The 2020 NFL season became a lot more exciting Sunday night, especially in the AFC, when former Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton reportedly agreed to a one-year contract with the New England Patriots.

Every year, there is always a surprise team or two heading into the postseason, but the powers from a year ago — the Ravens, Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills— appeared to be in control again.

Then Newton reportedly agreed to a deal worth about $7.5 million with the Patriots and their genius of a head coach, Bill Belichick.

Within hours, New England’s chances of winning the Super Bowl improved in some circles from 28-1 to 25-1, and its chances of another AFC East division title increased from 17-10 to 13-10, which has the Patriots as co-favorites with the Bills.

But let’s remove Belichick from the equation for a minute and look at the AFC’s top quarterbacks.

There is Lamar Jackson in Baltimore, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, Houston’s Deshaun Watson and the New York Jets’ Sam Darnold. And now you can throw Newton into the mix.

Of course, Newton has to show that he is no longer injury prone. He was bothered by shoulder and foot injuries during the past two seasons, including a Lisfranc fracture that limited him to just two games last season.

But Belichick is no dummy, which is why he has won six Super Bowl rings. As Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon tweeted Sunday night, “a great organization knows great talent.”

According to reports, Belichick has been slowly courting Newton since the veteran parted ways with the Panthers in March. He got a positive review and endorsement of Newton from Norv Turner, the Panthers’ former offensive coordinator, and if Newton doesn’t pan out, he’s only signed for one season.

But if Newton is at least 75 percent of his old self, he’ll beat out veteran Brian Hoyer and sophomore Jarrett Stidham for the starting job, unless Stidham is the next Tom Brady-in-waiting. If that were the case, there wouldn’t have been a need to sign Newton, whose ego is the size of Mount Rushmore.

The Patriots and Newton are a good match. For nearly two decades, the NFL couldn’t stop New England’s offense with Brady, who had the mobility of a statue. Now the Patriots have Newton, who brings an extra dimension to the offense because of his elusiveness.

Newton might not be what he used to be, but his body has had almost a year of rest. If you watched him recently on Instagram, he looked more like the Cam of old than an old Cam.

When you mix in the play-calling of coordinator Josh McDaniels and an opportunistic (but overrated) defense, all of a sudden there is a better feel about the Patriots.

And then there is the X-factor.

Belichick is already considered one the game’s greatest coaches, but he will be out to prove that he can win without Brady, who is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Newton, at age 31, wants to be the Comeback Player of the Year.

If he has a great season, he might command one more lucrative multiyear contract. Sometimes when you challenge greatness, the results are even greater.

Before there was a Mahomes, Watson or Jackson, Newton was the prototype of the new style of quarterback. He was big, fast, strong and made good decisions on the run.

In nine seasons with the Panthers, he earned three Pro Bowl invitations, was the 2011 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2015. He threw for 29,041 yards and 182 touchdowns during the regular season and rushed for 4,806 yards and 58 touchdowns during his time in Carolina.

Indeed, he was the NFL’s Super Man.

Now he has his cape on again playing in the Boston area with one of the greatest coaches ever.

Who knows if he can if he can fly again, but at least it will be fun to watch. And if he can, that’s bad news for the rest of the AFC.

Story by Mike Preston.

(c) 2020 The Baltimore Sun