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Thursday games bring a new challenge

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's Week 10 of the NFL season and that means the arrival of the Thursday night "Game of the Week." It's just another obstacle for the fantasy owner to overcome as we try to put out our best lineup.

It's difficult enough to get all the information needed to have your best lineup in by Sunday at 1 p.m., now you have to make some waiver claim decisions on Wednesday night. And lineup choices by Thursday night.

Unfortunately, we don't always know the extent of injuries at mid-week.

For example, suppose your starting tight end is San Diego Chargers All-Pro Antonio Gates and your backup is Baltimore's Todd Heap. What will you do?

If Gates is healthy, you certainly want the league's best tight end (40-663-9) in your lineup. But he missed last week's games, the first one he has missed since 2005, indicating a serious foot problem. Worse, you are not likely to know about Gates' availability until later in the week or even until just before game-time.

Do you play it safe and take the sure, though likely less points, from Heap or gamble and start either Gates or a last-second waiver wire claim?

It's a very difficult decision.

For the Thursday night game, the Ravens will have three surefire starters in Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin and the defense/special teams and three other players who have solid fantasy value -- Joe Flacco, Derrick Mason and Billy Cundiff. They also have two borderline starters who can be used in a pinch -- Willis McGahee and Heap.

There are less questions on the Atlanta side of the ball where Michael Turner, Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and kicker Matt Bryant are every week starters.

I will give you this bit of information -- in 2007 and 2008 the total points scored in all Thursday NFL games averaged 51 and 53.2 ppg, respectively. But last year that number was down to 35.5. Perhaps it was the teams chosen, a smaller offensive playbook, or possibly NFL defensive coaches have learned how to play on a short work week.

For me, this last statistic tells me to try to avoid Thursday night borderline starters.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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