Patriots Offseason

Patriots DB makes honest admission about the competition in AFC

The AFC could be brutally tough this season, and that's bad news for the Patriots.

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There are several reasons why oddsmakers currently rate the New England Patriots as the fourth-best team in the AFC East and have made them underdogs to reach the NFL playoffs, and one of the biggest is the fact that the AFC as a whole is really, really strong.

The Kansas City Chiefs are the defending Super Bowl champions and have reached at least the AFC Championship Game in five consecutive years. The Buffalo Bills are a top contender. Same with the Cincinnati Bengals. The Baltimore Ravens are an elite team with a healthy Lamar Jackson at quarterback. The Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers are poised for a major leap. The Jacksonville Jaguars are in a similar position as a team on the rise.

And if you look at some of the non-playoff teams in the AFC from last season, there are some pretty good ones on the list, including the Patriots, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos could be much improved, too.

The road back to the playoffs is a difficult one for the Patriots. This fact is not lost on the players, including Patriots safety Adrian Phillips.

"It's going to be tough," Phillips recently said on 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."

The first half of the Patriots' schedule is particularly daunting. They don't play an average or below average quarterback until Week 9 versus the Washington Commanders.

"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 explained. "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."

Despite the arduous road ahead, Phillips is confident the Patriots will show improvement and be competitive each week.

"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."

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