The NFL and DirecTV (DTV) will provide legally streamed games online in 2014, per Vox's Nilay Patel. The package starts at $199, but there's a big catch (more on that below).
Last year, those who pre-ordered Madden NFL 25 through Amazon for $100 received a special code from DTV for an one-year online stream of NFL Sunday Ticket (NFLST). This year, you don't have to order Madden to get in on it.
Side note: I pre-ordered Madden in 2013 to get NFLST and it was totally worth it. Steve, my brother-in-law, and I chose the Jacksonville Jaguars in franchise mode and relocated them to London after signing Tim Tebow and trading for Le'Veon Bell. We use Seattle's offensive playbook and the Jags, renamed the London Black Nights, have led the NFL in rushing in each of the last two seasons, thanks in large part to read and speed options. Tebow was back-to-back league MVP. I know, I know, only in Madden.
Anyway, back to the NFL's package.
There's a catch
This package is much like the one DTV has been offering since 2010. If you live in an area where satellite is serviceable, you are ineligible for the package. There are ways to get around that, however, as Engadget's Richard Lawler explains:
All is not lost of course, since things sound like they're staying the same as previous years. In that case, you can probably still call DirecTV and sign up on the basis that for some reason, you can't get service where you are. We're not telling you to lie, but we are going to mention that in past years no one has reported DirecTV actually checking to see if their reasoning was legit.
I can testify of this method working. Last fall, I lived in a college dorm room in Florida. It would have been possible to set up satellite, but it wouldn't have been easy. I called DTV and told them I couldn't get satellite in my area and they let me have the non-customer NFL Sunday Ticket package (that I pre-ordered with Madden) for my mobile devices.
Is it worth it?
If you are eligible, it's probably not even worth dropping the $200-$330 on it, depending on what devices/consoles you want to stream games on. The NFLST package does not include prime time games and is meant for out-of-town fans, so if the game is broadcast in your area, it will be blacked out on NFLST.
This was frustrating for me last fall as I was unable to watch several games in Florida because they were nationally televised on CBS. I ended up watching about half of Denver's daytime games on NFLST and the other half at sports bars.
My family lives in central Pennsylvania. Between games broadcast on CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN, and NFL Network, they watched 13 of Denver's 16 regular season games last fall without any special package. The Broncos have five more schedule prime time games this year (on ESPN, NBC, NFLN, and CBS) and a handful of their remaining daytime games will likely be nationally televised again. With that being the case, only a handful of Denver's games will be available to watch on NFLST this fall.
With all of that said, if you are even eligible—or if you can make DTV believe you are eligible—it's probably not worth dishing out that much dough, unless you have absolutely no TV service or local sports bars in the area.
This is only the beginning
Until the NFL offers an affordable option to legally stream NFL games online, fans will continue using virus-plagued European websites that stream games illegally. Offering games streamed online only to those who cannot get DTV service is far from the solution, but it is a step in the right direction.
The NFL's exclusive deal with DTV for NFLST will expire in 2015 and there have been rumors that DTV may not retain the rights to the package. There have been more rumors that Google may purchase the rights to NFLST and stream games on YouTube.
Google may be fans best bet, as they would likely open up the package to everyone. My suggestion? Stream the games on YouTube (or another server, depending on who hosts NFLST in the future) at a $5 pay-per-view rate for each NFL game. That would come to $80 a year for anyone who followed a single team, or $1,280 for anyone who wanted to watch every game of the season.
My solution would give everyone access to legally streamed NFL games online for a reasonable price, no matter where one lived in the United States. Unfortunately, I don't call the shots.
The NFL is making baby steps in the right direction. It may take dumping DTV's exclusivity deal for any real progress to be made going forward.