This week's electronic conversation between Sports columnists Gary Shelton and John Romano:
GS: Last year, the Rams were one of two teams that were somehow worse than the Bucs. Now the Rams are on the road, and they're playing a rookie quarterback. So why am I getting a bad vibe about this game for the home team?
JR: Maybe because you've seen Charlie Batch carve them up and Chris Ivory run them over? Maybe because you've seen Cadillac Williams running 1-yard sprints and Connor Barth going for bank shots? Maybe because you had chili rellenos for breakfast again?
GS: Oh, yeah. That. If the Bucs play any worse, I'm going to ask the PR director to black out the press box. Seriously, shouldn't the Bucs win this game? I know these aren't Derrick Brooks' Bucs, but those aren't Marshall Faulk's Rams, either.
JR: Of course the Bucs should win this game. They're the home team. And the Rams are 9-45 since 2007. If the Bucs don't win this game, their prognosis is going to be a lot more grim going forward. Particularly because four of their next five games are on the road.
GS: All of that is true. And if the Bucs lose, I'm prepared to call it the worst loss of the Raheem Morris era. But those are reasons why the Bucs need to win, not reasons why they will. Do you think the Bucs can stop Steven Jackson often enough? Do you think they can put enough heat on Sam Bradford to remind everyone that he's a rookie? Do you think they can find a way to move against a Rams defense that is much, much improved over last year? Answer me, Magic 8-Ball.
JR: I can't even predict which Glee character is about to break into song, and now you want answers to all of those questions? My guess is Jackson will run for 100 yards, but the Bucs will blitz Bradford enough to force him into a critical mistake or two. The Bucs offense won't score much, but it will be just enough. Are we reading the same tea leaves?
GS: Glee? Glee? Real sports writers don't talk about Glee, except maybe to remind fans exactly where the Bucs got their defensive ends. As far as the tea leaves, I absolutely think the Bucs would win … if these teams played last year. But the Rams of this year are better running the ball, better against the run and better rushing the passer. If they weren't called "the Rams," most of us would make them a six-point favorite.
JR: I don't tease you about being a member of the Gilmore Girls fan club, so get off my case about Glee. And, by the way, you still haven't said whether you expect the Bucs to beat the Rams.
GS: You caught me, choirboy. I keep going back and forth. I'm not convinced the Bucs can beat anyone with their running game, and I don't think they can even get a tie with their pass rush. But they can win in the fourth quarter behind Josh Freeman. It would be disappointing if the Bucs couldn't at least make it a close game and then ask Josh to bring it home in the final minutes. I mean, the Rams did give up 44 points to the Lions, didn't they? I'll call it 20-17, Bucs. You?
JR: I believe I already answered that question. And, as my good friend Rick Scott might say, it will be a game. With players. On a field. And he's not sure what you mean by "who" or "will" or "win."
GS: What do you expect when a guy runs on the Bruce Allen ticket?
JR: I understand the concept that every game is equal in the standings and, therefore, no game is more important than another. But isn't this game just a little bit bigger because it's one of the rare times you can say the Bucs are favored? Losing this would have a greater impact than losing to Pittsburgh or New Orleans.
GS: I agree completely. Every game has a different feel and a different nuance. Especially when you're talking about a young team. The Bucs need this game to restore some of the belief that this is a better season going on. And if they are improved, they'll win this game. That said, do you see them improving in their run offense, their run defense, their pass coverage?
JR: Not enough to make you a convert but enough to get the job done today. If not, you can count on blackouts in 2011, too.
GS: There's a question. If the NFL has a work stoppage, can you black out a game that isn't played?