This week's electronic conversation between Sports columnists John Romano and Gary Shelton:
JR: Gary, do you have a sword I can fall on? Because I'm thinking I might have been a wee bit wrong about this Bucs team. It's not just the 2-0 start. It's the way they looked against Carolina. Like they knew the difference between post routes and Post Toasties. Maybe they weren't quite playoff-caliber, but they were better than I expected. Has your opinion evolved?
GS: Yes. My opinion is now this: "It sure would be fun to see John fall on a bunch of swords." Hey, remember, I had them winning last week. And I was a tad more optimistic than you. But I agree that it isn't the record — because they've beaten two teams that might be in the top eight of the draft — it's the way they've played. They've been smart; they've been focused. I'm going to stick with my six-win prediction, but I don't think I'm being nice anymore. I think six, and maybe even eight, is possible.
JR: When are you ever nice? At any rate, I think the greatest accomplishment is the Bucs have made themselves relevant. In 2009, the season was over by Halloween. This one could be entertaining until Thanksgiving and beyond.
GS: Let's don't get giddy now. So far, the Bucs have beaten Jake Delhomme and the guy who replaced Jake Delhomme. Even Charlie Batch is better than those guys, and he isn't as good as the quarterback they'll play in the bye week.
JR: Don't forget, Matt Moore beat this team in 2009. And now, a year later, they make him look like Adam Sandler in The Longest Yard. If this defense is not a mirage, the Bucs at least have a chance to keep games close and maybe snag one or two upsets with the right breaks.
GS: Yeah, Matt Moore beat the Bucs last year. Mary Tyler Moore could have beaten the Bucs last year. Remember, Chris Redman and Chad Henne also beat the Bucs. But I agree the Bucs are better. And suddenly, there are more games that look winnable on the schedule. I'm not sure Pittsburgh is one of them, though. As you know, the mathematical formula for the Bucs running attack plus the Steelers defense equals pain. I think Wernher von Braun said that.
JR: Yes, but the mathematical formula for Charlie Batch plus a huddle equals comedy. I believe Van Halen said that.
GS: That's how good the Steelers organization is. The team can still look dominating despite having a quarterback who is probably the 42nd best player on the roster. If the Bucs are smart, they'll hold the Steelers up as the model of what they want to be when they grow up.
JR: That's exactly what the Bucs have done. Build in the draft and hire Mike Tomlin's better-looking brother as head coach. As for this game, we have seen the defense stand up against Carolina's running game. Can the offense do the same against Pittsburgh's nasty defense?
GS: Well, that's what the Bucs will be trying to do. They haven't quite grown into their Steeler jammies yet. As for this week, I think the Bucs defense will give it a good fight against the Steelers' running game, but don't forget how relentless Pittsburgh will be. As for the Steelers defense, it's as good as the Jets were last year. That's going to be the real test. Look at what Pittsburgh has done to Michael Turner and Chris Johnson the first two weeks. It's going to be a tough day for Cadillac Williams.
JR: So you were Captain Happy Pants last week when you declared the Bucs would win. Feeling plucky again?
GS: I have gobs of pluck. But, no, I haven't been inhaling around Tanard Jackson. I'll take Pittsburgh in one of those 16-7 games. Or 3-2. I haven't decided yet.