How will Patriots do with Jarrett Stidham? Would they be better with Cam Newton? A simulation offers insight

The New England Patriots’ quarterback plan was something nobody predicted when they moved on from Tom Brady.

That plan was to do nothing, pretty much.

The Patriots don’t conform to common theories of the NFL. Most teams would have put a Band-Aid on the quarterback situation by signing Jameis Winston, Philip Rivers or Andy Dalton. Or, they’d have just taken the best quarterback they could in the draft and hoped for the best.

Without making any grand proclamation, the Patriots seem set to go forward with Jarrett Stidham at quarterback. Veteran Brian Hoyer is around if Stidham fails.

This plan was so confusing for some, it led to the mind-numbing theory that the Patriots were tanking for quarterback Trevor Lawrence. That’s not happening, but what will the Patriots look like with Stidham? Would they have be better off acquiring Cam Newton, a former MVP who is still unsigned?

A season simulation tried to answer those questions.

How will Patriots fare with Jarrett Stidham?

The place to start is with projecting the Patriots with Stidham, since that’s clearly their plan.

Wolverine Studios, a sports simulation site not affiliated with the NFL, ran 100 simulations of the season with Stidham quarterbacking the Patriots. And it predicted the worst season for the Patriots since 2000, Bill Belichick’s first season as coach.

The Wolverine Studios simulations had the Patriots with an average record of 7-9. They won the division only 8 percent of the time, and made the playoffs only 12 percent of the time. The Patriots never made the AFC championship game in any of those simulations.

Stidham threw for 3,462 yards, 21 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in those simulations.

It’s very hard to predict what Stidham will do. He has four NFL passes. He was once thought of as a top NFL prospect at Auburn, but dropped to the fourth round of the 2019 draft after his final season at Auburn was a step back.

The Patriots had other significant losses, especially to a defense that led the NFL in yards and points allowed last season. But the quarterback piece is enormous in determining how far the Patriots fall off, if they do at all. Would a veteran addition have improved their outlook?

New England patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham (4) has big shoes to fill. (Photo by Erin Clark for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
New England patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham (4) has big shoes to fill. (Photo by Erin Clark for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

How much would Cam Newton help?

Wolverine Studios also ran the season with Newton at quarterback for the Patriots. There are plenty of questions about Newton’s health and his ability to be the same dual threat who won MVP in 2015. But he still has a better track record than Stidham, and putting him the lineup is a clue of how any veteran could have improved the Patriots’ chances.

It’s not a great picture with Newton, though better. In the simulations, New England’s average record improved to 9-7. Newton threw for 3,667 yards, 22 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and he ran for six touchdowns. The Patriots won the division 30 percent of the time, made the playoffs 36 percent of the time and 6 percent of the time they won the AFC. New England never won the Super Bowl in the simulations.

There were assumptions the simulation could make that the Patriots can’t. Wolverine Studios assumed a healthy Newton, and nobody seems to know his status for sure. It also didn’t factor in the value of Stidham as a potential quarterback of the future; the simulation just looked at what was best for 2020.

“Stidham is totally unproven, and while our simulations show there is a small chance he manages things well enough, Cam has proven he can do it and assuming he’s healthy and can stay healthy maybe he gives New England their best shot to remain a competitive team,” Wolverine Studios CEO Gary Gorski said.

It’s hard to imagine Belichick going 7-9 no matter who is playing quarterback. Any simulation can’t fully predict how Stidham will play or how other changes will affect New England. But it is fair to believe this season will be Belichick’s biggest challenge since Brady became the starter almost two decades ago.