Football can be a complicated game, considering the "Da Vinci Code"-like playbooks players have to master, the intricate game-day schemes teams throw at each other, and the increasingly detailed rulebook. And don't get us started on fantasy football and personal seat licenses.
Even following the sport has become more involved. Gone are the simpler days of 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. kickoffs on Sunday, with the Monday Night Football bonus to end each week's play. Today's NFL includes weekly Thursday- and Sunday-night games (with Saturday matches coming later in the season) and three rounds of playoffs before the Super Bowl. The games are available on TVs, computers, tablets, and smart phones, all spaghetti-tangled among different carriers and service providers. It's enough to make you feel like a newly signed free-agent rookie who's just learning his team's formations.
That's where our football fan's guide comes in. Once you've read it and made some decisions, your only obligation will be to round up the snacks and drinks and a few friends or family members, and sit back and enjoy the hard-hitting action.
At least for now, the satellite provider DirecTV has exclusive rights to broadcast out-of-market games, meaning you can watch games that would not otherwise be broadcast in your area, via NFL Sunday Ticket. (DirecTV's contract runs out at the end of the 2013-2014 football season, and reportedly, Google may be considering buying the rights.)
The service offers some interesting interactive elements, including Game Mix, which lets you watch up to eight games simultaneously. Via the DirecTV interactive receiver, you can follow detailed player and team stats, real-time scores, and live updates from other games. It lets you track up to 18 players' alerts and stats.
But here's a good deal: If you're a new DirecTV subscriber, the service is offering NFL Sunday Ticket at no additional charge, as long as you choose DirecTV's Choice package or higher. (Choice costs $35 a month, or $30 a month for 12 months). This pricing includes watching games on your computer, tablet, phone, and on your TV.
The news isn't so great for PlayStation 3 owners, though. Last year, you were able to view NFL Sunday Ticket on your console, but it's not going to be available on the PS3 for the 2013-2014 season. (Joystiq reported that in addition, neither the coming PlayStation 4 nor the Xbox One will receive NFL Sunday Ticket.)
With the kickoff of football season, Microsoft wanted to make sure it was in on the action. Xbox 360 owners with an Xbox Live Gold membership will be able to use the NFL.com Fantasy Football app to keep track of news and highlights, as well as check team stats, updates, and league standings. While this is all fun, though, the really exciting features will be available on the Xbox One, when it launches on November 22.
Thanks to the Xbox One’s Snap feature, you’ll be able to get updates on your favorite teams, player, or fantasy teams in real-time, while you’re playing a video game or watching something else on TV. A bar runs along the right side of your screen that shows when a player earns points for your fantasy team and gives you the option to watch a highlight of how it went down.
If you’re not a fantasy football player—just a football fan who needs to keep track of everything—the sidebar can display just the latest scores and stats. All this appears on your TV without you having to change inputs.
The Xbox One also supports Skype using the new Kinect camera. And Skype will also run in Snap, so you could be watching a game while video-chatting with friends who couldn’t make it to your house or talking trash to whoever your Fantasy Football matchup is with that week.
New this year, NFL Mobile, the league's official app, will be available to subscribers on all carriers—not just Verizon. But Verizon still has exclusive rights to live-streaming games on mobile devices; users with a Verizon premium subscription can watch a live feed of NFL Network, NFL RedZone, or live NFL game action on Thursday, Sunday, or Monday night. Subscribers on other carriers get video highlights and analysis, access to a redesigned GameCenter, and the ability to manage an NFL.com fantasy football team. Available for iOs, Android, and Windows Phones; BlackBerry support is coming soon.
This free app lets you view live streaming college football, along with lots of other ESPN content, as long as you subscribe to AT&T U-verse, Bright House Networks, Charter, Comcast XFINITY, Cox, Midcontinent Communications, Optimum, Time Warner Cable, or Verizon FiOS TV for TV service. You can also stream Monday Night Football and preseason NFL games, but only on WatchESPN on a desktop, Xbox with a Xbox Live GOLD membership, AppleTV, or an iPad—no Android devices will show Monday Night Football.
These tips will let you stream video without running down your battery or straining your vision.
- Use Wi-Fi, especially if you have a metered plan. Although 4G connectivity will give you a good streaming experience—and most phones with 4G have large, sharp displays—it will burn through your data allowance pretty quickly. Switching to Wi-Fi saves your data usage.
- Adjust your display's brightness.Take it off auto and set it to less than 50 percent brightness to save your battery from dying too quickly. (And then find a shady place to watch!)
- Download a free battery-monitor app. It can alert you if you're running out of juice. Some phones have this function built in.
- Hold the screen 3 or 4 feet away to avoid eyestrain. Some phones, such as the HTC Evo 4G, have built-in stands; aftermarket phone and tablet stands are inexpensive. Or go DIY and make your own from, say, a cheap picture frame.
This advice will help you find a new TV that will enhance your NFL-watching experience.
Go bigger if you can, especially if you’ll be cheering on your gridiron favorites with a group of friends. There are now plenty of LCD and plasma TVs in screen sizes 55 inches and larger. And some manufacturers, including Sharp, are going even bigger with LCD TVs in the 70- and 80-inch range.
Don’t get blurry
Sports can really test a TV’s ability to display fast-moving scenes without blurring. Plasma TVs usually handle motion without much blurring, if any, so almost any model will do. Some 60Hz LCD TVs fall prey to that shortcoming, but we’ve found that many models with faster 120Hz and 240Hz frame rates can help minimize blur to the point where it’s hardly noticeable. We recommend TVs that let you adjust the antiblur circuitry separately from judder reduction, which can give film a video-like look.
Play the angles
Plasma TVs have virtually unlimited viewing angles that allow everyone in the room to get a great picture, but the narrower viewing angle on many LCD sets may mean only those directly in front of the set get a great picture. That’s why we measure viewing angles for all the TVs in our TV Ratings. We've found that some LCD TVs—including sets from LG, Panasonic, and Vizio—have wider-than-average viewing angles for that type of set. Don’t pay attention to any of the manufacturers’ specs—almost all claim they have 178- to 180-degree viewing angles. Most don't.
A model that lets you connect to the Web can give you content that can supplement the actual game. Built-in Wi-Fi makes connecting to your home network easier, especially in rooms where you might not have a wired Ethernet connection. Many TVs can now access downloadable apps, too, and you can stream online games.
If you want to hear all the bone-crunching, muscle-straining action, you’ll need a TV with decent sound. But one consequence of ever-thinner TV sets is that sound quality has become a 98-pound weakling on many models. To get the full visceral impact of a pad-jarring tackle, consider adding a sound bar speaker system or home-theater-in-a-box sound system to supplement your TV’s sound.
Go big and high-res
Ultra HD TVs, which have very high-resolution screens (four times the number of pixels as 1080p sets), let you get a bigger screen without having to change your seating distance. They're more expensive, but Ultra HD TVs are coming down in price.
No live game today? Play Madden 25!
Madden 25 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 commemorates the 25th anniversary of the dominant NFL video-game franchise. It includes some new features from previous editions, but mainly it has improved existing features.
Connected Franchise replaces Connected Careers from the previous game. Within Connected Franchise is the Owner Mode, in which you choose an existing owner or create an owner of a team and take complete control of the team. If managing everything seems like too much of a headache, you can also play as a coach or player.
In addition to game-mode tweaks are subtler changes that add more realism to the game and make it much more fluid than the previous version. If you’re playing on Xbox 360, the Kinect can enhance the experience with voice commands; you can call an audible, for example.
Madden 25 will be available later this year for the new PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles.
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