The NFL playoffs begin in earnest this weekend with the league’s divisional rounds (the Wild Card round was last weekend). For the next two weeks, the AFC’s and NFC’s best will engage in single-game showdowns, with the last team standing from each going head-to-head in Super Bowl LI on February 5.
This year, the playoffs will be split among NBC, CBS, and Fox, with Fox hosting the Super Bowl. That’s great news for cord-cutters; even without cable or a satellite subscription, there are plenty of options for tuning in to the annual clash of football titans. Here’s how.
Of all the four major North American sports leagues, the NFL remains the only one you can still enjoy without a pricey cable subscription. All you need is an antenna.
If you’re old enough, the thought of using an antenna probably conjures memories of temperamental “rabbit ears” and staticky images. But today’s antennas come in a range of designs, from paper-thin flat models like the Mohu Leaf to those that look more like your cable modem and provide reliably crystal clear true HD resolution for absolutely free. All you need to do is plug one into your TV’s tuner.
An indoor antenna with a 25-mile range can be had for as little as $13, and longer-range models can be had for not much more. Before you purchase one, though, go to a site like TVFool or Antennaweb and see what networks are available from your local broadcasters. You’ll just need to enter your address to get a report of all the broadcast signals in your area ranked from strongest to weakest. Once you determine which of the four playoff-broadcasting channels is furthest from you’re home, you’ll know what range antenna to buy.
In the event you’re too far from a transmitter to pull in some or all of these networks, you’ll need a combination of the streaming options that follow.
Over the last few years, the online streaming service Sling TV has been an increasingly valuable solution for cord cutters wanting to tune in to the NFL’s regular season games. It can also help you out in the run up to the Super Bowl.
The Sling Blue package gives you more than 40 channels for $40 a month. That includes NBC and Fox, but only in select markets. The Blue package will also give you access to the NFL Network, which delivers non-stop news, analysis, and other supplemental coverage during the Super Bowl season.
Sling TV supports a variety of devices, including Chromecast, Apple TV, Amazon FireTV, and iOS and Android phones and tablets. Currently, the service is offering a discounted Roku Premiere+ or Apple TV with a three-month commitment or a free Roku Express when you pre-pay for one month.
Similar to Sling TV, PlayStation Vue offers a variety of channel packages for a low monthly rate. The $40-per-month Access package is the one you want for the NFL postseason, as it includes all three networks—CBS, NBC and Fox—among its 45-plus channels, although, as with Sling TV, each only in select markets. If you’re in an area that receives some or all of them, you might consider bumping up to the Core package for $45 a month. That will get you more than 60 channels, including the NFL Network.
In addition to PlayStation consoles, PlayStation Vue is available on Chromecast, Amazon FireTV, an Roku devices. A PlayStation Vue Mobile app is available for iOS and Android device but requires activated, TV-Connected device to use.
This new player in the online streaming space launched this past November. For $35 a month, DirectTV Now gives you more than 120 live TV channels, including Fox and NBC in select areas. It’s available for Chromecast, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and iOS and Android devices. And like Sling TV, the service is offering some tempting incentives—a free Amazon Fire TV stick when you prepay for one month of service, and a free Apple TV with a three-month commitment.
CBS All Access
If you have a Sling TV or DirectTV Now subscription or a PlayStation Vue subscription without a CBS affiliate, you’ll also need CBS All Access. This app was developed primarily to give cord cutters access to more than 8,500 episodes of CBS TV shows. However, the network announced this past December that going forward it would also live stream all CBS-hosted NFL games, including playoffs.
Naturally, there is a caveat. The games are only available in markets where CBS All Access—which also features on-demand programming—offers live streaming. Currently, that’s 150 markets across the U.S., so chances are you’ll have no problem tuning in for football.
A subscription with limited commercials costs just $6 a month, or you can go commercial-free for $10 a month. An app is available for Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, PS4, Xbox, Windows 10, iOS and Android.
NFL Game Pass
If you’re not fussy about watching games in real time—and have the will power to abide a self-imposed media blackout—NFL Game Pass will give you every playoff matchup and the Super Bowl with a single subscription.
Launched this past season, NFL Game Pass provides on-demand access to games —including the postseason—after they air. It also gives you access to a vault’s worth of games from the 2009-15 seasons. It’s been knocked down to $50 for the rest of this season (it’s normally $100 per year) and that will give you access through July 31.
Get your gridiron game on
Kick-off for the for the division matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks is just hours away, so don’t waste any time getting your own game plan together. Whatever options you choose, you’re guaranteed to have front-row seat when the NFL’s best team hoists the Lombardi Trophy.