.)

The only way to get a full football experience is to have a whole litany of channels from your TV provider, and that can be costly. Sunday NFC games are largely on Fox, AFC games are on CBS and Sunday night football is on NBC. Monday night football is only on ESPN. Though Fox has most Thursday night games, there are several that are NFL Network-only (and streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Twitch).

With all that in mind, we offer our recommendations for the best way to watch NFL without cable.

Read more: YouTube TV vs. Hulu vs. Sling TV vs. Philo vs. FuboTV vs. AT&T TV Now: 100 channels compared

Best for everything: YouTube TV

Last year our streaming service pick for NFL fans was PlayStation Vue at $55 a month, but Sony shut down its service earlier this year. That leaves cord-cutters with two more expensive options. 

At $65 per month each, a FuboTV Family plan and regular YouTube TV subscription check all the NFL channel boxes. Local channels CBS, NBC and Fox are included in many markets, as are ESPN and the NFL Network, so you can watch Monday night, Thursday night and Sunday night. 

Want RedZone for following your fantasy team? That’s available on either service as part of an add-on for an extra $11 per month. YouTube TV users can add the Sports Plus add-on by clicking on your profile and going to “Settings” then the “Membership” tab. FuboTV users can go into My Profile and choose “Manage Add-ons” for its Sports Plus offering. 

Both YouTube TV and FuboTV’s Family plan allow for three simultaneous streams, with YouTube offering unlimited cloud DVR and FuboTV offering 500 hours of storage. The two services are widely available too, with apps on iOS and Android, the web and on TVs through Roku, Chromecast, Android TV, Apple TV and Fire TV.

If we had to choose between the two, we’d recommend YouTube TV overall. While FuboTV does get points for broadcasting the Fox Thursday night games in 4K, YouTube TV has access to Turner channels like TNT, TBS and CNN, as well as PBS, and a superior DVR. 

FuboTV’s base plan, called Standard, is available for $60 per month and offers the same channels as the Family plan so it may be an option for football fans who want to save a bit. But since it offers a paltry 30-hour DVR and just two simultaneous streams, we think the extra $5 is worth it. Also, the Standard plan is incredibly difficult to find for new customers on FuboTV’s site.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Many other live TV streaming services carry those local channels and ESPN, but most lack NFL Network and RedZone. Hulu with Live TV and AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) lack both. Sling TV’s Orange and Blue plan for $45 a month gets you ESPN and, in select major markets, Fox and/or NBC, but you’ll still lack CBS, NFL Network and RedZone (the latter two were on Sling last year but have since been removed in a carriage dispute). 

The chart below sums it all up. The base price is listed after the service name, while a dollar sign indicates that the channel is available for an additional fee. 

NFL channels on live TV services compared

Channel Sling Orange ($30) Sling Blue ($30) Hulu with Live TV ($55) AT&T TV Now ($55) YouTube TV ($65) FuboTV ($65)
CBS No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
NBC No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
ESPN Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
NFL Network No No No No Yes Yes
NFL RedZone No No No No $ $

Budget alternative for NFC fans in big cities: Sling Blue

Those looking to save some cash might want to check out Sling Blue for $30 a month. While it lacks ESPN and NFL Network, meaning you’ll miss out on Monday Night Football and some of the early season Thursday Night Football games, in select markets you’ll be able to get Fox and NBC. The catch is that those markets are mainly in big cities, so if you live outside one of those areas, Sling Blue might not be for you. 

Fox, of course, broadcasts most NFC and Thursday night games, while NBC has Sunday Night Football. CBS, which broadcasts the bulk of AFC games, isn’t included on Sling at all. Of course, an antenna can fill those local channel gaps

Read more: Best TVs for 2020


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Budget alternatives: CBS All Access, Locast or an antenna

There are some apps that offer CBS’ slate of Sunday AFC games live, including CBS All Access for $6 per month. Depending on where you live, however, your local CBS station (and those NFL games) might not be available. CBS offers livestreaming services in many markets; you can check for yourself if your area has live CBS streaming here

Read more: Best TV antennas for cord-cutters, starting at just $10

Locast, meanwhile, is 100% free. It’s currently offered in only 23 cities, however, and not all will have CBS, Fox and NBC. 

And as we mentioned above, an over-the-air antenna connected to your TV provides another free option, no streaming required, as long as you have good reception

Read more: Best soundbars for 2020

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Thursday Night Football: NFL Network, Fox, Amazon Prime and Twitch

Thursday Night Football is probably the most complicated part of the NFL streaming schedule. Most games will be available on the NFL Network, Fox, Amazon Prime Video and Twitch.

Read more: Best AV receivers under $500 in 2020

A handful of Thursday games, however, are being shown exclusively on NFL Network. This included Week 2’s Bengals-Browns tilt as well as Week 3’s Dolphins vs. Jaguars game, and Week 4’s Broncos and Jets game. The Week 15 and Week 16 Saturday doubleheaders are also NFL Network exclusives. 

The Christmas Day matchup (or “Thursday Night Football on a Friday”) between the Vikings and Saints in Week 16, however, will be shown on all platforms: Fox, NFL Network, Amazon Prime Video and Twitch. 

As mentioned above, if you want the NFL Network you’re going to need FuboTV or YouTube TV. 

RedZone options

A frequent fan-favorite method of following all the NFL action, RedZone is a way to catch every big play around the league. The cheapest road to RedZone is through YouTube TV or FuboTV and getting either of their respective $11 per month sports add-ons. 

If you’re fine with watching on your phone, the NFL offers RedZone as an in-app subscription for $35 for the season. While one of the cheapest options for getting RedZone, as The TV Answer Man points out it is a bit tricky to find this option and you will only be able to watch through the NFL app on your iPhone or Android phone. 

Once in the app, click on the profile icon in the upper right corner. You’ll see a section labeled “Subscriptions” with a line for NFL RedZone. Tap “Access” and you should be able to sign up.  

What about Sunday Ticket? 

NFL Sunday Ticket is still largely limited to DirecTV satellite subscribers, though those who live in buildings that can’t add a satellite dish can get a streaming version to watch football starting at $294 for its To Go package. 

The problem here, however, is it doesn’t include your local games. You can watch only games that aren’t being broadcast on CBS, Fox, NBC or ESPN in your area. 

Want RedZone with your Sunday Ticket? That’ll cost you $396 for the season and still has the same blackout limitations.



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