Penthouse Picks
NFL Watch List Week 5

Before we get to this week’s top match-ups, let’s pause for a moment to congratulate the NFL on a special milestone: Last Thursday, when September turned into October, it marked the first time since July 2009 that the league completed a calendar month without having any player arrests reported.

That glistening nugget comes courtesy of Seattle-based reporter Mike Rosenberg, and there’s more: July 2009 and September 2015 are the only two months in the past 11 years without any reported player arrests.

But the NFL had precious little time to celebrate this landmark, for as the month of October ramped up, so did some unseemly developments in two of the league’s roughly 3,792 revenue streams, namely the “daily fantasy” sites that have been buying up every available scrap of advertising real estate this fall. You know the ones—they rhyme with “Graft Kings” and “Ban Gruel”—and you can’t engage any form of media, from television to print to radio and podcasts, without being deluged by their relentless campaign.

Well, the sites landed in some hot water this week, and not just because they’re essentially the same as gambling, or that they’re borderline Ponzi schemes in which the top players—guys who play daily fantasy for a living and submit hundreds, even thousands of lineups per day—skin the Joe Schmos at the sports bar to the tune of millions.

No, it seems that Ethan Haskell, an employee of one of these sites, may have used privileged information to win $350,000 on the other one. That got the attention of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who promptly launched an official government investigation into both companies. We wonder if he’ll tackle the question of how daily fantasy sites—which have agreements with 28 of the league’s 32 teams and drive untold amounts of attention and revenue to the NFL—got exempt from being considered a form of gambling in the first place?

 

Here are five games that should hold your attention this weekend whether or not you have anything riding on them.

 

Thursday, October 8

Indianapolis (2-2) at Houston (1-3)

Okay, we lied: this one might not hold your interest even if you wagered your life savings on it, but there is a definite morbid-curiosity factor about the game because of the Colts’ current quarterback situation. Starter Andrew Luck is out with a shoulder injury, and Matt Hasselbeck, who replaced Luck last week and led Indy to a squeaker win over Jacksonville, didn’t throw a pass all week during practice because he’s battling a viral infection, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Hasselbeck was in the ER on Tuesday, and he’ll be starting on Thursday.

 

Sunday, October 11

Seattle (2-2) at Cincinnati (4-0)

The Seahawks have bounced back from an 0-2 start (albeit with some help from the officials last week), and the Bengals—with QB Andy Dalton having thrown nine TD passes and just one interception—continue to roll. The Bengals will be looking establish themselves as bona fide contenders with a win over last season’s NFC champs.

 

Denver (4-0) at Oakland (2-2)

There’s been a lot of talk about Peyton Manning’s diminished arm strength this season, but star power aside, the Broncos aren’t about Manning as much anymore. The main focus of this Denver team is its defense, which ranks first in the league against the pass and eighth against the run. That said, Manning should be able to feast on the Raiders’ 31st-ranked pass defense.

 

New England (3-0) at Dallas (2-2)

Tom Brady wasn’t supposed to be playing in this game, and Tony Romo was. The reverse will end up being true because Romo broke his clavicle in September, while Brady had his four-game Deflategate suspension reduced to zero. Speaking of reduced suspensions, Dallas will welcome back defensive end Greg Hardy, who had his ten-game suspension for a domestic-abuse arrest reduced to four games. In July, Hardy was accused of, among other things, throwing his then-girlfriend onto a couch covered with guns. His response to a question about possible rust upon his return? “I hope I come out guns blazing.”

 

St. Louis (2-2) at Green Bay (4-0)

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has 11 touchdown passes, zero interceptions, and a league-leading 125.9 passer rating this season. Remember when Brett Favre was dithering over his retirement (for seasons!) and delaying Rodgers’ ascension to the starting spot? That must piss off Green Bay fans more and more every year. St. Louis has had an up-and-down four weeks, but last time out they were up in a big way, handing the Cardinals their first loss on the strength of rookie Todd Gurley’s 146 rushing yards. On the down side for Rams fans, there’s this report informing them that the taxpayers of St. Louis will be on the hook for $215million more than they had previously thought, if owner Stan Kroenke’s new stadium plan goes through.