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INJURY REPORT PROVIDES ROAD MAP TO LINEUP WISDOM

How hurt is too hurt?

That's the question fantasy football owners have to wrestle with all too often.

There's nothing worse than seeing one of your building blocks listed on the National Football League's dreaded injury report. That low is often stronger than the high from seeing that same name near the top of the statistical leaders.

There's really nothing you can do about injuries. You can know everything about a player's history -- his tendencies, his shoe size, his mother's maiden name, his favorite food. But you can't anticipate injuries. An owner who drafted Washington's Michael Westbrook or Dallas' Joey Galloway is no less knowledgeable than an owner who picked Daunte Culpepper. Just more snake-bitten.

Every owner is going to have to deal with injuries and there are some things you can do to soften the blow.

It all starts with the injury report, which comes out on Wednesday evening and is updated again on Friday. Believe it or not, it wasn't created for fantasy owners. It only seems that way.

In fact, the NFL takes injury report honesty pretty seriously. Coaches like Bill Parcells have been fined for fudging, even forgetting to mention a gimpy player, for the injury report.

If your player appears, it will be under one of these categories:

* Out: A no-brainer. That means there's no chance he's going to play, so find somebody else, no matter how deep you have to dig or how many tears you're forced to squirt.

* Doubtful: There's only a 25 percent chance of this guy playing. Usually, it means he hasn't practiced yet and is spending more time with trainers than coaches. In the unlikely event he plays, he's probably going to be unproductive and spotted.

* Questionable: Supposedly, it's a 5 0/5 0 chance from here, but experience proves most of these guys indeed do play. If you've got a suitable backup, think about using him in this situation but if the dropoff is too great, go with your starter, even if he's a bit less productive than normal.

* Probable: Don't think twice. These are pro football players -- not quite as tough as National Hockey Leaguers -- but certainly not wimpy baseball players either. There's a 75 percent chance they'll be out there. Translation: They'll tape it up and go play.

But don't just take that quick look at the injury report. There are other things you can do to help yourself:

* Analyze: If you're dealing with Randy Moss, that's one thing. If he plays in any condition, the football is going to find him. But say you've got a back on a team that runs by committee, like the Buffalo Bills. If a guy is dinged up, why risk it if there are one or two other guys -- of near-equal ability -- to share the carries with? Any coach is going to go with the healthier guy in that situation.

* History: Some injuries are just more serious than others. What owner isn't going to cringe when Troy Aikman or Rob Johnson is mentioned in the same breath as the word "concussion?" Injuries that are potentially career-threatening are likely to be dealt with much more patiently -- and justifiably so -- than everyday bumps, strains and bruises.

* Homework: Try to get more information than the injury report provides. Go on the Internet and see if the injured man has practiced yet. Is the coach talking about who will fill in yet? If so, what can you do to acquire that replacement player?

* Trends: If a player is upgraded from Wednesday to Friday, it means he's getting better and most likely has practiced. If he's downgraded, it's just the opposite. A move from probable to questionable is a cue for you to ponder Plan B.

Week Four eye-popper

Twinkle, twinkle little star. Tampa Bay receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who called himself a star and New York Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet a flashlight prior to last Sunday's matchup, finished with as many catches and receiving yards as he had tackles -- one. "I can't explain it," Johnson said. "How can I explain it?" He watched from the sidelines when Chrebet caught the winner in the fourth quarter, then announced, "I don't think (the hype) affected the football game whatsoever."

Week Five matchups

* The good: Buffalo QB Rob Johnson won back his starting job thanks to last year's sterling performance against Indianapolis: 24 of 32 for 287 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. . . . Green Bay QB Brett Favre has at least one TD pass in his last 10 games against Chicago, throwing 23 during that span. . . . Detroit WR Germane Crowell caught eight passes in both games against Minnesota last year.

* The bad: Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning has more interceptions (six) than TD passes (five) against Buffalo in his career. . . . Dallas RB Emmitt Smith has rushed for just one touchdown in three career games against Carolina. . . . Cleveland QB Tim Couch was brutal in two games against Baltimore last season: 22 of 53 (41.5 percent) for just 180 yards with one score and two interceptions.

Who's Hot

St. Louis K Jeff Wilkins

Denver RB Mike Anderson

Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning

Who's Not

New Orleans QB Jeff Blake

New York Giants RB Ron Dayne

Arizona RB Thomas Jones

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