The New England Patriots' divisional slate in the 2023 season might be as tough as it'll ever get, at least in terms of quarterback competition.
Of course, two of the three quarterbacks they'll face this season remain in the division from last year as Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa aren't going anywhere anytime soon. But the New York Jets added Aaron Rodgers, giving the AFC East three quarterbacks that have been statistically among the best in the league at points in recent seasons.
Patriots safety Adrian Phillips is certainly bracing for the high-level competition.
“It's going to be tough,” Phillips said in an interview with the NFL Network. “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.”
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) July 14, 2023
While those games will mark just six of the Patriots‘ 17-game regular-season slate, they don't catch much of a break in terms of quarterback competition in their other 11 games. They'll face other Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks such as Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert and Dak Prescott in addition to matchups against teams with high offensive upside in the New York Giants, Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders.
Phillips certainly knows that there are many tough battles that lay ahead for the Patriots' defense.
“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.”
If there is a defense that is equipped to deal with all of those offensive talents, it might be the Patriots. New England had one of the best defenses in the league last season, ranking eighth in total defense and was tied for 10th in scoring defense.
There are some reasons to think the Patriots' defense could be better in 2023. Josh Uche made a big midseason jump last year as he and Matthew Judon were the league's leading sack duo. Christian Barmore showed signs of high-level play when he returned from injury late in the season. They selected three defensive players with their first three picks in the NFL Draft, including Oregon corner Christian Gonzalez, who was viewed by many draft experts as a top 10 talent in the draft.
Phillips believes his team will be ready to go when it's time for those big battles.
“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.”
— NFL (@NFL) December 2, 2022
The defense can only do so much though and it's possible that all three of the Patriots' division rivals will have top defenses in the league this upcoming season, too.
There were questions this offseason if Mac Jones could be that guy to help the Patriots get through those tough battles and be a franchise quarterback going forward after his tough second season. Phillips dodged commenting on Jones' job stability entering the season, but he's liked what he's seen from him so far this offseason.
“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.”