Every Way To Watch the NFL in 20212 comments
It’s been nearly seven months since seemingly ageless quarterback Tom Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a stunningly easy 31–9 trouncing of the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.
Football fans, the wait is finally over. The National Football League is back.
It returns September 9, when the Dallas Cowboys travel to Tampa Bay to take on the defending champs in a special Thursday prime time game kicking off the regular season (NBC, 8:20 pm ET). The riveting matchup is the first of 16 games on the slate for Week 1, and it marks the beginning of the longest regular season in NFL history, with the League expanding its regular season from 16 to 17 games to be played over 18 weeks ending January 9, 2022.
Although the NFL is still King of TV Sports, according to Front Office Sports, it suffered an 8% decline in viewership during 2020 compared to the previous year—the League’s worst showing since 2017—likely due to massive last-minute rescheduling needed to work around the pandemic.
As the season’s start approaches, signs show the NFL is back on track with its frenzied fan base.
The NFL reports that the League’s annual draft in April was its third most-watched ever. Moreover, the return of the NFL preseason on August 5 with the annual Hall of Fame game drew 7.326 million viewers, making it the most-watched preseason game in the League in four years. (There were no preseason games last year because of the pandemic.)
As the League works to grow its audience and reach a new generation of football fans, subscription-free and web-based streaming options, as well as alternate TV providers like fuboTV and Sling, are playing an increasingly important role.
This season, there are more ways than ever to watch NFL games live, so here’s an ultimate guide for watching the NFL on all your devices.
How to stream NFL games for free
Just last year, the League dropped a requirement forcing viewers to login with a cable or satellite provider in order to stream games on mobile devices and tablets. That’s right: You can watch NFL games on your phone for free, without a cable or TV subscription, using a host of available apps. You can find downloads to all of them, and other ways to stream for free, at the bottom of this article. Additionally, many national broadcast channels (i.e., Fox, CBS, NBC) can be viewed over the air with nothing more than an antenna that connects to your TV.
The NFL app and the Yahoo Sports app
Best for: Free livestreaming for national prime time and in-market local games on mobile devices and tablets.
Available platforms: These apps work on any mobile device or tablet running Android or iOS, but screencasting is not permitted. You won’t be able to output the livestream to larger displays using HDMI, Chromecast, Airplay or similar technologies.
What you can watch:
- Monday Night Football
- Thursday Night Football
- Sunday Night Football
- In-market Sunday regional games (early and late)
How to watch Monday Night Football
MNF matchups will air Monday nights on ESPN at 8:15 p.m. ET. A TV subscription that includes ESPN is required to watch (unless you use a free method). Here are the three viewing options to watch through ESPN:
- Live on ESPN through your set-top box.
- On ESPN using your TV provider’s mobile streaming app or website.
- Anywhere the ESPN app is available, including smartphones, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, game consoles and smart TVs.
Free option bonus tip:
If a team in your region is playing, a local TV station will typically pick up that contest and offer it on free TV, meaning all you need is an antenna.
How to watch Thursday Night Football
TNF matchups typically air on Thursday nights at 8:20 p.m. ET, but the 19-game package also includes some other games, including a Saturday doubleheader in Week 15 and a Christmas Day matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts. Eleven of the 19 games are available to watch and stream live on the NFL Network, Fox and Prime Video. The NFL Network is the only way to watch or stream the remaining 8 games. A TV subscription that includes the NFL Network is required to watch unless you use a free method.
- Live on Fox through your set-top box.
- Live on the NFL Network through your set-top box.
- On Fox or the NFL Network using your TV provider’s mobile streaming app or website.
- Anywhere the Fox Now app is available, including smartphones, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, game consoles and smart TVs.
- Anywhere the NFL app is available with a valid subscription to the NFL Network, including smartphones, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, game consoles and smart TVs.
How to watch early and late Sunday afternoon NFL games
Fox and CBS will carry regional NFL matchups every Sunday afternoon, with early games starting at 1 p.m. ET and late games starting at either 4:05 p.m. ET or 4:25 p.m. ET.
- Live on CBS or Fox through your TV provider’s set-top box.
- Using your TV provider’s mobile streaming app or website.
- Anywhere the CBS and Fox Now apps are available, including smartphones, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, game consoles and smart TVs.
How to watch Sunday Night Football
SNF matchups will air on Sunday evenings on NBC at 8:20 p.m. ET. A TV subscription that includes NBC is required to watch unless you use a free method.
- Live on NBC through your set-top box.
- On NBC using your TV provider’s mobile streaming app or website.
- Using the NBC Sports app on your smartphone, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, game console and smart TVs.
How to watch out-of-market Sunday afternoon NFL games
1. NFL Game Pass
Best for: Full replays of every NFL game at a reasonable price (no live broadcasts or streams).
Available platforms: With an active NFL Game Pass subscription, you can watch full game replays anywhere the NFL app is available, including smartphones, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, game consoles and smart TVs.
What you can watch: An NFL Game Pass subscription will give you access to live out-of-market preseason games. Regular season and postseason games only become available for replay at the conclusion of the live broadcast, but the package provides live audio for all games throughout the season.
2. NFL RedZone
Best for: Commercial-free, live viewing of all scoring moments from every Sunday NFL game in the League.
- TV subscription: If you purchase through your TV provider (including services like Sling and fuboTV), you can access NFL RedZone right through your set-top box or connected device, or by using the NFL app on any mobile device, smart TV or streaming platform.
- Mobile subscription: If you purchase a stand-alone subscription from a mobile app store, you’ll only be able to access NFL RedZone through the NFL app on mobile devices, and you won’t be able to watch on larger screens like tablets or TVs.
What you can watch: NFL RedZone allows you to watch the scoring action of every Sunday afternoon game in the League, even if they’re out of market. RedZone is one broadcast that switches between different matchups, sometimes using split screen to show multiple games at once. Games where the offensive team is within 20 yards of the end zone are prioritized, and every effort is made to air all touchdowns live. Coverage starts just before the 1 p.m. ET games each Sunday and lasts until 8 p.m. ET.
3. NFL Sunday Ticket
Best for: NFL fans willing to pay a premium to watch full broadcasts of their favorite out-of-market teams.
Availability: NFL Sunday Ticket is only available to purchase if you meet one of the following criteria:
- You are or will be an active DirecTV subscriber.
- You live outside of DirecTV’s coverage area (check your eligibility).
- You live in a multi-unit property like a condo or dormitory where DirecTV service isn’t available.
Available platforms: With an active Sunday Ticket subscription, you can watch NFL games across all platforms and on screens big and small using the NFL Sunday Ticket app. If you’re a DirecTV customer, you can also access Sunday Ticket through your set-top box.
What you can watch: Full broadcasts of every out-of-market NFL game live, every Sunday, with the exception of games that are airing on your local CBS or Fox affiliate. Streaming is limited to one device at a time, but you have the option to watch up to four games of your choice on one screen.
How to find NFL broadcast coverage maps for regional games
You can find out which regional games will be airing on local CBS and Fox stations where you live by checking the maps posted each week on 506 Sports. Click on a given week to see the coverage map.
App store/platform links for streaming
Yahoo Sports app
Fox Now app
NFL Network app
NBC Sports app
Frontier TV app
Program availability may vary and air times are subject to change. Streaming services may require a subscription and sometimes an additional fee.