The Patriots signed Cam Newton to a one-year contract on Sunday — and in the process put the former NFL MVP in a conversation with another franchise for what will be one of the NFL's biggest storylines in 2020.
Will New England be better off this season with Newton than six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, who left for the Buccaneers this offseason?
It's a close call. Odds at VegasInsider.com have both the Patriots and Buccaneers over/under for wins at 9.5 — a sign that the bettors feel similar about both teams.
Who do we trust to win more games? We'll stick with the Patriots despite what is considered the toughest schedule on paper in the NFL.
Why would we do that? Let's take a closer look:
The Patriots have the highest-win total in the AFC East, which should not be a surprise considering New England has won the division each of the last 11 seasons.
New England owns a 52-15 record in division games in stretch; an absurd .776 winning percentage. The Dolphins (29-37), Bills (26-40) and Jets (26-41) all have below .500 records in that frame.
Buffalo is picked to win nine games this season, and a huge chunk of that success is because of Brady.
Brady, however, steps into a much-tougher division. New Orleans is the favorite to win the division at 10 games. The Panthers and Falcons have reached the Super Bowl in the last five seasons. The Buccaneers finished 7-9 last season and were 2-4 in the division.
This has nothing to do with the quarterbacks, but New England led the NFL in scoring defense at 14.1 points per game. At one point, the Pats were trending as one of the greatest defenses of all time.
Bill Belichick remains at the center of that, and that defense should be consistent again in 2020.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, allowed 28.1 points per game. The Buccaneers allowed more than 30 points in eight games last season.
New England should have the better unit on the side of the ball again in 2020.
Belichick's challenge will be making it work with Newton, who still has to prove he's healthy enough to win the starting jo from Jarrett Stidham. Belichick has not worked with a dual-threat quarterback like Newton since arriving in New England, but would you bet against the coach here?
Matt Cassel finished 10-5 as a starter with the Patriots in 2008 when Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury. Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett combined for a 3-1 record as the starter during Brady's four-game suspension to start the 2016 season.
Newton is more-talented than any of those quarterbacks when healthy, and he should have something to prove after his somewhat-unceremonious departure from Carolina. The Patriots finished seventh in the NFL in scoring last season while Brady had his lowest quarterback rating since 2013.
Belichick can make it work with Newton, too.
Which QB adjusts first?
Remember, we're not talking about an all-time GOAT debate. We're talking about one season.
Brady, who turns 43 in August, has just as much to prove with a new coach in Bruce Arians and a new system with offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. Brady does have a talented supporting cast led by Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski, who came out of retirement to play with Brady. The veteran quarterback should post better numbers in that offense. He'll have to if the Bucs want to contend in the NFC – which
Newton, however, also has more talent to work with. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will have more options in the running game with Newton, and that bodes well for Sony Michel and James White. Julian Edelman is a go-to receiver who had 100 receptions last season. If Newton can average close to five yards in the running game – which he has during his best seasons – then it will add yet another layer to New England's offense.
Brady is one of many future Hall of Fame quarterbacks who switched teams, and those trends favor him switching teams.
Consider when Joe Montana left San Francisco for Kansas City in 1993. The Chiefs finished 11-5 and made the AFC championship game, which was one game better than the 49ers, who finished 10-6 and also made the NFC championship game with Steve Young.
Brett Favre led the Jets to a 9-7 season in 2008, which was three games better than the Packers, who finished 6-10 in Aaron Rodgers' first full season as a starter.
Peyton Manning led the Broncos to a 13-3 record in his first season as a starter, which was two games better than Indianapolis with Andrew Luck.
It is possible for both teams to have success, which is the likely scenario for the Patriots and Buccaneers in 2020.
Considering all that information, it's still a toss-up. Brady and Newton should be able to lead playoff runs for those respective teams, but that's where the competition factors in again.
Newton likely will have to contend with the last two MVPS in Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes and Baltimore's Lamar Jackson. Those were the only teams other than New England that won more than 10 games in the AFC in 2019.
The NFC, meanwhile, had four teams win more than 10 games, including defending conference champion San Francisco. The other three teams have future Hall of Famers in New Orleans' Drew Brees, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Seattle's Russell Wilson. All three quarterbacks have won Super Bowls since New England's run in the division began in 2009.
Knowing that, we would be more inclined to trust New England to make a deeper playoff run than the Buccaneers, at least for this season.
We'll have to wait until 2021 for Brady to make that return to New England. Unless, of course, these teams and their quarterbacks want to settle it at Super Bowl LV.
That's the story everybody really wants.