- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is riding one of the best streaks we've seen in recent years, having scored an average of 19 fantasy points per game since Week 9. Since 2001, only two players have had longer stretches than his 10 consecutive games in a season with a touchdown: LaDainian Tomlinson in 2004 and Priest Holmes in 2002. That's pretty good company.
Still, Lynch didn't make it into the top-10 running back rankings for this monumental, holiday-infused Week 16. How can that be? The guy is on fire! Well, it's because an immovable object, if you will, is lining up to stop fantasy's No. 5 running back: the San Francisco 49ers' defense. These guys are good, and they have shut down every running back they've faced this season. Consider that no one has scored a rushing touchdown against the 49ers this season; there are 14 teams that have allowed 14 or more rushing touchdowns. The Niners sport a goose egg. That's impressive.
That's basically my reasoning right there. It has nothing to do with trusting the formerly unreliable Lynch. He'll be back in my top 10 in Week 17! I'm sure I'll be asked about this in Wednesday's chat session and on Twitter and perhaps in the halls of the Worldwide Leader, and it's all right with me. Faced with choosing a dominant running back -- yes, Lynch has been dominant for seven weeks now, like LeSean McCoy and Ray Rice dominant -- I side with the defense. Nobody doubts the importance of Week 16 in fantasy football; it's either your championship round or the semifinals to advance one more time, but I don't buy the theory that you've gotta dance with the players who got you to the dance, either. We're looking for statistics here, not building loyalty in players.
It's likely that Lynch will not have a good game Saturday against the 49ers. Could he get 60 rushing yards and find his way into the end zone? Anything is possible, I suppose, and that's why Lynch ended up as close (at No. 12) to my top 10 as he did. I'm not particularly pleased with extra-erratic Tennessee Titans headcase Chris Johnson either, especially now that he's dealing with a sprained ankle, and he's my No. 13 choice. Ah, but he wants to rush for 1,000 yards this season! Knowing what we've seen from Johnson this season, just watch him get exactly the 70 rushing yards he needs Saturday, then shut it down and sit Week 17, too. At least Lynch won't do that. But these guys are fantasy starters for most of us because there just aren't 20 sure-fire running backs to count on.
Looking back through the season, San Francisco has kept in check Philly's McCoy, Baltimore's Rice, Steven Jackson of the Rams, a then-hot Beanie Wells of Arizona and, way back in Week 1, Lynch himself. Perhaps Lynch is a different player now, or his offensive line is the big differentiator, but I trust the 49ers' D in this case. Don't play the trust game with your fantasy options. Go with your best options, even if it means trusting fantasy's No. 20 running back for the season, Rashard Mendenhall of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hey, I like his matchup against the Rams. They don't stop the run. Mendy slots in as my No. 11 running back, just better than Lynch.
Here are some other thoughts that jumped out at me when ranking players for Week 16:
New York, New York: Yes, the performances of the New Jersey football teams in Week 15 was kind of atrocious, but that tells me nothing about Week 16 when the Giants and Jets meet in the stadium they share. Eli Manning is surely safe to use, and one must think Hakeem Nicks will be a tad, um, more focused this week. As for the Jets, Mark Sanchez is a borderline fantasy starter as well. Then there's running back Shonn Greene, closing in on 1,000 rushing yards: He's averaging 4.8 yards per rush and 2.3 yards after contact per rush over the past four weeks. I nearly ranked Greene better than Lynch this week. I probably should have, in retrospect.
O is for Orton ... and offense: Kudos to the Kansas City Chiefs for knocking off the unbeaten Green Bay Packers. What changed? Hmm, having a decent quarterback in the lineup sure didn't hurt. Kyle Orton isn't a fantasy starter this week, but I ranked him 17th at quarterback, good enough for use in deep leagues. I really like Dwayne Bowe against an Oakland Raiders defense that stinks. The Raiders are third-easiest for quarterbacks and fourth-easiest for wide receivers to exploit for fantasy goodness this season. I thought about putting Bowe among my top-5 wide receivers this week but settled on ninth. I was kind of on an island with that choice.
Ordinary Joe: Sorry, but I've seen way too much of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco this season to trust him in Week 16, and this is a miserable matchup for him against the Browns. The last time the Ravens beat the Browns, a mere three weeks ago, Flacco threw for 158 yards and no touchdowns. I know Torrey Smith has consecutive big games and Anquan Boldin is talented, but c'mon. Use Rice and the Ravens' defense, but avoid the others.