The Cam Newton-led Patriots Are Now the Biggest Non-Ravens Threat to the Chiefs in the AFC
The AFC is widely viewed as a two-team race at this point. With that said, don’t completely write off the New England Patriots just yet.
New England managed to win 12 games a season ago despite having some immense struggles down the stretch. Aging quarterback Tom Brady wasn’t able to will the team to victories in the same fashion he had in the past. While the defense was downright spectacular, the Pats went stale on offense. After starting the season 8-0, Bill Belichick’s squad split its final eight contests. Brady has since departed and has recently been replaced by another former MVP, Cam Newton.
During that same 2019-20 season, the Baltimore Ravens finished ahead of everyone in the AFC standings. Led by MVP-winning phenom Lamar Jackson, the Ravens averaged a league-best 33.2 points per game. They also ranked third in points allowed, surrendering just 17.6 per contest on average. Heading into the postseason, many believed it was Baltimore’s time to shine. That optimism was quickly extinguished when the Tennessee Titans came into town and defeated the Ravens 28-12 in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Then, of course, there were the Kansas City Chiefs. Despite having a regular season filled with injuries and inconsistency early on, fortunes turned around once quarterback Patrick Mahomes got healthy. Kansas City won nine games in a row to close out the campaign, including a 3-0 stretch in the playoffs that culminated with one of the best Super Bowl games in recent years. The phrase “it’s about which team peaks at the right time” couldn’t have applied more to the Chiefs and Andy Reid, who finally won his first championship as a head coach.
The Chiefs and Ravens are both coming back with retooled rosters that were already scary good. They are hands-down the two best teams in the conference. Before Newton signed with the Patriots, the assumption was that squads like the Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers and the aforementioned Titans would be among the collection of good-but-not-great teams that should be in the mix for the playoffs come January. Now, with a player of Newton’s caliber leading the way, New England may have the highest ceiling of all the second-tier teams.
Defensively, the Patriots should once again put the league on notice. Although some offseason losses may lead to a scheme alteration, both the interior of the defensive line and the secondary as a whole should be fantastic. As long as reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore remains a Patriot and Belichick's genius is intact, the defense won't be an issue. A unit that posted NFL bests in yards allowed (275.9) and points allowed (14.1) per game in 2019 won't be nearly as dominant in 2020, but it should still perform quite well nonetheless.
Skill position personnel was a major issue last season on offense. New England didn't — and still doesn't — have the elite weapons it once did. Julian Edelman is a fine receiver and there's hope that second-year wideout N'Keal Harry can make a leap forward, but for the most part, the same worries remain heading into this season. A quick, short-to-intermediate passing game will be utilized, which is what Newton thrived in under Norv Turner in the early stages of the 2018 campaign.
Newton was evolving as a quarterback before a pair of significant injuries threw his career off-course. He has the opportunity to right the ship in a system that will cater to his strengths and minimize his weaknesses, all while masking the underlying lack of talent the offense has. The Patriots are an old-fashioned team that will succeed on the backs of their stout defense and smashmouth running game. As Arrowhead Report's Joshua Brisco put it, Newton has an infinitely better chance of playing like an MVP than Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham. After all, he's won the award before.
Don't get it twisted: The AFC still runs through Kansas City, then probably Baltimore after that. New England is back, though, and the football world needs to keep that in mind as the 2020 season unfolds.