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DON'T MUDDY YOUR CHANCES BY CLEANING HOUSE EARLY

Knowing when to pull the trigger on a trade can be one of the most lethal weapons in a fantasy football owner's holster.

But so can just saying "no."

Sound confusing? Well, dealing during the regular season can be the trickiest part of the equation.

We're at the point of the year where every owner has gotten a little taste of what each player on the roster can do. No doubt, you've got guys you're absolutely in love with and others you wish would ponder an immediate career change.

Here are some tips to consider once the offers start pouring in:

It's still early: Even if you're still winless, don't panic and write anybody off simply because they've struggled for two or three games. The NFL season certainly isn't a marathon but it isn't a sprint either. When you compiled your draft lists, you projected certain players to attain certain goals. More often than not, you'll find that by the end of the season what you thought would happen in August comes pretty close to reality in December. So if you've projected 10 touchdowns for your top receiver and he doesn't have any yet, obviously the best is yet to come.

Have purpose: Don't deal just because everybody else is doing it, because you're being pressured by an overaggressive foe or just because your league's trade deadline is fast approaching. The simple rule is: If you don't think the deal will help you, don't make it.

Stay focused: It's bad strategy to clean house, even for promising prospects in "keeper" leagues, while your team is still mathematically alive for a playoff berth.

You'll find that no matter how enticing a prospect looks, there's at least one other owner in your league that believes that player's future isn't necessarily all that rosy -- the guy tendering the offer. No matter how many times you hear it, when an opposing owner tells you he's interested in helping you, don't buy it.

Quality, not quantity: In general, the owner who receives the best player in any deal gets the better of the trade. That's particularly true in football compared to other fantasy sports, because the season is so much shorter. If you make an April deal in fantasy baseball, you've got 140 games for an acquisition to surpass everybody's expectations. In football, in a best-case scenario, you've got a dozen or so games. Professional athletes really don't blossom overnight. So if somebody offers you a 3-for-1 for a deal, or even more lopsided, you're likely surrendering the top talent and will be sorry later.

The big picture: Don't just stay in tune with what's happening to your players. Pay attention to the rosters of your fellow owners. Maybe there's an owner who's had a major injury at quarterback. Maybe his backup has a bye in the near future. Your third or fourth quarterback, who will never see the light of day anyway, might be quite enticing. But the odds are he probably won't come to you with his problems, so try to stay a step ahead.

Most valuable: When considering any deal, keep in mind that the elite running backs are without question the NFL's most valuable commodities. There aren't enough to cough one up without a fabulous payoff.

Common sense: If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. With the advancement of the Internet highway, there's really no reason for any fantasy owner to get soaked by picking up a player who's just been suspended for drug use, arrested, demoted or waived. So resist the impulse, at least until you check it out.

Week Three eye-popper

Quarterback Elvis Grbac was nearly knocked out of last Sunday's game against San Diego when he threw an interception that safety Michael Dumas returned 56 yards for a Chargers touchdown. On the runback, San Diego tackle John Parrella hit Grbac low and cornerback Scott Turner belted him high. "My stomach was churning right about that time," said Chiefs head coach Gunther Cunningham. Not to worry. Grbac stayed in there and became the first K.C. quarterback since Hall of Famer Len Dawson in 1967 to throw five TD passes in a game.

Week Four matchups

The good: St. Louis QB Kurt Warner was 30 of 45 with four TDs and no interceptions against Atlanta last year. . . . Chicago RC Marcus Robinson caught 11 passes for 170 yards and three TDs (all career bests) last Dec. 19 against Detroit. . . . Green Bay RB Dorsey Levens scorched Arizona for 146 yards and four rushing TDs on 24 carries last year.

The bad: San Francisco RC Jerry Rice hasn't caught a TD pass against Dallas since 1995. . . . New York Giants QB Kerry Collins has one TD and four interceptions in his career against Washington. . . . New England RC Terry Glenn has never caught a TD pass against Miami.

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