Sam Darnold

Manish Mehta: Cam Newton is third-best quarterback in AFC East

Manish Mehta: Cam Newton is third-best quarterback in AFC East

The New England Patriots' two-decade run of having the best quarterback in their division appeared to end when Tom Brady joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March.

But on Sunday, the Patriots re-entered that conversation by agreeing to a deal with former NFL MVP Cam Newton.

Newton hasn't played at an MVP level over the last couple of years partly due to nagging shoulder and foot injuries. When healthy, though, the ex-Carolina Panther has proven to be one of the league's most productive signal-callers.

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That isn't enough to convince Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News that Newton is the top quarterback in the AFC East. From best to worst, Mehta originally ranked the division's QBs as Sam Darnold (New York Jets), Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills), Ryan Fitzpatrick (Miami Dolphins), and then Jarrett Stidham (Patriots).

Those rankings didn't change much with Newton presumably overtaking Stidham on the depth chart.

"The top of my rankings are going to stay the same," Mehta told Trenni Kusnierek and Gary Tanguay on Thursday night's Early Edition. "I still think Sam Darnold is the best quarterback in the AFC East followed by Josh Allen. I'm going to put Cam third and for purposes of this discussion, I'll put Tua [Tagovailoa] as the Dolphins quarterback. Obviously I think Ryan Fitzpatrick's the better player now, but I don't know how many games he'll actually start.

"So I'm going Darnold, Allen, Cam, followed by Tua."

Tanguay argued that if healthy, Newton is at the very least the clear-cut No. 2 over Allen.

"I just think it's a big 'if,'" Mehta responded. "What gives you any indication that Cam Newton is going to be the Cam Newton from two or three years ago? It's such a big unknown.

"Now, I will grant you that if we see the Cam Newton from a few years ago, that you can make a legitimate case that Cam Newton's the best quarterback in the division. I just think that's a big ask given what we've seen out of Newton these last couple of years."

It remains to be seen which version of Newton we'll see when training camp gets underway later this month. Either way, the Patriots don't have much to lose considering Newton's extremely team-friendly contract.

Mehta's evaluation of AFC East QBs only furthers the point that Newton will have plenty to prove in the coming months. If his recent social media posts are any indication, he's up to the challenge.

Sam Darnold: Jets won't take Patriots lightly despite Tom Brady's exit

Sam Darnold: Jets won't take Patriots lightly despite Tom Brady's exit

Tom Brady leaving the New England Patriots in NFL free agency makes the New York Jets' challenge of winning the AFC East a little easier, but Sam Darnold is smart enough not to look past his team's division rival.

Darnold is entering his third season with the Jets after they selected him with the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft to be their franchise quarterback. He's never beaten the Patriots in two career matchups versus Brady.

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Darnold spoke to reporters Tuesday and made it clear the Jets will not be taking the Patriots lightly despite New England's notable offseason departures.

“With a great player like Tom Brady leaving, (it) is a big deal. It’s headlines,” Darnold said, per Newsday's Bob Glauber. “For us, every single game in the NFL is a tough one, and I think any player can attest to that. So, we’re not going to take anyone more or less lightly just because — even though one of the greatest players, if not the greatest player of all time, left the organization. We’re not going to take them any more lightly.”

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Some of the numbers behind the Patriots' recent dominance over the AFC East are astounding.

They have won 11 consecutive division titles and 17 of the last 19. Brady went 86-22 against the AFC East during his Patriots career, including a 27-9 record versus the Jets. In fact, the Patriots have won eight straight games against the Jets dating back to 2015.

There's no guarantee the Patriots will maintain their superiority in the division with Jarrett Stidham at quarterback, but they still have a very good roster that's led by one of the league's best defenses.

Oddsmakers are actually pretty optimistic about the Patriots' chances of extending their streak of AFC East titles, and they have pegged New England as the betting favorites to win the division again.

Dolphins, Steelers decline to be mic'd up on ESPN after Sam Darnold incident

Dolphins, Steelers decline to be mic'd up on ESPN after Sam Darnold incident

Adam Gase and the Jets weren't pleased by ESPN airing Sam Darnold's "seeing ghost" remark vs. the Patriots in Week 7, and it looks like the incident has had a ripple effect on the rest of the league.

Both the Steelers and Dolphins declined to be "mic'd up" on ESPN's "Monday Night Football," according to John Ourand of Sports Business Journal.

It doesn't come as much of a surprise that teams have become more cautious about wearing microphones following the Darnold incident. The Jets quarterback has been trolled by opposing players and even mascots since admitting to "seeing ghosts" vs. the "Boogymen" Pats defense.

Pittsburgh and Miami clearly want nothing to do with the risk of being exposed like that on national television, and we should expect more teams to follow suit. For ESPN, that's a tough break as the "mic'd up" segment is an integral part of their "Monday Night Football" broadcast.

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