This week's electronic conversation between Sports columnists John Romano and Gary Shelton:
JR: A quarter of the way into the schedule, I am convinced of two things, Gary. No. 1, the Bucs are better than a lot of us suspected. No. 2, the NFC West has a chance to be one of the worst divisions in NFL history. Considering the Bucs will play all four NFC West teams this season, should we start contemplating the possibility of playoff football in the coming months?
GS: Mid October is too soon to think about the playoffs. On the other hand, we aren't thinking about the draft, either. That's a pretty good indicator how much better this team is. The Bucs are improved enough that a winning record is possible, which means contract extensions for the room.
JR: If a winning record is possible, then I would presume the playoffs would be possible. Isn't that half the fun of a season? Looking down the line and trying to figure out where the pushovers and potholes reside?
GS: I thought half the fun was winning and the other half was making fun of those who can't.
JR: That's only in politics. In sports, we make fun of everyone.
GS: That's right. I forgot. On the other hand, the Bucs are less of a punch line these days. At the first of the year, the Saints would have been double-digit favorites. Instead, they've lost two games, a Kardashian and a Heisman. That's a bad start.
JR: Especially the Kardashian. You lose one of those and it's another six minutes before another comes along. So which start is closer to reality? Tampa Bay at 3-1 or New Orleans at 3-2?
GS: Don't you think every TMZ headline heroine should change her name to Kardashian? Paris Kardashian. Lindsay Kardashian. Britney Kardashian. It would make things less confusing. As far as the football question, I think they're both real enough records. The Saints defense hasn't been good. And the Bucs? They seem to believe they're better. The Saints are still the more complete team, of course, but I think the Bucs will give it a game. The key is going to be to get pressure on Drew Brees. Can they do it?
JR: The evidence says no. The Bucs have four sacks in four games, which would appear to be the weakest pass rush in the NFL. Yet Tampa Bay has held opposing quarterbacks to a 65.1 passer rating. How are they doing it? I'm thinking it may have something to do with Jake Delhomme, Matt Moore, Charlie Batch and Carson Palmer. Brees might be different.
GS: Yeah, he isn't as likely to consider Cody Grimm as T.O. or Sabby Piscitelli as Chad Ochocinco. This is a game the Bucs definitely need to play keepaway. Do you see a real number of carries for LeGarrette Blount or Kareem Huggins?
JR: I would hope so. The running game has failed to impress. I don't know if that's Cadillac Williams' fault or a lack of ability across the board. Either way, it wouldn't hurt to have a new look in the backfield to shake things up. On the other hand, I don't know if I would want to be in the backfield with Jeff Faine out.
GS: I still think you have to run the ball. Josh Freeman has been very good, but I'm not sure he can win a shootout with Brees. The throwers from Tampa Bay haven't been too successful lately in shootouts. (See: Price, David.)
JR: And the fans haven't been too lucky with blackouts. I'm thinking this is a best-case scenario for the Glazers. Eight blackouts will make people reconsider buying season tickets in the offseason, and the team is playing well enough to help entice them, too. Sort of black(out)mail.
GS: Yeah, the only thing better would be to make the fans in the cheaper seats cover one eye.
JR: Or bring a Kardashian.