This week's electronic conversation between Sports columnists Gary Shelton and John Romano:
GS: Now that the Bucs have established themselves as the best team in the NFC, as well as parts of Europe, it is time for the next question. Are they better than the Cardinals?
JR: You know, Gary, I understand what Raheem Morris is doing when he makes these bold statements. He's trying to convince a young team that it is capable of winning every game. And there's nothing wrong with that concept. The problem is that you can't go overboard. You want to push, but you don't want to push too far. Otherwise, you begin to lose credibility if the performance does not match the boast. It's a fine line, and I worry that Raheem is dancing all over it.
GS: In this league, coaches are remembered not only by what they did but what they said. You remember how Sam Wyche once was flogged by a similar statement. That's the danger, that people are going to judge the Bucs not by their improvement but by whether they measured up to the swagger. It's like Amy Winehouse declaring herself Miss Universe. You want to say "Which universe?"
JR: You're right. He has put himself in a position where 7-9 will feel like a letdown when it should come with streamers and party hats. And get off Amy Winehouse's case. She's just taking heroin chic to a whole 'nother level.
GS: That's why she looks like Keith Richards in lipstick? I did not know that.
JR: So what is realistic for the Bucs? They have a little more talent and a lot more spunk than I thought, but does that mean the Falcons and Saints should be shaking in their cleats?
GS: The Bucs have more proving to do before the citizens run screaming from the streets. But, yeah, they're better, and they have some marvelous toys in Josh Freeman, Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount. The thing is, they have a lot of games that are going to be tight, starting with today's at Arizona. The Lions are better. The Seahawks are better. And strange things happen to the Bucs in San Francisco. But I really do think a .500 record is possible. Does that sound silly?
JR: Not silly, just strange. We had conditioned ourselves to expect much worse. Sort of like when I get on the scale every morning.
GS: Do you get the "exploding mine reaction," too? I almost hit the cat with a stray spring the other morning. Getting back to the game, what do you expect to happen today? Aside from beating the Saints, the Cardinals haven't been very good this year. All of the offense is packed away somewhere in Kurt Warner's closet. First, is this winnable, and second, would you bet on it happening?
JR: Winnable? Absolutely. Would I bet on it? Not even with your credit card. There's something about a team living on the edge that makes me think of crash landings.
GS: To be fair, living on the edge beats dying in the desert. The Cardinals have been doing that all year. For instance, quarterback Max Hall is going to be able to play this week, but I'm not sure that's a good thing for Arizona. Two games in and he hasn't thrown a touchdown pass.
JR: I don't even know who Max Hall is. Ten minutes ago I would have guessed it was a new Dodge pickup.
GS: Hall is one of those plucky underachievers a coach falls in love with when his other quarterbacks are Derek Anderson and the dearly departed Matt Leinart. You probably know him by his former name: "Bruce Gradkowski."
JR: I'm not as optimistic. I'm also not as intelligent, but that's another conversation. I think the Bucs get it right in the cactus this week.