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Saints should be concerned, Carson Palmer's struggles and much more

Throughout the 2010 NFL season, SI.com's Nick Zaccardi will work with Jerome Bettis to get the six-time Pro Bowl running back's observations about the latest happenings in the league. Bettis retired from the NFL in 2006 after a 13-year career.

The Saints should be very, very concerned. Last week, I said I wasn't worried about the Colts' slow start. Then they went on to beat the last remaining undefeated team. Last year's other conference champion isn't so safe after Sunday's eye-opening loss in Arizona.

Just look at the scoreboard. The Saints scored 14, 25, 24, 16 and 20 points in their first five games. Contrast that to last year, when they put up at least 30 points nine times. Either New Orleans is still suffering from a Super Bowl hangover and guys aren't playing with the same intensity as a year ago, or they really miss injured Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. Opponents were already amped to face the defending champs, and now that Drew Brees and Co. have slammed back to Earth, it'll be even tougher for the Saints to regain their edge.

It's nothing new with teams trying to repeat. In 2006, the Steelers opened 1-3, though they didn't have Ben Roethlisberger to start the season, and missed the playoffs. Even though I had retired, I could see Pittsburgh didn't have that same eye of the tiger.

The Saints' playoff hopes will be dented if they lose this week at Tampa Bay. You never say a game is a must-win this early, but the Bucs and Falcons look like real playoff contenders so far. The Saints need to keep pace.

Week 6 is almost as important for the young Bucs. It's a barometer game, since none of their wins thus far were statement victories. Beating the defending champs, that's saying something.

A defensive player could win the MVP this year. It's early, but the MVP race is incredibly difficult to track right now. Take a look at the quarterbacks. Drew Brees? Peyton Manning? Tom Brady? None of them are playing up to their usual lofty standards.

What about running back? Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Frank Gore had slow starts, too. Receivers? The only wideout who's really stood out to me is Terrell Owens (more on him later).

The real game-changers so far have been on defense. Julius Peppers has been out of sight all year. Troy Polamalu and Charles Woodson are also in that discussion. No defensive player has won the MVP since Lawrence Taylor in 1986. I'm not saying that streak will end, since we're only five weeks into the season, but the opportunity is there for any player -- offense or defense -- to rise up and claim it.

What's wrong with Carson Palmer? It looks like he's regressing. Palmer doesn't resemble the Carson Palmer of old. He just looks old. He looks like an average quarterback that throws some lazy balls that get picked off. Problem is, the Bengals don't have a quarterback ready to replace him. Their No. 2 is another Palmer, younger brother Jordan, which would be quite a story if a quarterback controversy did arise.

Two other quarterback situations need to be watched in the Bay Area. Fans called for David Carr to replace Alex Smith on Sunday night, but I don't think Mike Singletary can pull the ripcord on Smith just yet. The second Smith gets benched, he's effectively done as a San Francisco 49er. The No. 1 pick has a longer leash than most in his position.

The Raiders should stick with Jason Campbell after he led them to a big division win against the Chargers. Campbell lost his job to Bruce Gradkowski after just two weeks, which was not nearly enough time to give him a fair shake on a new team. If Oakland goes back to Gradkowski, you have to ask why they signed Campbell in the first place. This might be a chance to really get a good look at Campbell and decide if he is the guy in the long run.

It's hard to say who the best team in the NFL is, but it's not coming from the NFC. The Ravens proved they belong in the conversation by beating the Jets, the Steelers on the road and then the Broncos' No. 1 passing attack last week. Depending on their Monday night result, the Jets are up there, too, and the Steelers with Roethlisberger coming back warrant consideration.

I don't see anybody comparable in the NFC. The Giants look a whole lot better after wins against the Bears and Texans, but I still don't think they're all the way back yet. The two 4-1 NFC teams, the Bears and Falcons, are unimpressive. Jay Cutler could still develop in Mike Martz's offense, but I don't like what I see so far. Atlanta doesn't have enough firepower on offense or defense to be considered elite yet.

A few more quick thoughts ...

-- I have to commend Eagles running back LeSean McCoy for cracking a rib last week and not just playing through the injury, but thriving with 138 total yards in a win against the 49ers. I cracked ribs on occasions, and it's a very, very painful experience just to move, not to mention running full speed and getting hit. Sure, wearing a flak jacket eases the pain, but it increases the risk of fumbling.

-- Economics could help Mike Singletary keep his job, but it won't save Wade Phillips. The 49ers won't want to spend a lot of money on another coach, which means Singletary should get every opportunity to climb out of that 0-5 hole. Phillips, on the other hand, doesn't have that luxury. The front office put a lot of money into the Cowboys organization, and they need results.

-- The Jenn Sterger situation could definitely affect Brett Favre on the field. Years ago, a woman claimed I had raped her, and even though the allegation was baseless, it was a trying time for me to keep my head on straight. I wasn't playing at 100 percent mentally as a result.

-- A big trend this season has been the re-emergence of veterans in new settings. We've already seen LaDainian Tomlinson and Peppers make headlines. Add T.O. to that list with 17 catches for 324 yards in the last two weeks. Count me as a believer. Owens has been a prolific receiver his whole career, so this is no fluke. Many thought he was past his prime at 36 years old. He's proven them wrong -- he's still got the talent, and he's still a deep threat. Having Chad Ochocinco on the other side of the field helps, too.

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