It's Wild Card weekend for the NFL, which means millions of people are watching playoff football on TV — and this year, streaming on the internet and mobile. Since every playoff game is being broadcast on a different network, that means watching all four games means dealing with four different networks' streaming service: ESPN, NBC, CBS, and Fox. And you have to deal with them, even if you've paid a ridiculous amount of money for DirecTV's Sunday Ticket streaming package, just like you have to be a Verizon customer to stream anything on mobile. Why? Because the NFL is a tyrannical money-printing machine with no regard for the freedom of average Americans.
But at least we can rank all of these services, which are clearly not created equal.
1. Cardinals at Panthers, WatchESPN
WatchESPN is the best of the worst. You still have to log in with your cable password through the insanely kludgy TV Anywhere system, but once you're in, the service is quick to buffer up and start playing the game. It clicks over to high-resolution pretty fast too. And the interface won't win any design awards, but it least knows that it's generally supposed to stay out of your way even if it can't help itself at times, like a younger brother or friend from college who isn't getting the hint well into your late 20s. You're fine, WatchESPN. We will drink with you, if there's no one else around and everything on Apple TV looks boring.
2. Ravens at Steelers, NBC Live Extra
NBC's player has the most razzle-dazzle, because they stream every Sunday Night Football game for free. The player itself is fine, if a bit slow to load, and full of gimmicks that look great but offer basically zero value. You know who's better at switching between the various cameras on the field than I am? The professional director of Sunday Night Football. Please take these buttons away from me before I kill again.
take these buttons away from me before I kill again
3. Bengals at Colts, CBS
CBS doesn't even try to brand its streaming service, which is good, because consumers would automatically associate that brand with the lowest-possible amount of effort. It's not that CBS isn't trying, it's that CBS still kind of thinks the internet is a fad, so they just had an intern downloaded a streaming app with pretty good reviews from the App Store and let it happen.
4. Lions at Cowboys, Fox Sports Go
Fox Sports Go is a garbage fire that never works. Everyone should be ashamed.
Lol why are they selling the fight that happened last night during the fox sports go stream of this game??— Eliminat0r85 (@eliminat0r85) January 4, 2015
How does the FOX Sports GO app not support verizon login? #Lame— ThanksBuddy (@7thInningZO) January 4, 2015
Runner-up: Pirate streams from websites that will almost certainly steal your identity
The only reason that this option isn't in first place is that these sites are so obviously illegal that it's only a matter of time before going to one will immediately result in a compromised Windows PC being shipped to your home for free because goddammit you're going to be a part of this botnet whether you like it or not.
On the flipside, every game except for the Cardinals-Panthers game is being broadcast on regular over-the-air network television, which means giant corporations are pumping radio waves carrying the raw information of these games through your the soft flesh of your body against your will. Close your eyes. Breathe. Your skin is vibrating at the precise frequency of Ryan Lindley's tears.
you're going to be a part of this botnet whether you like it or not
Honorable Mention: DirecTV Sunday Ticket
Sunday Ticket has no competition, and it shows. The streams lag and often bug out, the mobile apps are slow to be updated, the interface ideas are from 1997, the desktop app is a cathedral to the Worst Practices In Flash Player Design, it's ridiculous that it blacks out games show on local TV, and it's insanely expensive.
But it has all the games and no one else does, so it's pretty cool, I guess.