On Sunday Night, the New England Patriots sent the football world into a frenzy as they signed Cam Newton to a one-year deal. Since Tom Brady left in March, everyone was wondering how Bill Belichick was going to replace the greatest quarterback of all time. At the end of the off-season, the Patriots finally made their decision. There was speculation about the Patriots signing Newton since his release from the Panthers in March but it took them a few months with a Pandemic and Newtons injuries making them hesitant. Regardless, Newton is a Patriot and now everyone is trying to speculate how good the Patriots will be this season. First let's look at the current state of their roster and then we can compare them to the rest of the conference and see if they are a Super Bowl caliber team.
Last year the defense was the best in the NFL, what caused problems for the team was the offense. Brady was inconsistent and they were missing a play-making target in the passing game (Gronkowski taking the year off showed how much they relied on him).
The offense still lacks a true play-maker. Julian Edelman has been the constant reliable receiver for New England but isn't a matchup nightmare like most receivers, rather he thrives on finding voids in a zone defense. The Patriots did sign both Marquise Lee and Damiere Byrd in free agency and they resigned Mohammed Sanu but they need second-year first-round draft choice N'Keal Harry to improve on his underachieving rookie season, if he can display the talent that made him a first round pick then the Patriots offense can truly be dynamic with Newton.
Rob Gronkowski's absence was clear last season. In hopes to repair the tight end unit, the Patriots drafted two tight ends in the third round of the draft. Between Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi the hope is that one of them can be a starter this season. The difficulty with tight ends is that it's hard to evaluate them out of college thus the position being a high risk with a high reward (could be Gronk or Kittle but could also not make the roster). Just like N'Keal Harry is going to be an important factor in the Patriots offense, finding the right tight ends will also be pivotal in determining the Patriots success.
The two positive returns from last season in terms of personnel are the offensive line and the running backs. Both units were good last season and are fully returning this season. Cam Newton won't have to worry about carrying the team in the air or ground with a strong running game. It should be mentioned that the Ravens completely changed their offense when Lamar Jackson initially started, don't be surprised if Belichick and Josh McDaniels choose to completely revamp the offense the way the Ravens did in 2018.
The Defense not only was good last season, it looks like it will get better this season. Along with the star players that are coming back from last season, the Patriots drafted with their surplus of picks at least one defender in every position. The defense has more depth and will look different this year anyway. Bill Belichick is aware of the read-option offenses that are taking over the league, this means the defense is being created to stop them. In Super Bowl 53, the Patriots defense played five defenders on the line to stop the Rams rushing attack, it's possible we see the Patriots play five linebackers or have all their defenders play interchangeable positions. Either way, the Patriots are expected to have the best defense and the best special teams in the NFL (the special teams unit is so good it doesn't need mentioning).
Now that we have a good perspective on the roster, we should look at the Patriots in comparison to the rest of the division. The Patriots originally looked like they were going to be at the bottom or even the middle of the division with no true quarterback and the rest of the division showing improvement.
The Dolphins and the Jets have made tremendous improvements to their rosters. Despite the great off-seasons for both teams, it looks like they will both be at the bottom of the division as the Bills have made tremendous strides under the rise of Josh Allen and the Patriots are showing that they will be competitive once again. The true challenge for the Patriots in the division will be the Buffalo Bills. The Bills gave the Patriots a run for their money last year in the division, almost taking the crown from them for the first time in more than 20 years. The Bills don't have any weak links in their roster and will go as far as their third-year quarterback Josh Allen will take them. The Bills are good but unproven, they have become one of these teams that we will need to see them steal the title of the AFC East from the Patriots in order to believe that they are the best in the division. For now the Patriots are still the best in the division.
Assuming the Patriots win the division, where do they rank in comparison to the top teams in the conference? Last year they finished with the third best record in the AFC behind the Ravens and the Chiefs. It's interesting to think about where the Patriots are between those two teams since they lost to both last season but the offense looked pitiful in both games. The Offense has a ton of potential with Newton but it's all unproven. Meanwhile both the Ravens and Chiefs offenses not only looked great from last season, but they both look to be getting better (as well as the entire roster of both teams). The Patriots aren't as good as either of the top two teams but look to be better than any team in the AFC South, it's no guarantee that the Texans will win the division and the rest of the division is unpredictable at the moment. The Patriots currently look like the third-best team in the conference, which would have them playing on Wild Card weekend once again against a sixth seed (think Steelers, Browns, Broncos caliber team, raw potential but not great).
With all this being said, the Patriots look to be competitive in the post Brady era. They aren't the best team in the AFC with Cam Newton but they immediately become contenders in the conference. One thing to consider is that Bill Belichick always creates a game-plan that gives his team a chance to win. Even if they are a Wild Card team and aren't the best team in the conference, New England will still be Super Bowl contenders. It would also come as little surprise if the Patriots aren't done with the Newton signing, they can still make a trade for a dynamic player like Jamal Adams are Joey Bosa and only increase their chances of being in the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay.