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Why watching NFL games is harder than ever before

Finding the game shouldn't be harder than strategizing for Fantasy Football

Three men with American football equipment
gpointstudio / Adobe Stock

If you’re someone who loves football and watches NFL games religiously, you may also have noticed that figuring out how to watch those NFL games has gotten more difficult than ever. The last thing most people want is to have to put in labor to watch NFL football, but if you’re trying to use NFL streaming, the allocation of games to different services has never been more complex. This landscape is actually coming at a time when some people are more interested in the NFL than they have been in some time. Thanks to Taylor Swift, a bevy of young and talented quarterbacks, and some genuinely great games in recent years, people are trying to find NFL games and finding it nearly impossible to do.

This season, five different providers — NBC, Fox, CBS, ESPN/ABC, and Amazon — are all airing games, and many of those providers also have a streaming service where the games are available. On top of that, the NFL also has a streaming app that allows you to watch games, and those games are also available through YouTube TV.

Here’s why things have gotten so convoluted

If you’re wondering why it’s so difficult to find the game you want to watch, it’s in part because so many people are interested in football. The NFL is the single most valuable product on TV, which is why so many different companies want their own slice of it. In 2021, the NFL signed more than $11 billion for media deals that will last as long as 11 years, and each of those deals involved the companies behind NBC, Fox, CBS, or ESPN and ABC. Crucially, all of those companies are investing heavily in their streaming platforms, which they’ve positioned to be the future of their companies. That means that many games are being streamed exclusively on those platforms as an incentive for new subscribers to sign up.

This season also has a few firsts, like NFL Sunday Ticket, which gives you access to most of the league’s games every week, being available through YouTube TV. Peacock will also be airing a playoff game exclusively on its service, and Amazon Prime will also get a Black Friday game. Amazon paved the way for this general move to streaming when it earned exclusive rights to stream the NFL’s Thursday Night Football games. Now, as more and more companies have tried to move games to streaming, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to know where you can actually find the games.

Here’s where you can stream every NFL game

If you have a cable subscription, you should still have access to every NFL game. It’s when you decide to get rid of your cable box that things start getting complicated. There are a few streaming services that you can subscribe to in place of cable, and most of them offer some combination of the games available each week. The only service you can subscribe to for every single game, though, is NFL+, which is $6.99/month and includes everything from Thursday Night Football to games that air exclusively on the NFL Network.

There are also a few options that replicate cable TV packages, but exclude Thursday Night Football:

  • Hulu + Live TV
  • YouTube TV
  • FuboTV

Each of these services essentially replicates a cable package via streaming and should give you access to almost every game.

After those services, Sling TV has the next most comprehensive package, and it includes the following if you subscribe to both their Orange and Blue plans:

  • NFC Afternoon Games (Fox)
  • Sunday Night Football (NBC)
  • Monday Night Football (ESPN)
  • NFL Network Games

After Sling, there are a number of streaming services that only have access to specific games every week:

  • Amazon Prime Video has Thursday Night Football
  • Peacock Premium has Sunday Night Football
  • Paramount Plus has the AFC afternoon games broadcast on CBS

Things used to be much simpler

While cable still gets you all of the NFL games, watching football without it has become almost impossible. Like watching TV more generally, there are simply too many options to choose from, from great Netflix shows to awesome baseball movies, and each streaming service is now trying to replace a complete cable package, but in a much more piecemeal fashion. So, if you don’t want to pay the price for one honking subscription, you’re simply not going to have access to every game the way you want to.

The state of football on TV is just one small piece of a much larger with the current fractious nature of TV. There are simply too many options for what to watch, and no clarity on where to go to find what you might be looking for. Thankfully, the NFL has saved diehard football fans with NFL+, but even that’s just another subscription you’ll have to remember to cancel when it’s no longer football season (unless you’re a real diehard football fan).

It’s possible that, at some point, new streaming bundles will be introduced that simplify the streaming landscape. Until then, though, you’re going to have to deal with a pretty fractious and confusing streaming landscape for football.

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Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance culture writer based in upstate New York. His work has been published in The Washington Post, The…
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