Whether you are unable, or maybe just unwilling, to shell out the cash for the NFL package to watch any pro football game from around the country, there are alternatives for those prepared to sacrifice the convenience of their cable TV service for the loving embrace of the Internet.
Watching games via your computer is a trade off. On the negative side, you are subject the the flickers of streaming video. Despite your Internet provider’s bold claims about having the fastest and best internet speeds, occasionally your picture will freeze, frames will skip, and/or the video might distort. These are all minor problems that tend to correct themselves, but when it happens with 12-seconds left and your team is driving for a game winning touchdown, it matters. On the other hand, you get to watch any NFL game without paying for cable TV, and as long as you have an Internet connection you can watch the games anywhere.
Below are a list of websites that will allow you to watch live, streaming feeds that deliver sweet, sweet football goodness directly to your computer. Obviously, as with any streaming feed, the quality will vary, and you will need to invest in a few cables and such to connect your computer to a TV (assuming you want to watch the stream on your TV and not just your monitor). But here are a list of a few of our favorite channels that are easy to use.
ESPN3.com (College football only)
Ok, this one is a bit of a cheat, because ESPN does not actually air NFL online games at all (although you can watch plenty of pre-game coverage, highlights, and analysis). Instead, the ESPN live streams are a great place to find college football on the weekends, both live and as replays — which are generally posted within an hour following the end of the game. While you may not get the NFL action you want on ESPN 3, the website offers one of the best selections of streaming sports anywhere. The quality is as good as you can find, and the selection of sports is robust.
There is a catch though: You need to log in through your Internet service provider, and it must be a provider approved by ESPN, although the list of approved providers is long. Odds are, you have an Internet connection, since you are — you know — online reading this article, but you might need to contact your provider, then create a log in account to activate the stream. Once you do, though, you can use that login regardless of where you are or what provider you are using at the time.
This international site has a fairly comprehensive selection of the other kind of football, aka soccer, as well as categories to watch American football, baseball, basketball, and more. If you are lucky and can time it right, there is even a category to watch darts live for some reason or other. Snooker and handball both make the list as well, shockingly, but the site also offers all NFL games from various feeds, including mirror links when the stream is live.
The site is completely free, which is great for the most part, but does have the slight downside: Beware the popup ads, for they are legion. You may also need a few plugins for the video playback, which has the potential to introduce spyware, trojans, and all manner of unwanted things onto your computer. Make sure you have a decent program to protect your computer.
Justin.tv is a website that is user driven, and it plays host to several live streams at any given time. Along with live NFL streams, you can find a ton of shows discussing football (or any sport, for that matter), which is great if you want to gear up for the day, or maybe just want to see some headlights later. Most feeds will also air multiple games in a row as well as the pre and post game coverage so you won’t have to go looking too much for more content, but that is up to the user hosting the stream. The site is also an interesting website if you are looking for an assortment of eclectic programming, including live video game feeds, Mexican awards shows, repeats of The Office, and a lot more.
Justin.tv might be one of the best video streaming hosts out there, but it can still suffer from poor quality and the occasional freezing. The website can also be slow to update, so a game that is over might still be listed, which isn’t a big deal, but it can be frustrating if you are looking for a secondary stream and are having trouble navigating through the now-defunct links.
The website name pretty much says it all. This site is specifically for NFL games, and in some ways it acts as a search engine for NFL streams. Under each match-up, it will offer a list of sites to go to watch the game, but it does not host the feeds itself. Some of the sites it recommends require additional software, but NFLStreams warns you in advance, and generally the software you need is safe, and typically will help you if you want to watch other live streaming videos.
Oddly, there are a few small gaps in the coverage on NFLstreams.com, and not every game is listed. Most are though, and if you are having trouble finding a working stream this is a great place to check for options. But again, it does not host the games, it simply redirects you.
TVU networks has one of the largest selections of video streaming channels on the Internet. Once you download the software, you can sort through the genres and watch live TV, sporting events, movies, and pretty much anything that is airing somewhere on TV. If you are looking for a place to watch regular TV, or even TV from another country, TVU networks might be the place for you. Spend a little time on the site exploring channels, and you might quickly discover that you have spent your day watching a soap opera from Bengali or a 1950s sci-fi movie. The choices are nearly overwhelming.
The only real drawback to TVU is its size. Generally you can find what you want with relative ease, but sometimes it might take you time to hunt down the programs you are looking for. Then there is the software you need to download, which seems safe and unobtrusive, but when you are adding third-party software there is always the potential for incompatibility. It is a minor concern, but worth noting.
Like Justin.tv, Ustream.tv is a site that broadcasts what other users put on it, which can either lead you to the streaming promised land, or scratching your head wondering what is wrong with humanity. It varies. When you are desperately looking for that one particular game that may not be receiving much attention outside of certain areas, especially later in the season when the majority of national coverage will shift to the playoff contenders rather than the win-challenged, but possibly still much beloved teams outside of the major markets, Ustream may not be the best place to check.
There is plenty of other content on the site worth checking out though, both sports and non-sports related. It is user generated, so of course it is constantly changing.