The most recent news of this unique NFL offseason was the surprising signing of former Panthers QB Cam Newton by the New England Patriots. Newton, who is a former MVP (earned for his incredible 2015 season), signed for peanuts to have an opportunity to rebuild his name in the league. As someone who was always shocked at the lack of interest surrounding Newton, I am quite intrigued by this move and think it could pay major dividends for New England.
As much as I hate to say it, his success in the Pats offense could be cause for concern in Baltimore.
The 2020 season will introduce a new wrinkle into the playoffs, as each conference will only have one first-round BYE available to teams. This already made things difficult for Baltimore (as Kansas City hasn’t gone anywhere), but I think the Newton signing makes seeding even tougher to predict. Of course, there’s no need to get into record projections just yet (we have to see if the season will even happen, for starters), but on a more general level, the AFC seems far muddier than it did just a few weeks ago.
I am a firm believer in Newton’s ability to lead an NFL contender, if healthy. What’s more, his sheer hunger after a frustrating end to his career in Carolina could be enough to drive tremendous performance. Newton will want to prove that he can still win in this league. With the Patriots, he’s in an organization that strives for the best, surrounded by great coaches and a system that may not ask so much from him.
The Patriots have a great defense and running game, but with Jarrett Stidham at the helm, their potential was capped as fairly mediocre. With Newton, the upside potential of the offense skyrockets. That takes New England from a decent team to a dangerous one.
Prior to the Newton signing, I’d counted the Patriots out. For me, the AFC was a conference to be dominated by the Ravens and Chiefs. Maybe Houston or Buffalo would sneak into the picture, but they didn’t truly pose the same kind of threat. Given Newton’s natural ability as a terrific athlete and the strong roster he joins, I have to put New England right there with the AFC contenders. In no way are they quite where Baltimore or Kansas City are, but with a strong playoff performance from a healthy and consistent Newton, there’s no doubt they could eventually get there.
Regardless, returning to the change negating a second playoff BYE, the AFC appears more problematic. Without diving into matchups too much, take this obvious example of how things will change for Baltimore: Week 9 @ New England.
A week ago, this seemed an easy game – the Ravens traveling to meet Stidham and the rival Pats on Sunday Night Football. Now, the narrative shifts to Baltimore going on the road to play a tough night game in New England against a dangerous Pats team led by Newton. Without a doubt, the outcome is far less clear, even if the Ravens remain favorites.
Newton makes the Patriots a better team, no matter what you feel his potential is this season. Given that, topping the AFC will be a tougher prospect.
The Ravens still might do it, but it the odds just got a tad longer.
The hooded one strikes again.