NFL Power Rankings, Week 1: Patriots rise depends on Newton’s health

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 17: Cam Newton #1 of the New England Patriots throws a pass during training camp at Gillette Stadium on August 17, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Steven Senne-Pool/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 17: Cam Newton #1 of the New England Patriots throws a pass during training camp at Gillette Stadium on August 17, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Steven Senne-Pool/Getty Images) /

Can Cam Newton help the New England Patriots rise into one of the top teams in the NFL?

It’s official.  Cam Newton is the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots, but that alone is not enough to yield the Tom Brady-less from the middle of the pack in the Week 1 NFL Power Rankings.

Looking up at AFC teams like the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs (No. 1), Baltimore Ravens (No. 3), Tennessee Titans (No. 5), Buffalo Bills (No. 6), Indianapolis Colts (No. 11) and Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 12),  there are no high expectations for the 2020 Patriots, but a healthy Cam Newton could put the team right in the mix with those teams.

Coming in at No. 15 ahead of the season opener against the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots are exactly where they were following the 2020 NFL Draft.  With a tough schedule and not much upgrade at key positions like wide receiver, tight end and linebacker, the ranking is a bit generous.

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Although with no preseason games, it is hard to measure what the impact of the addition of Cam Newton will be, it is apparent Bill Belichick is prepared to replay on a strong defense and a running game that will be without second-year running back Damien Harris for the first three weeks of the season.  That will put a lot of emphasis on the readiness of Sony Michel and more workload for Rex Burkhead and  James White.

It will also put focus on the legs and arm of the new Patriots quarterback and captain.’s Dan Hanzus explains just how Cam Newton might be in the right situation with the New England Patriots:

"“It’s unofficially official (ain’t it always on Patriot Way?): Cam Newton is the starting quarterback. Newton beat out Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer to claim the job that was effectively his the moment he signed on with New England in July. It’s impossible to know if Newton is close to the same guy who won MVP with the Panthers a half decade ago, but he really is the perfect bridge to whatever comes next in New England. One day — whether it’s next year or five years from now — the Patriots will invest a premium draft pick in a young quarterback. Newton, even if things don’t work out in Foxborough, provides a buffer between Tom Brady and the next boy who would be king.”"

Where the New England Patriots stand in the NFL Power Rankings, Week 1

There really is no arguing the New England Patriots coming in at No. 15 given the question marks they have on the offensive side of the football.

Cam Newton is Cam Newton as long as he is healthy.  Julian Edelman is Julian Edelman.  Beyond that, there is a lot of hope surrounding 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry.  If he can make a pretty big year-two jump, the offense could be slightly better than 2019.

Other than Harry, the New England Patriots have to hope either Damiere Byrd, Jakobi Meyers or Gunner Olszewski emerges as another reliable option for Newton.

Byrd could be the X factor given his speed.  As the team’s only down field option, the former Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver will have an opportunity to shine in New England with a quarterback who knows him well.

At the tight end position, rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene will be looked upon to provide a lot more production than the team got out of the position in 2019.  Each of the third-round picks have the potential to be effective pass-catching tight ends, it’s just a matter of how quickly they can adapt in the offense.

With so many questions on offense, what is really keeping the 2020 New England Patriots in the middle of the pack is their defense.  Led by Stephon Gilmore, the team has one of the best secondaries in football, which should help a front seven with key losses at the linebacker position.  As on offense, Bill Belichick is depending on quite a bit of youth in that front seven to make major contributions.

Where the New England Patriots should stand in the NFL Power Rankings, Week 1

Again, the No. 15 ranking is generous, so we’ll take it.

With more talented teams like the Houston Texans, Los Angeles Chargers, Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns and Las Vegas Raiders ranked behind them, the New England Patriots could easily come in at No. 20 prior to the 2020 NFL season.

A lot of emphasis is put on the advantage the Patriots have in coaching and the unknown factor that is a very motivated Cam Newton.

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If he has an impact on offense and returns to the player he was in 2015 or even the player he was in the first few weeks of 2018 before injury, he is a force who could help the New England Patriots rise into a big factor in the AFC.

Needless to say, a lot will be answered after Week 1.  But, for Bill Belichick and a team that is without Tom Brady for the first time in two decades, the goal is to build for the future while still staying competitive.