AFC Should Be Terrified of What Bill Belichick Will Do with a Healthy Cam Newton

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJuly 24, 2020

FILE - In this Sept. 13, 2019, file photo, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) walks off the field following the Panthers 20-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C. The Panthers are parting ways with Cam Newton. Carolina general manager Marty Hurney said Tuesday, March 17, 2020, via Twitter the team is giving the 31-year-old quarterback permission to seek a trade _ although the former league MVP responded by saying he never requested one. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File)
Mike McCarn/Associated Press

"Upheaval" is not a word that has been associated much with the New England Patriots in the 21st century. Sure, many of the names and faces changed over the years, but thanks largely to the stabilizing presences of quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, the theme remained the same: winning.

It's a different story in 2020. With Brady packing up and heading to Florida, there's more uncertainty surrounding the Patriots than at any time in the past 20 years.

Or at least, there was—until the Patriots addressed the departure of one MVP quarterback by signing another.

There's admittedly no guarantee Cam Newton can recapture the form that led him to the 2015 MVP award and the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl. But as he arrives in his new home and training camp looms, uncertainty over the upheaval in Beantown should give way to another emotion.

Fear—from the rest of the AFC regarding what Belichick and the Patriots could be capable of with Newton at the helm.

Mike McCarn/Associated Press

In one respect, the 31-year-old is already fitting right in with his new team. In true Patriots fashion, when he was spotted at Logan Airport in Boston, he had nothing of substance to say to the media.

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"No disrespect to nobody, but I'm extremely ecstatic, but I'm not talking, that's pretty much (it)," Newton told reporters. "Go Pats, thank you."

All that was missing was a "We're on to Cincinnati."

However, we've gotten a glimpse into what Newton might look like in Patriots blue. The quarterback recently uploaded a video of himself working out with Pats wideout Julian Edelman in California.

It's not the first time Newton has worked with his new receivers. Per Kevin Patra of NFL.com, the former Panther has also already spent time with both veteran Mohamed Sanu and youngster N'Keal Harry.

From all indications, his rehab from the foot and shoulder injuries that marred his last two seasons in Carolina is progressing well. Assuming he is indeed healthy, it's time for the rest of the AFC (and particularly the AFC East) to start worrying.

Because a healthy Newton in Josh McDaniels' offense will be a nightmare for opponents.

Guard Greg Van Roten spent the past three years blocking for Newton in Carolina before he joined the New York Jets in free agency.

As John Breech reported for CBSSports.com, Van Roten told SiriusXM NFL Radio that Newton joining the Pats took much of the fun out of his move to the AFC East:

"He's just built differently than a lot of quarterbacks and he's a headache to game plan for, so when he's healthy, you can stop the run from him, but then you gotta defend the pass. If you can stop the pass, well, then you've got to account for the run. So, it's basically, pick one thing and he'll do the other. And then you couple him with Belichick, who only cares about winning and Cam really wants to prove himself, so it's definitely a recipe for disaster for the rest of the league if they can figure it out."

Van Roten's not exaggerating. If he's healthy, Newton is one of the hardest signal-callers in the NFL to game-plan against. He's not just a mobile quarterback, he's a mobile, 6'5", 245-pound quarterback with a howitzer for a right arm. His MVP season in 2015 (3,837 passing yards, 636 rushing yards, 45 total touchdowns) was one of the best single-season performances by a QB in the past 25 years.

Mike McCarn/Associated Press

Asking for a repeat of those gaudy numbers in 2020 isn't realistic. But expecting a bounce-back year is—considering what Newton will have around him.

Plenty has been said and written about New England's 2019 offensive struggles, but the passing-game cupboard isn't bare.

Edelman is one of the best underneath receivers in the game and coming off his second 1,000-yard season in three years. Sanu struggled in 2019 after joining the team in a midseason trade with the Atlanta Falcons, but he has a lengthy track record as a capable producer and hired a full-time coach to live with him in 2020 in the hopes of spurring a rebound. Harry missed over half his rookie season, largely because of an ankle injury, but he's an athletic, 6'4" pass-catcher who topped 1,000 yards twice at Arizona State.

On the ground, Newton will have a pair of physical between-the-tackles bangers at his disposal in Sony Michel and Damien Harris and one of the NFL's best third-down backs in James White. According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots had a top-10 offensive line in run blocking—and a top-five unit in pass protection.

In 2015, the Panthers had one receiver who topped 1,000 yards: tight end Greg Olsen. The team's leading rusher (Jonathan Stewart) failed to hit 1,000 yards on the ground. Per Football Outsiders, those Panthers were worse than these Patriots on the offensive line in both run blocking and pass blocking.

Again, this doesn't mean Newton will win MVP and the Patriots will go 15-1. But the personnel around Newton isn't any worse than he had five years ago—and that's without even mentioning New England's top-ranked defense last year.

We haven't even gotten to the really scary part yet.

There isn't a better offensive staff in the National Football League at tailoring a scheme to fit personnel than Belichick and McDaniels. Even with this truncated offseason. The Patriots aren't just going to plop Newton into the offense and expect him to do what Brady did for so many years. They'll tailor the attack to fit their new quarterback. To accentuate what he does best.

Had the Pats run the zone read with Brady, they would have drawn equal parts raised eyebrows and outright laughter.

No one's going to laugh when they do it in 2020.

This schematic flexibility won't just be in the long term, either. Belichick is the absolute master of in-game adjustments. If opponents stack the box in an effort to shut down Newton and the run game, the deep shots to Sanu or Harry will absolutely come. Play soft, and the Patriots will grind you to dust on the ground.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Renewed success for Newton and the Patriots in 2020 isn't certain—nothing is in the NFL. He will have to show he's recovered from those injuries, and the New England receivers outside Edelman will need to improve.

But believing those things can happen doesn't take a huge leap of faith. As recently as 2017, Newton led the Panthers to 11 wins and a playoff spot—with a weaker supporting cast than he has now.

And with all due respect to then-Panthers coach Ron Rivera, he's no Belichick.

When Brady bolted Foxboro, more than a few pundits (this one included) started throwing dirt on the Patriots dynasty. And there's still no way to look at his departure as anything short of a massive blow—he's the most successful player at his position in league history. But we should have known Darth Hoodie's Galactic Empire wouldn't go down that easily.

It's the Patriot Way. The names on the jerseys change. The faces do as well. But the Pats just keep on rolling.

That may just be the most frightening thing of all.