Jacksonville @ Seattle
Maurice Jones-Drew's chances of playing are dicey after injuring the ankle tendon on the same left foot he had surgically repaired last winter. He'd be a poor fantasy option regardless. Seattle's defense has limited opposing backs to 109 scoreless yards on 32 carries (3.41 YPC), and MJD has struggled mightily coming off the 2012 Lisfranc tear, averaging 3.70 yards per preseason run and 2.88 YPC on 25 real-game attempts. On 35 combined preseason and regular season carries, Jones-Drew has a long gain of 10. I don't typically recommend selling "low" on fantasy players, but would consider it with MJD. He's not the same guy he was in 2011. ... Jones-Drew has no clear handcuff. Coach Gus Bradley has stated Jordan Todman and Justin Forsett would share the backfield if MJD doesn't play, with some Denard Robinson mixed in. Todman would figure to get the nominal start in an impossible matchup with an uncertain workload. Todman has six carries for nine yards on the season, and is on his third NFL team since the Vikings drafted him in the sixth round three Aprils ago. ... Marcedes Lewis is tentatively due back from his two-week calf injury, which means he'll be on the line helping OTs Luke Joeckel and Eugene Monroe block Cliff Avril, Red Bryant, Michael Bennett, and a returning Chris Clemons. Lewis could score a red-zone TD Sunday and still have no fantasy value.
Friday Update: Lewis practiced this week on a limited basis, but didn't make as much progress as the Jaguars hoped and was ruled out on Friday. Allen Reisner -- he of five catches for 40 scoreless yards -- will replace Lewis in the starting lineup again.
The Jags are a nightmare offensively. Joeckel has been noticeably overpowered as a run blocker, and Jacksonville has already experienced a quarterback switch. There is no running game until further notice. The Jaguars needed 25 offensive possessions before scoring their first touchdown of the 2013 season -- a garbage-time 13-yard "strike" from Chad Henne to reserve tight end Clay Harbor. The box-score beneficiary is Cecil Shorts, who through two games ranks fourth in the NFL in targets (25) and is coming off an eight-catch, 93-yard Week 2 effort in Oakland. Shorts' Week 3 concern is Seattle's physical press-man coverage, which disrupts routes at the line of scrimmage. Shorts' bread and butter is route precision. He remains on the WR3 radar with the potential to be saved by pass-happy catch-up mode. ... With Justin Blackmon suspended until Week 5 and Mike Brown nursing a back injury, Ace Sanders will start for the second straight week. The rookie slot receiver caught five balls for 64 yards against the Raiders, ranking second on the Jags in targets (7) behind Shorts. Sanders is perhaps worth a look in ultra-deep leagues.
The Seahawks should control this matchup from start to finish, imposing their will in the running game. Through two weeks, Jacksonville ranks last in the AFC in run defense and is permitting a league-high 5.69 yards per rush attempt. Look for a handful of BeastMode runs from Marshawn Lynch. ... While this is a favorable matchup for Russell Wilson, beware a blowout victory in which not much is asked of Seattle's quarterback. The Seahawks are staying true to run-first form, as Wilson ranks 30th in pass attempts behind the likes of Terrelle Pryor and Josh Freeman, and just ahead of Jake Locker. Seattle is a whopping 19.5-point favorite per Vegas' prognostications. Treat Wilson as a back-end QB1 with a touch more risk than meets the eye. Wilson won't meet fantasy expectations if the Seahawks continue to use him as they have. He's also without blindside tackle Russell Okung (turf toe), increasing the likelihood of a decidedly run-first Seahawks game plan.
Wilson's target distribution through two weeks: Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate 9, Sidney Rice and Zach Miller 8, Lynch 6, Robert Turbin and Derrick Coleman 3. ... The Seahawks are the only team in football without a pass catcher in double-digit targets. Wilson is throwing to the open man, and Seattle isn't throwing much overall. Particularly in a game where the Seahawks won't have to throw to win, Tate, Baldwin, Miller, and Rice are undesirable fantasy plays. Something will have to change for them to take statistical leaps. Tate is a WR4, Rice a WR5, and Miller a low-end TE2. ... Christine Michael was inactive for Week 2, which isn't a surprise because Turbin is Seattle's third-down and change-of-pace back, and Coleman is Lynch's lead blocker. Michael doesn't play on special teams. I still believe preseason standout Michael would be significantly involved were Lynch to miss time, and I'd bet on him leading Seattle in carries in that scenario. I like Michael as an RB5 lottery-ticket bench stash. I'd roster him over Turbin in a standard league.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 27, Jaguars 3
Sunday Night Football
Chicago @ Pittsburgh
The Steelers emerged from last Monday's loss to Cincinnati believing Felix Jones is their best tailback, which is problematic for two reasons: 1. Jones' burst evaporated several seasons ago, and 2. They're playing the Bears' run defense, which is permitting 3.44 yards per carry. "I was encouraged by Felix Jones and what he'll be able to do moving forward," said coach Mike Tomlin this week, after watching the Week 2 tape. "He knew when to bounce it and when to put his foot in the ground and get vertical. There were some things we can build upon." Consider Jones a shaky flex option versus Chicago. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer have no fantasy value. ... Heath Miller will return from last year's triple-ligament knee tear against the Bears, which at least may give Pittsburgh's pass protection a puncher's chance. Miller is an excellent blocker. Practice observers noticed a "giddyup" in Miller's gait during the week, which suggests he may not be a passing-game asset for awhile, other than on desperation dump-offs. I expect he'll spend most of Sunday night helping LT Mike Adams and RT Marcus Gilbert block Bears RE Julius Peppers and LE Corey Wootton. Favoring Chicago, this is a major mismatch in the trenches.
