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Five topics suitable for inane debate on talk radio:

THE HALF-FULL OUTLOOK: One more time on strength of schedule. Tampa Bay is 7-0 against teams .500 or below and 1-2 against teams with winning records. But perhaps it's time we applaud this trend. What it means is the Bucs have not had a letdown. Think fans in Green Bay feel that way this morning?

BUNCH OF SLACKERS: The defense has gone three straight games without getting in the end zone. So, if you keep track of these things, the offense no longer has the season's longest TD drought.

IN SEARCH OF : Give coach Jon Gruden credit. He will try anything to find the answer for the running game. We began the year with a Michael Pittman-Mike Alstott backfield, tinkered with an Alstott-Jameel Cook combo and are experimenting with various one-back sets. The Bucs used the one-back or no-back offense in almost 70 percent of first-half snaps. It did not spark the running game, but it helped spread the field.

MILD PEPPERS: Three weeks ago, Panthers rookie sensation Julius Peppers did a number on Kenyatta Walker. Consider the score settled. As much as we have poked fun of Walker, the Bucs right tackle was almost flawless. If Walker and the rest of the line continue to improve, the offense might turn out all right. Maybe not good, but at least adequate.

FOOTBALLS, PUCKS AND A HARD BALL: The Bucs are 2-0 against Carolina. The Lightning is 2-0 against Carolina. Alas, we make no guarantees when it comes to the Devil Rays and Durham Bulls.


Five reasons Julius Peppers was not a factor:

5. "Accidentally" took too much Prozac.

4. Troubled by rumors the Barney Rubble vitamins had extra juice.

3. Hoped to convince commissioner Paul Tagliabue to count this toward four-game suspension.

2. Whadda ya mean? Two tackles ain't good enough for ya?

1. Busy bugging teammates for spare urine samples.


ATTACKING THE END ZONE: Granted, the Bucs are not offensive wizards, but at least they have an expectation of scoring touchdowns. Instead of going conservative in the red zone, Tampa Bay is willing to throw beyond the goal line. Brad Johnson's 14 touchdowns have surpassed last season.

CHANGE IS GOOD: The team is not staid. Tony Dungy had a plan and stuck with it 16 weeks. Gruden is a meddler. In a good way.

IT'S ALIVE: Not that Warren Sapp was ever really shy, but the defensive tackle appears to be having more fun than ever and teammates are following. Simeon Rice is playing to the crowd. Joe Jurevicius is a bundle of energy. The team, for a change, has a personality. And it's loud.

GOING DEEP: Three receivers have receptions of 60 yards or more. Last season? Zero.

EXPECTATIONS: For a change, no one is ducking them.


Checking out the best bets (and the Bucs) for Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego:

1. PACKERS: Always seem to struggle at the Metrodome.

2. RAMS: They're 4-5, but would you want to play them today?

3. SAINTS: Still betting they win the surprisingly tough NFC South.

4. BUCS: Coming up? Packers, Saints and Falcons. Oh my.

5. FALCONS: Michael Vick looks like Donovan McNabb. Except better.


Running games are so overrated.