Falcon Points

How the Patriots signing of Cam Newton impacts the Texans in the AFC pecking order

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We start this off with the same disclaimer we will be using for the foreseeable future: If there is a season.

The New England Patriots made a big move Sunday night, offsetting the news of their latest cheating punishment by signing Cam Newton to a one-year deal. It was the rare sports news in a world without much sports.

Newton gives the Patriots a huge boost, if he is even close to healthy. He will also be with the best coaching staff he has ever had. The ability to run gives the Patriots an element they never had under Tom Brady, and quarterbacks with that skill often elevate the running backs they play with. While New England still lacks offensive weapons, the signing shows what Bill Belichick wants his team to be: A run-first, ball control offense bolstered by a terrific defense.

For those quick to write the Patriots off after losing Brady, one thing remained: The best coaching staff in football. They will find the most effective ways to use Newton. And they were very good last year with a diminished Brady.

The big question is what does it mean for the Texans?

After a questionable off-season, it remains unclear where they fit. They are certainly behind Kansas City and Baltimore, part of that second tier of contenders that needs some luck to compete with the big dogs. But the Newton signing might push them down a spot. While still a threat to win their division, a revamped Patriots team adds yet another road block in their path to be better than that.

The division itself will likely come down to a three-horse race with the Phillip Rivers-led Colts, Titans and Texans. All of those teams are in that next tier behind Kansas City and Baltimore. It would not be a shock to see any of them win the AFC South. But could any of them get by the Patriots in the playoffs? And now that Texans-Patriots game, which looked like a Texans win on paper, could easily be a loss, which could impact the AFC South race.

The Titans were able to beat New England in the playoffs last season, but this Patriots team could look like a better-coached, better quarterbacked version of last year's Tennessee team. If Rivers can learn to protect the football, the Colts certainly have a good enough roster to do it, but that is a big if.

As for the Texans? The same questions remain. Can the new additions replace DeAndre Hopkins' production? Can Anthony Weaver improve a defense that was terrible last season and did little to improve in the off-season? Can David Johnson turn back the clock and be an effective running back again? If the answer to all those is yes, then they can compete with anyone not named Chiefs or Ravens.

If not? It's likely the Patriots will remain what they have always been - ahead of the Texans in the AFC.

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Composite image by Brandon Strange.

In recent reports, there have been multiple rumors that the 76ers could make a push for James Harden if they can sign Mike D' Antoni as their head coach. As the 76ers fired Brett Brown in August, they are now looking for a culture change. So, it won't come as a surprise if the 76ers try to trade Joel Embiid for Harden. Hopefully, Daryl Morey recognizes the talent of Harden and rejects the idea of trading him.

Harden is easily the second greatest Rocket of in franchise history, including being second in scoring. In Harden's eight-year tenure with the Rockets, he has become an NBA MVP, made the All-NBA team seven times, three-time scoring champ, and an eight-time All-Star. Harden's resume with the Rockets is impressive, including going to Western Conference Finals twice. Ever since Harden came to Houston in 2012, he revamped the Rockets' franchise with eight consecutive playoff runs. Before Harden came to the Rockets, this franchise had missed the playoffs three times in a row.

Harden also attracted huge free agents like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook, which helped him succeed in his Rockets tenure. He has made the Rockets an attractive team to play on since being in Houston for eight years.

Even though Harden has been great with the Rockets, he has not reached the Finals yet. That has been the huge question mark on Harden's resume while playing for the Rockets. Honestly, there are certain moments when Harden has disappeared in big games. In 2015 versus the Clippers in Game 6 of the Western Semifinals, Harden shot 5 of 20 from the field, and was benched in the 4th quarter by Kevin McHale, as the Rockets were led by Josh Smith to force a Game 7 in Houston. Also, during the Spurs-Rockets Western Semifinals of 2017, Harden had another disappearance in Game 6. Harden shot 2 of 11 from the field with only 10 points as the Rockets lost to the Spurs 114-75 without Kawhi Leonard.

Despite those two horrible examples, Harden was extremely close in 2018 versus the Warriors but an injury to Paul's hamstring stopped the Rockets' momentum, as they lost in game 7 by missing 22 straight three-pointers. The following year, the Rockets lost to the Warriors again without Kevin Durant because Paul and Harden were not on the same page in the Western Semifinals. Things were not different this year, as the Rockets were overpowered by the Lakers 4-1.

Trading the 32-year-old Harden could be tempting because of the recent playoff failures, but he is a generational player. In the last 5 years, Harden has dominated the NBA with his elite scoring. Harden has averaged over 30 plus points per game in the last three seasons. He is also classified as one of the greatest scorers of all-time behind Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and Wilt Chamberlin.

Stephen A. Smith lays out why he thinks Harden is the greatest scorer currently in the NBA in the video below.

James Harden is 'the greatest scorer in the NBA' - Stephen A. | First Take youtu.be

After all the things Harden has accomplished in Houston, is he still untouchable? Honestly, if Harden is traded, the culture for the Rockets will drastically change, especially with new players coming to Houston. In my opinion, Harden and Morey are very close but Morey is blinded by his own decisions because of Harden. Morey built this team around James and does anything to please him. He wanted to keep D'Antoni around because of Harden, which is not helpful for the Rockets. If the Rockets are going to win big, Morey has to be stronger with his own judgement of the team, and not Harden's.

If the Rockets decided to trade James Harden to the 76ers, they could receive Embiid and Josh Richardson, which is still good. The Rockets would get a big man, who is a superstar, and a great wing defender, which gave Harden problems two years when he played for the Heat. This would not be bad decision if the Rockets decided to move on from Harden.

Before Morey decides to pull the trigger, he needs to digest Harden's accolades, including his shortcomings. Hopefully, the right decision is made for the Rockets' organization.

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