The Steelers' offense is being torpedoed by protection woes, and they couldn't ask for a much more difficult Week 3 draw than the Bears' loaded front. Chicago goes six deep on the D-Line, with franchise player Henry Melton, 2012 first-round pick Shea McClellin, trusty NT Stephen Paea, and gap-shooting sub rusher Nate Collins behind Peppers and Wootton. It's hard to imagine Ben Roethlisberger finding room in the pocket. He's a low-end QB2. ... Big Ben's targets through two games: Emmanuel Sanders 22, Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery 16, Redman 5, David Paulson 4, Jones 0. ... Perhaps the discussion of Brown would have a different tone had his 33-yard catch against the Bengals not been nullified by a Marcus Gilbert tripping flag back at the line of scrimmage, but it's pretty clear he's being miscast as an X-Iso receiver. Brown is a natural Z and underneath playmaker, where he can make defenders miss. He doesn't have Mike Wallace's long speed. Brown will likely struggle for big openings until the Steelers begin using more of Markus Wheaton at X, and moving Brown back to Z. ... Pittsburgh's current Z is Sanders, who has 12 catches for 135 yards on the season. Until the Steelers show tangible signs of pass-game competency, I'd be hard pressed to recommend Brown or Sanders as more than a shaky WR3 in forbidding matchups like this one, versus Bears lockdown CBs Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.
The Steelers are playing bottom-five offense, but Dick LeBeau's defense is as sharp and stout as ever. Pro Football Focus grades Pittsburgh as a top-ten pass rushing team, despite managing one sack through two games. What that tells me is the sacks are coming. Jay Cutler has flirted with early-season QB1 value and should be in that discussion most of the year, but I wouldn't start him outside of two-quarterback leagues Sunday night at Heinz Field. ... Steelers top CB Ike Taylor held A.J. Green to 41 yards on six catches in Week 2, but Brandon Marshall is a different, more physical animal. Marshall and Taylor have faced off twice before: With Kyle Orton calling Denver's signals in 2009, Marshall went off for 112 yards on 11 grabs. With Chad Henne quarterbacking the 2010 Dolphins, Marshall managed five receptions for 57 yards. I'd still consider him a top-ten fantasy wideout play in Week 3. ... Alshon Jeffery has been quiet on the other side, with 53 scoreless yards on six receptions to date. Wait for Jeffery to pick it up. He's a WR4.
Cutler's early-season target distribution: Marshall 20, Matt Forte 17, Martellus Bennett 15, Jeffery 13, Earl Bennett 3. ... I loved Martellus as a breakout candidate before training camp. His minimal preseason participation admittedly freaked me out, and I temporarily jumped off the train. I'm back on. Bennett has been Chicago's No. 3 option in the pass game and a red-zone monster, playing all but two of the offensive snaps thus far. Pro Football Focus has charted Bennett with running pass routes on 64.4% of his plays, which is a high number. For perspective, Jimmy Graham runs routes on 64.1% of his snaps. So Bennett is very involved in a production-friendly passing attack, and the Bears are trying to score with him. I'd start Bennett as a confident TE1 against a Steelers defense that coughed up nine receptions for 132 yards to Bengals tight ends last week. ... Forte probably won't have much room to run on the Steelers, who are allowing 3.14 yards per carry. He can compensate with all-purpose ability. Forte's 17 targets lead all NFL running backs through two weeks, and he's sixth in standard-league fantasy scoring at the position. Forte is worth starting every week, regardless of matchup. Onetime goal-line vulture Michael Bush is no longer a factor.
