With Cam Newton inking another one-year deal with the New England Patriots, is the Evil Empire a legitimate threat to reach Super Bowl 56 out of the AFC?
Cam Newton will be back with the New England Patriots for another season. With him getting a second contract, does this mean the Patriots are serious contenders to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 56 next February?
After what we saw out of the remnants of the Evil Empire from a season ago, the immediate answer would be, “oh god, no!” However, last year was strange for all of us and no team was more negatively impacted by the coronavirus than the Patriots. No team had more players opt out than New England and the Patriots were starting a new quarterback for the first time in a generation.
In short, the Patriots will not be as bad as they were a year ago. Even in Newton’s first year under center, he went 7-8 in 15 starts. While his arm talent was suspect at best, he did complete 65.8 percent of his throws and seemed to coalesce well in Josh McDaniels’ offensive system as the season progressed. While they do need to draft a quarterback, Newton makes them interesting.
Cam Newton is an interesting wrinkle in an AFC that is mostly up for grabs
While the NFC has had more variance recently when it comes to Super Bowl representation, the AFC could be more up for grabs than people realize in 2021. Yes, the Kansas City Chiefs loom large out there in the AFC West. However, they have hosted three straight AFC Championship games and have only one Super Bowl championship to show for it. They are far from a perfect team.
So if the 2021 Patriots are three wins better than their 2020 mark of 7-9, that would make them 10-6 and a dark horse contender to reach Super Bowl 56 over in Los Angeles, in theory. Though the roster may not be dripping in talent, no league does a better job of selling hope than the NFL. With that in mind, New England can compete for a playoff spot and a trip to the Super Bowl.
What this comes down to is if somebody is going to be better, that means someone else has to be worse. If the Patriots become a top-seven team in the AFC again, what clubs are major regression candidates in the conference? The two most likely candidates for this are the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans. How much faith should we put in the Cleveland Browns to get in again?
Ultimately, the only two teams we know for sure will be in the AFC playoffs next year are the Chiefs and the AFC East rival Buffalo Bills. Buffalo is Super Bowl-caliber and we know what the Chiefs are all about under Andy Reid. Given their culture at hand and a former star quarterback who firmly believes in The Patriot Way in Newton, maybe the Evil Empire isn’t dead after all?
If the Patriots are a Super Bowl 56 contender, they are only a mere dark horse because of Newton.