Much has been made of the top-notch quarterbacks consolidating in the AFC East, and once the season kicks off in September, the Patriots defense will take on the task of facing off against all of them.
The Bills are three-time reigning division champs behind Josh Allen, the Dolphins have an arsenal of speedy wide receivers for Tua Tagovailoa to throw to, and the Jets just added a four-time MVP in Aaron Rodgers, making the AFC East a division to watch for this upcoming season.
Speaking to Mike Yam and Maurice Jones-Drew on NFL Total Access on Thursday, Patriots defensive back Adrian Phillips was asked about having to prepare to face each of these potent offenses and their QBs twice a year and expressed his astonishment at the way the division has gotten so strong so quickly.
"It's going to be tough," he said. "You know our division was already tough; Buffalo's been doing their thing, Josh Allen's been balling, you've got Mike McDaniel down in Miami dialing it up, and then you get Aaron Rodgers going to the Jets, like it's crazy."
New England's 2022 defensive unit was nothing to dismiss, finishing the season ranked eighth overall and often keeping the Patriots in games when the offense struggled to put points on the board (see Week 11 versus the Jets).
But with the sheer amount of talent in the division, Phillips acknowledges that being able to contain opposing AFC East teams will take a roster-wide effort, but it's a challenge the defense is welcoming.
"We're going in with the mindset that if we're just physical and we do our jobs, win all of our one-on-one matchups, we just go out there and play to the best of our abilities, then we can rock with anybody," Phillips said. "So we're not too worried about it, we actually love it because we love competition, love going against the best, and if you make it out of that division, you're battle-tested."
Playing outside of the division could prove just as challenging, as New England's non-divisional schedule is nothing to sneeze at. The Patriots open the season against MVP runner-up Jalen Hurts and the Super Bowl runner-up Eagles. Later in the season, New England plays conference opponents Justin Herbert and the Chargers and Patrick Mahomes and the Super Bowl champion Chiefs -- just a small sample of the growing group of young and dangerous QBs in the AFC.
"You literally cannot take a week off. I mean this is the NFL anyways, you can get beat on any given Sunday, but in the AFC alone, we're just stacked," Phillips said. "If you look at our schedule this year, it's just stacked with a bunch of quarterbacks, a bunch of skill players who can take a slant for 80 yards. So we've got to make sure we're dialed in each and every week."
As for the Patriots' own quarterback plans, Mac Jones is expected to remain the starter as of now, despite persistent rumors speculating a change in the status quo after Jones' down year. When asked by Yam how firm the QB's grip on his position is, Phillips was hesitant to enter the fray.
"Man, you're trying to get me in trouble," Phillips said. "One thing I'll say, and pretty much the only thing I'll say is that I'm not in the meetings with them, so I don't know what's going on over there, but I will say that Mac is competing, all those guys are competing, and we're going to ride with whoever's out there. That's a decision that's up to (coach) Bill (Belichick) and those guys on offensive side, but we're rocking with [Jones] either way and we're just kind of worried about the defensive side."