This week's electronic conversation between Sports columnists John Romano and Gary Shelton:
JR: Ten weeks into the season and I'm getting the sense that more people believe in Bigfoot than in the Bucs. Is this skepticism running amok, Gary, or do the Bucs need to beat the Ravens to prove something?
GS: Skepticism is easy, and it's affordable. I'm thinking about marketing my own brand for Christmas. But if the Bucs want to be considered among the NFL's best teams, they eventually have to beat somebody good. I don't hold the Bucs' schedule against them, but the expectations are about to increase.
JR: Expectations should increase. That means people are no longer lumping you with the dregs of the NFL. I think the Bucs have proved they are a good team. Now it's a question of how good: Are they wild-card good? Are they good enough to win the franchise's first postseason game since the Super Bowl?
GS: The thing is, you can ask with a straight face, and I can answer without laughing. That alone shows how far this team has come. I think the schedule gets tougher, and this might be a year when a 10-win team gets left out. But, yes, the Bucs are capable of getting into the playoffs. Depending on the opponent and the location, I think they're good enough to win a postseason game. I will now take my meds and lie down.
JR: So what has to happen to get there? More offense? Better defense? More praying?
GS: My first thought would be that the Bucs have to stop the run the way they did against the 49ers. They need to force a few more turnovers. They need to hit a few more big plays. They need to not get bitten by Ray Lewis.
JR: I swear I was writing about that guy tackling James Wilder in the 1980s. How long can he keep going?
GS: Till he gets paroled?
JR: Wow. I'm not sure of the correct response to that, but I believe it involves the terms "cap" and "@#*."
GS: Regardless, Lewis is a fine player, and the Ravens have a fine defense. But don't you think the Bucs are more prepared for this kind of a game than they were against, say, Pittsburgh?
JR: Without a doubt. They've become a better team because they have more confidence and faith. And also because they have LeGarrette Blount. Hard to overstate how much he has meant to the offense.
GS: They say the mark of a great player is the ability to make players around you better. Blount has made the offensive line better. He has made Josh Freeman better. And he has made Cadillac Williams better. The way he hurdles people, I think he could make Edwin Moses better.
JR: Now if the Bucs could just get some more touches for Donald Penn …
GS: How about a Penn around? How about Penn running a post? How about him posing, well, Pennsively in the end zone? Give me pounds of Penn. But, um, hold the Micheal Spurlock passes to Earnest Graham from the water bucket.
JR: You forgot the ballpoint Penn and the Penn reverse relays. But enough silliness. You have been correct recently about the Bucs winning, and I have been way off about the Bucs losing. So dazzle me some more: What happens in Baltimore?
GS: I think the Ravens happen. The Bucs are better now than they were a month ago and better then than a month earlier. But there aren't many teams in the NFL who aren't going to be underdogs to the Ravens in Nevermore Stadium. Would I be shocked if the Bucs win? No, not anymore. But I think the Ravens get this one. You?
JR: Remarkably, everything you say makes sense to me. Either I'm getting wiser or you're getting dumber.
GS: It has always been a movement toward the middle. Four more blows to the skull and I'm watching Glee reruns with you and searching for the deeper meanings.