The race is on in the AFC East.
The New England Patriots did a smart thing over the weekend, bringing in an experienced quarterback in Cam Newton, who has had success in the National Football League. Newton, as opposed to Brian Hoyer who is an NFL veteran and Jarrett Stidham who has thrown four regular season passes, could keep the Patriots on top of the division in Year 1 of the post Brady era.
I don’t think he will, but it’s a good move for New England. Truth be told, I would have probably said the same thing if they had traded for Andy Dalton from the Cincinnati Bengals or signed free agent James Winston.
If the Patriots went into the season with Stidham as the likely starter, I would have given them no chance of winning the division. Why not take a shot at Newton on a one-year contract for the veteran minimum and load it with incentives? If Newton doesn’t work out, they just get rid of him without any serious salary cap repercussions. If he is healthy and plays well, they can re-sign him next season when the Patriots will have more than $80 million in cap space.
Newton should make Bills fans pause and wonder what might happen if he is healthy.
The last time Newton was healthy, he and the Carolina Panthers were in very good shape. At the halfway point of the 2018 season, the Panthers were 6-2 and Newton had thrown 15 touchdown passes while getting picked off just four times. But a shoulder injury began to take its toll. The Panthers lost each of their next six games with Newton in charge and his touchdown-to-interception total was dead even at nine. Newton was shut down before the season ended and underwent shoulder surgery.
Between now and opening day, assuming there is an opening day to the upcoming NFL season, you might as well get used to hearing the words “if Newton is healthy” when any discussion of the Patriots’ chances takes place. If Newton is healthy, it would change my opinion of the Patriots and what they might be able to do this season.
I’ll still pick the Bills to win the division because I think the Bills have the better roster from top-to-bottom. The Bills defense should be as good, if not better than New England’s. On offense, the Bills absolutely have better weapons in the passing game when you compare wide receivers and tight ends.
If Stidham was the quarterback or even if they had to play Hoyer, I don’t think the Patriots would manage to be more than a .500 team. Even with an extra wild card, New England would likely miss out on the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
With Newton in charge, I’d give the Patriots a winning record and a wild card spot. Of course, all of that hinges on how healthy the 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player will be after the shoulder injury and coming off a foot injury that shortened his 2019 season to just two games.
You might look at the Newton addition and say there’s only so much he can do with the options on offense he will have in New England. Fair enough point. The Patriots are solid at running back, but have big questions at tight end and only one receiver who can be counted on in Julian Edelman.
But think about what Newton had around him during that MVP season in 2015. There was a very good tight end in Greg Olsen, but Newton’s top-four wide receivers were Ted Ginn, Jr., Jericho Cotchery, Devin Funchess and Corey Brown. The top-two running backs were Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert. Not exactly a group of Pro Bowlers.
That Monday Night Football matchup between the Bills and Patriots in Foxborough in Week 16 just took on added significance. I wouldn’t be surprised if the AFC East title is decided that night. That might make some Bills fans nervous, but for others that might be a dream scenario.
The Bills could get to end the Patriots’ reign atop the division with a victory on their field in prime time.