This week's electronic conversation between Sports columnists John Romano and Gary Shelton:
JR: Simple question, Gary: If the Bucs win today, no matter what the Cowboys do, is this a successful season?
GS: If it is, John, the expectations are too low. Ten victories isn't awful, but it isn't success. Put it this way: In the NFL, most coaches get their jobs because the previous guy didn't make it to the playoffs.
JR: Seven years ago, the Glazers would have agreed with you. Tony Dungy was fired after winning two postseason games during his six-year reign. If the Bucs don't advance to the second round of the playoffs this year, Jon Gruden will have won three postseason games in his seven years. Should we cue the Jaws theme?
GS: Ron Jaworski has a theme song? Does Tony Kornheiser have a dance number? No, Gruden isn't in trouble. But there's going to be loud debate about whether he should be and what it says about the Glazers that he isn't. Have they become patient, or have they become passive?
JR: I just think they're preoccupied with how many decimals are involved in a $1-billion loan at 14 percent interest.
GS: Perhaps. And that leaves the Bucs trapped between an okay season and a successful one. That's a tough position. And here's the tougher part: Is there anything that makes you think the Bucs will be any better next season?
JR: Dude, I have about 6 pounds of undigested Christmas cookies in my gut, and you're asking me to look a year down the road? Okay, I think the Bucs can be better. The defense has enough solid pieces, and, eventually, the offensive line will grow up. But the Bucs need some impact players. They need to spend some of the tens of millions they have in salary-cap space. Now, tell me how all of that chocolate clouded my thinking.
GS: Well, you've always had more chocolate than thought. The thing is, history doesn't suggest the Bucs are going to spend those millions, does it? We don't know who the quarterback is going to be, although I suspect one of them will be Jeff Garcia. We don't know if Antonio Bryant is going to be back, although I suspect he will be. We don't know if the pass rush will ever come or if the red zone offense will be better.
JR: But we do know Julius Peppers or Albert Haynesworth might be available. And we do know one or more of the Giants' running backs could show up at someone's door. But, you're right, there is no recent evidence suggesting the Bucs will pry open their wallets. So, to paraphrase Scarlett O'Hara, I'll worry about the pass rush another day. Break down today's percentages on the chances Bucs win/Cowboys win, Bucs win/Cowboys lose, Bucs lose/Cowboys win, Bucs lose/Cowboys lose.
GS: What am I, Mr. Wizard? I think the Bucs are going to beat the Raiders, mainly because Oakland's game plan is still whatever plays Al Davis carves into his pudding. But can Dallas and its whining army of receivers hold off the Eagles? Yeah, probably. I make the Bucs' playoff chances at 43.2 percent. Does that sound right?
JR: Oh yeah? I just happen to have Mr. Wizard right here. He says 38.2 percent chance the Bucs make the playoffs and 74.6 percent chance you feel guilty about being snotty to me during the holidays.
GS: Why should the holidays be different?
JR: Because I'm the one who is going to bring fruitcake to the game today. (And, yes, that set-up line is my gift to you.)
GS: Except for those weeks when your wife drives you, you always bring fruitcake to the game. Okay, it was a gimmie. You have to score when you're in the red zone. And if the Bucs could do that, this season would have a better pulse.