This week's electronic conversation between Sports columnists Gary Shelton and John Romano:
GS: Okay, John. For a guy who has an opinion about everything, here's a real poser for you … and for Mike Singletary. In the battle of Smiths, do you go with Troy or Alex? Or those guys on the cough drop box? Who should frighten the Bucs the most?
JR: Smith Brothers cough drops? Which century are you living in? Did you take your cherry-flavored Smith Brothers after the sassafras and castor oil didn't work? And, yes, Mike Singletary is making the right decision with Troy Smith. The guy has started only four games in four years, so he's still an unproven commodity. On the other hand, Alex Smith has already proved he is nothing special.
GS: You're cute when you try to insult me, but yeah, I'm old enough to remember leeching. Back to the point: Does it strike you that, since we're talking about a Heisman winner (Troy) and an overall No. 1 draft pick (Alex), there is a whole lot of bad at quarterback for the 49ers? That said, the Bucs have lost to some very bad quarterbacks in San Francisco. Do you think they can survive this time?
JR: I was telling someone the other day that this might be among the most pivotal games remaining. You sort of expect them to lose at Baltimore and New Orleans. And you figure they'll win at home against Detroit and Seattle. They win this one and I'm willing to bet they make the playoffs.
GS: Playoffs? This time last year, you were talking about layoffs, and now, you're talking about playoffs. I think it's too early for my mouth to form that word yet without it sounding like I'm channeling Jim Mora.
JR: I think the Bucs have earned their way into the playoff conversation. Yes, their schedule has been a gift. True, their victories have been close. But it's hard to live on luck for nine weeks. They're playing smart, aggressive, fun football. And I'll continue saying that right up until the moment they are eliminated, when I will then claim to have known they were pretenders all along.
GS: I like it when you are honest about being dishonest. Still, it isn't what the Bucs have done that bothers me. It's what they haven't done yet, which is manufacture a pass rush or stop a running back. I thought the defense would be better and you would be funnier.
JR: My bookie thinks I'm hilarious.
GS: Let me explain this one more time. The guy who brings you bacon at Skyway Jack's is not a bookie, and you should not wager on whether he brings you six strips or seven on the Columnists' Platter.
JR: Agree to disagree. Now tell me what you see happening this week. Do the Bucs claim the Pacific time zone as their own?
GS: I think so. I see another big lead and another nervous finish … and seven-dash-three.
JR: If I were a Bucs fan, I would be concerned about fate. Or karma. Or happenstance. Whatever you want to call it. This team has not slipped up yet this year. The Bucs have not lost a game that I would have expected them to win. It's difficult to make it through an entire season without that kind of stumble.
GS: Ask the Saints, who lost to the Cardinals. Ask the Patriots, who lost to the Browns. Ask Man o' War, who was upset by a horse named Upset. Most teams stub their little piggie somewhere along the line. But I don't see it. You?
JR: I have a gut feeling — and my gut is bigger than most — that they fall this week. I see Troy Smith giving the Bucs trouble. But I'm also the guy who said rap music was a fad in 1983, so never trust me.
GS: I never would. Mostly, though, I don't trust Troy Smith. The only team he scares is the 49ers. The Bucs win, 21-19.
JR: Fair enough. If I'm wrong, I'll let you buy me lunch.
GS: If you got a free lunch every time you were wrong, you'd weigh so much we'd have to change your name to Orca. Or, perhaps, Gary.