This week's electronic conversation between Sports columnists Gary Shelton and John Romano:
GS: John, the good news is the Bucs are still interesting at the most interesting portion of the NFL schedule. The bad news is you're starting at safety. Now introducing: Sabby Romano.
JR: I'd like to say I couldn't do any worse, but we both know that's not true. What's interesting about Sabby Piscitelli's release last week is that no one is pointing fingers at the Bucs. Sabby had become such a punching bag that fans seemed thrilled he was no longer on their sideline. I don't think it was Piscitelli's fault he was a bust. I think it was Tampa Bay's fault for drafting him in the second round.
GS: Well, they wouldn't have drafted him there, but Dexter Jackson wasn't available until the second round of the following year. Seriously, the only question about cutting Piscitelli — the worst safety in Bucs history — was the timing. The closer Sabby got to the starting lineup, the worse he evidently looked. Put it this way, John. The Bucs traded a fading Booger McFarland for that draft pick, and Booger would have been a better safety. Is it a sad legacy to be remembered as not being worth a Booger?
JR: Eeew. I don't know whether to tell you to wash out your mouth or blow your nose. At any rate, what kind of impact do you think it will have on the defense now that Cody Grimm is injured, Piscitelli is gone and the Bucs are down to Door No. 3 at safety? Does it change their willingness to blitz? To play man-to-man? To sing the Safety Dance?
GS: Losing Grimm hurts the Bucs. He had graduated from fill-in to being a key part of this defense. I think it might force the Bucs to be a little more cautious, but only if they can stop the run without a safety in the box and only if they can generate a pass rush without blitzing. You still have to try to win the game, which means it's hard to hide your safety. If I were the Bucs, I'd dress every defensive back in a Piscitelli jersey just to try to confuse Matt Ryan.
JR: The only way that would work is if they all ran in the wrong direction just before the snap.
GS: They have that formation. It's called "Toasting Rod Jones."
JR: You're having flashbacks again. Take off the platform shoes and explain to me how the Bucs are going to get the running game going again without Davin Joseph.
GS: It doesn't help to lose Joseph. But I'll say this: Since LeGarrette Blount entered the huddle, the offensive line has been a little more feisty. Still, I think the key for the Bucs is going to be throwing the ball against a weak Falcons secondary.
JR: Coming off Josh Freeman's worst game of the season, I'd be a little more upbeat if I thought the Bucs could establish a running game to take some of the pressure off him. Who knows? The Bucs are honoring John McKay and wearing orange today, so maybe they'll win 3-0.
GS: Just so they execute the offense. In a good way, this time. Goodness knows, they need it. This is a huge game for the Bucs if they really want to be taken seriously down the stretch.
JR: I wouldn't worry about being taken seriously. At this point, I'd be counting victories and figuring out what it'll take to still be playing in January. I've been humiliated enough picking against these guys. I'm guessing the Bucs will pull it off Sunday. What do you say?
GS: Until this exact moment, I was going to pick the Bucs. But you're so wrong so often that it makes me rethink the situation. Is it possible that you and the Bucs offense would be sharp on the same day? If that happens, the sky might turn orange. On the other hand, that's a nice, citrusy kind of look. My prediction: Bucs 20, Falcons 17, Romano 3.
JR: Sounds just about right.
GS: Well, I gave you three points because you're at home.
JR: And I always cover the postgame spread.