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How We'll Be Watching NFL Football in 2021

Brace yourself for more games, streaming broadcasts, and a first-ever mid-Olympics Super Bowl.
  • (Photo: NFL Game Pass)
    (Photo: NFL Game Pass)

    You know the days of summer are quickly whiling away when the cleated footsteps of the NFL season start creeping up behind you. The fluctuations of TV ratings in recent years notwithstanding, the NFL is still one of the biggest and most reliable enterprises on television, and as such, it's a huge get for TV networks and streaming platforms alike. Which is why so many of them have claimed a piece of it. With TV contracts changing and broadcasters innovating to keep younger viewers (who are increasingly estranged from the traditional cable-TV model) engaged, no one year is like the last. Here's what the NFL and its broadcast/streaming partners have planned for the 2021 season:

    The Basics

    The bulk of the NFL's games will continue to be broadcast Sunday afternoons on CBS and FOX. Sunday night games will be broadcast again on NBC (which will also air the season's opening game on Thursday on September 9th — pitting the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Dallas Cowboys — as well as a Thanksgiving night game), and ESPN will once again broadcast Monday Night Football.

    What's new this season is that the NFL has expanded its schedule one extra week, so there will be 18 weeks of regular-season football, plus the playoffs.

    Thursday Night Lights

    The NFL is entering its final year of the current TV deal it has for its weekly Thursday Night Football game. That deal has the NFL Network broadcasting every Thursday night game, with the games from week 5 (October 7th) to week 15 (December 16th) to be simulcast on FOX, Amazon, and Twitch. Starting next season, Amazon (and Twitch) will have the exclusive broadcast rights for the Thursday night games, marking the first time that a streaming-only platform will have exclusive weekly rights to an NFL game.

    But What of Peacock?

    As the brand-new streaming arm of NBC, Peacock will stream all of NBC's Sunday Night Football games, including NBC's playoff broadcasts, as well as Super Bowl LVI. Peacock will also stream the Football Night in America pregame show, as well as producing an expanded postgame show that will be exclusive to the streamer.

    Is There Anything Fun on Monday Nights?

    The answer to that question depends on how entertaining you find the Mannings (and THAT answer may well depend on how much of NBC's College Bowl you watched). ESPN has been experimenting over the last several years with offering multiple broadcasts of the same event, utilizing its many cable channels to offer discrete experiences for different audiences. (This is something that FOX and Nickelodeon did with its kids-only playoff broadcast last January, and while there are currently no concrete plans to do that again, it would be incredibly welcome.) This NFL season, ESPN2 is going to offer an alternate broadcast for ten of its Monday Night Football games, starring Peyton and Eli Manning, as well as some celebrity guests. Per a statement by ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro, "Peyton and Eli will bring a different approach, delving into conversation about broader, big-picture topics while also honing in on the game, much like fans do when watching with their family and friends."

    What About the Super Bowl?

    With the new 18-week regular season, the Super Bowl will be held later than ever this year, taking place February 13, 2022 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. NBC is broadcasting the Super Bowl this year, which land smack dab in middle of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, marking the first time the two events will coincide. How NBC plans to maneuver the two events remains to be seen, though given the havoc wreaked by the pandemic on this summer's Olympics in Tokyo, quite a lot about the Winter Olympics remains to be seen.

    What's Available for Cord-Cutters?

    If you're not riding a cable TV experience this year, you have some options for watching the NFL. Aside from the aforementioned games on Peacock, Amazon and Twitch, there are the usual YouTube TV, Hulu with LiveTV, and Sling options. There's also DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket, albeit for a hefty price tag of around $300 for the season. Then there's NFL Game Pass for $100 for the season, which U.S. provides subscribers access to replays of every game. Note that once the season starts, you won't be able to watch games live on NFL Game Pass  (unless you live outside the United States, Canada, or China, in which case you can sign up for NFL Game Pass Pro) . But if you don't mind avoiding the scores for a few hours, you'll have access to every game all season.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: NFL, CBS, ESPN, FOX, NBC, Prime Video, Peyton Manning, Twitch