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