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Ranking the Top 10 Defenses in the NFL

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Going into the season, I had a particular perception of the NFL defensive pecking order.

  1. LA Rams
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  4. Miami Dolphins
  5. Denver Broncos
  6. Washington Football Team
  7. New England Patriots
  8. Baltimore Ravens
  9. San Francisco 49ers
  10. Cleveland Browns

However, after Week 1 my list has changed a little bit and here’s why.

My list of Top 10 Defenses after Week 1:

#1 Pittsburgh Steelers

Previous Rank: #2

I decided to move the Steelers up to number one because of their dominant performance against the Bills.

The Bills were arguably one of the best offenses in the league last year; they scored 60 touchdowns (3rd in the league) and had 6343 yards (also 3rd in the league).

The Steelers held them to just 16 points.

The Steelers showed that they could hit the quarterback: they sacked Josh Allen three times. They effectively made the Bills one-dimensional by shutting down the Bills run game. They dropped Allen to an on-target percentage of 69.4%, down from 79.1% last season (Pro-Football-Reference).

If the Steelers want to make a deep run in the playoffs this year, this defense has to be one of the best in the league.

#2 L.A. Rams

Previous Rank: #1

The Rams game against the Chicago Bears told me two things. The first was that the Rams would be good defensively, but they might struggle against the run.

The Bears put up 134 rushing yards on just 26 attempts. The Rams only allowed 134 rushing yards or more twice in two regular-season games. That may not seem like a problem, but the Bears were ranked 25th in rushing offense last season.

So I don’t think the Bears will have a good rushing attack, yet they had a good performance against the Rams.

That makes me worry a little bit, dropping the Rams to #2.

#3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Previous Rank: #3

Initially, the Buccaneers performance made me want to drop them, just a little bit. But after looking at the performance a little bit closer, I think they get to stay put.

I think that Tampa will have an excellent rushing defense; they only allowed the Cowboys 60 rushing yards on 18 rushing attempts (which ranks fifth in the NFL).

That ability to simply deny the option of rushing to other teams makes opposing offenses one-dimensional. That helps Tampa Bay; they have an excellent pass rush; they ranked fourth in the league with 48 sacks last year.

The only reason that Dallas scored 29 points is that Dallas forced four interceptions, and they have one of the best Wide Reciever Cores in the league. I don’t think everyone will force four turnovers against Tampa, nor does everyone have nearly as good a wide receiver room.

#4 Denver Broncos

Previous Rank: #5

The Broncos are a solid rushing defense; they only allowed 60 yards in Week 1 and twice-sacked Daniel Jones. They held the Giants to just 13 points.

Except for the sack count, that is more than the Washington Football Team can say after Thursday Night Football.

After the Giants’ performance against Washington (who, mind you, I still have in my top-10), the Bronco’s performance against the Giants is much better in retrospect.

I also anticipate that the Broncos will play well in their matchup against Jacksonville in Week 2. If the Texans can intercept Lawerence three times, I have a feeling the Broncos can too.

#5 New England Patriots

Previous Rank #7

Last year, the Patriots were ranked a 3.2 in DSRS, which was good enough for 3rd in the AFC. And this was with key Patriots defensive players (most notably L.B. Donta Hightower), so I knew they would be good; I didn’t know how good.

I had initially ranked the Patriots #6 and the Dolphins #5, but that didn’t feel fair to the Patriots.

In as close to a head-to-head matchup as two defenses can play, the Patriots bettered the Dolphins against the more experienced Q.B.

The Patriots were able to sack Tua Tagovailoa twice and picked him off once. They also were able to pressure Tua five times which I think is pretty good.

#6 Miami Dolphins

Previous Rank #4

I dropped Miami for two reasons: because Denver went up in my evaluation and because they couldn’t force Mac Jones into a turnover.

Now don’t get me wrong, Mac is a good prospect in a system tailored to what he does best. But it was the lack of mistakes that Mac had that concerned me the most. He didn’t throw a single interception; he was sacked only once and was on target 90% of the time.

To be fair to the Dolphins, they did force a game-winning turnover, held the Patriots to 16, and had a pressure rate of 27.5% (Pro-Football-Reference).

They played well, and I still think they will be a great defense, but their performance was just enough for Denver to move up.

#7 Cleveland Browns

Previous Rank: 10

This one might look sort of weird: the Browns allowed the Chiefs 33 points and allowed 324 passing yards. But I did see some positives to take away from the game.

For one, they were able to sack Mahomes twice and pressure him on ten dropbacks (24.4%, Pro-Football-Reference). They only allowed 73 rushing yards. And they played the Chiefs. When looking at a defense that plays against the Chiefs, you have to grade on a curve.

If the Browns can pressure Mahomes, I like their odds on pressuring an average quarterback. I think the Browns will improve throughout the season. They have the defensive line, I like their linebacking core, and they have the secondary.

#8 Washington Football Team

Previous Rank: #6

I liked Washington coming into the season but wanted to see them carry over their performance this year, hence the six.

Two games in, and they haven’t.

Herbert was able to pass for 334 yards, and the rushing game was able to get 90 yards. But that was okay; LAC and Herbert could easily end the season as a top-10 offense.

Then came the Football Giants.

Daniel Jones and the Giants were able to rush for 163 yards, and Danny Dimes passed for 249. They put up 29 points on the Football Team, and I don’t think the Giants will be an offensive juggernaut.

I think that Washington can be good, and I fully anticipate
The offense has a head start when a season begins because defenses don’t have much film. If a defense doesn’t know what an offense can do, how are they supposed to guard against it?

#9 New Orleans Saints

Previous Rank: Not in Top-10

I had the New Orleans Saints in the top-15, but I was apprehensive due to their off-season losses. (The Salary Cap is real!) However, their performance against the Packers said to me that they deserve being in the top-10.

They were able to pick off Aaron Rodgers twice, forced a fumble, and sacked Rodgers twice. The Saints also held the MVP to 186 passing yards and his team only to 43 yards. The Packers only scored one measly field goal.

I don’t think that will be a typical performance for the Saints because that truly is incredible. However, it was a performance that should have made everyone sit up and take note.

#10 San Fransico 49ers

Previous Rank: #9

After about, say, the third quarter against the Lions, I would have moved up the 49ers a position, or at the very least held them where they were at nine.

That was, of course, before the Lions found a way to put up 33 points against them. I know it took the Lions a miracle sequence of touchdown, onside kick, touchdown, a forced fumble, and then a drive that stalled in the red zone. And I know that the 49ers began to rest their starters when the game started to seem out of hand.

But 33 points is still 33 points. And that was against a Lions offense that no one projected to be very good.

The 49ers gave the Lions a legitimate chance to win the game because if they score and convert the 2-pointer, the game goes to O.T. And who knows what happens in O.T.

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