Score Prediction: Bears 20, Steelers 17
Monday Night Football
Oakland @ Denver
Broncos backfield roles have clarified just in time for a cake matchup with the Raiders. Clear lead runner Knowshon Moreno led Denver backs in snaps (46), touches (16), and yards (107) in Week 2 against the Giants, ripping off 20- and 25-yard TD runs in the 41-23 victory. Montee Ball will stay involved as a change-up back and red-zone option, but Moreno is set up for a hot stretch after sheer reliability earned him the spot atop the depth chart. Denver's next seven games: vs. OAK, vs. PHI, @ DAL, vs. JAX, @ IND, vs. WAS, @ SD. Ride Moreno as an RB2/flex. LT Ryan Clady's year-ending Lisfranc injury further solidifies Moreno, as he is Denver's top pass-protection back. ... Internally, Ball remains the Broncos' preferred long-term solution, but he's made zero headway. Averaging 2.0 YPC with a fumble lost, Ball is a mere bench stash in fantasy. For his part, Ball has graded out positively in Pro Football Focus' pass-blocking charts. He's still worth rostering as an RB3/4. On Monday night, look for the Broncos to grab a big lead and ride the run game with Clady out of the lineup. Ball is going to keep getting opportunities. ... All but weeded out of Denver's offense, Ronnie Hillman played two Week 2 snaps and got one carry. He can be dropped in 12-team leagues. ... Peyton Manning is the No. 1 fantasy quarterback through two weeks, and the top QB play of Week 3. Already talent deficient throughout their pass defense, the Raiders lost top defensive back Tyvon Branch to a fractured fibula in Week 2. Oakland is going to get undressed.
The Raiders often used Branch to shadow opposing tight ends, so his absence upgrades Julius Thomas' matchup. Thomas has played 150-of-150 offensive snaps, and is a virtual lock to finish among the top 5-8 fantasy tight ends if he stays healthy. ... Including January's playoffs, Manning has a 49:13 TD-to-INT ratio in 19 games as a Bronco. One of Denver's top-four pass catchers will likely be left out of the weekly fantasy bonanzas, though the outsider will be virtually impossible to predict from game to game. They are all worth starting against the Raiders. ... As alluded to in the Week 2 Matchups column, Eric Decker rebounded to be Denver's most-targeted receiver against the Giants, after his Opening Day clunker versus Baltimore. Peyton unfailingly keeps his receivers happy. Decker's last three stat lines against the Raiders: 8-88, 7-79-1, 3-47-1. He's a strong WR3. ... At the opposite end of the spectrum, Demaryius Thomas saw six Week 2 targets to Decker's 13, finishing with a pedestrian 52 yards on five catches. So it'll probably be Thomas back in a leading role Monday night. Peyton should be able to do whatever he wants. ... Wes Welker's 19 targets rank second on the Broncos only to Decker's 20, and he's quietly scoring at a top-15 fantasy wideout clip. It goes without saying that you should start Welker against Oakland.
The talent differential between Denver and Oakland is so drastic that starting Raiders skill players on Monday night is a shot in the dark. Vegas prognosticators agree, installing the Broncos as 15-point favorites with a 49.5 over-under, Week 3's second highest sum. Terrelle Pryor paid off as a Week 1 streamer, scoring 19.9 standard-league points. He did not in Week 2, managing 10.04. Pryor is intriguing from the standpoint that Denver could grab a big lead, increasing his dropbacks and playmaking opportunities. If the Raiders keep the game closer than expected, however, Pryor probably won't pay off. Start him at your own risk. ... Pryor's dual-threat impact was felt by Darren McFadden in Week 2, as the Jags focused on confining Pryor to the pocket. DMC had several gaping holes, emerging with a 19-game high in rushing (129) and 157 yards from scrimmage. He'll have a much tougher go Monday. Broncos DC Jack Del Rio's defense bottled up McFadden for 84 innocuous yards on 24 carries (3.50 YPC) in these teams' two 2012 meetings, and there is obvious risk of the Raiders abandoning the run. Through two weeks, ground attacks have been a non-factor versus Denver. No. 1 versus the run, Del Rio's unit has held the Ravens and Giants to a combined 81 yards on 40 carries (2.03 YPC). Suffocating.
Pryor's to-date distribution of targets: Rod Streater 12, McFadden and Denarius Moore 9, Mychal Rivera 6, Jacoby Ford and Brice Butler 4, Marcel Reece 3, Jeron Mastrud 2. ... Fantasy owners who tried to chase Moore's Week 1 points into Week 2 were dealt a goose egg. Perhaps Moore could be buoyed by throw-happy comeback mode against the Broncos, but I wouldn't bank on it. He's going to continue to be inconsistent because he's an inconsistent player. ... Streater is slightly interesting. More the possession receiver of the two, Streater runs higher-percentage routes and has at least four receptions in five of his last six games, going back to last year. Though somewhat short on upside, Streater is a Week 3 PPR sleeper. ... If you're a deep leaguer attempting to handcuff oft-injured McFadden, Rashad Jennings is your best bet. Reece has touched the football just three times this season. Jennings has seven touches for 36 yards.
Score Prediction: Broncos 33, Raiders 17