Bend, don't break: Ranking the NFL's top 10 defenses

Bend, don't break: Ranking the NFL's top 10 defenses

Even in today’s high-scoring NFL, defense is crucial. The playoff picture will be solidified this weekend, and as that old clichéd adage goes, “Defense wins championships.” I know, I know… I threw up a little writing it. But, it holds true. Just two seasons ago, we saw the second-ranked offense (Rams) against the seventh-ranked defense (Patriots) in the Super Bowl. The Rams scored three points. Further back, the No. 1 ranked defense (Seahawks) obliterated the top-ranked offense (Broncos).

So, what defenses could look to make a run at the Super Bowl this year?

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10. Chicago Bears

10. Chicago Bears

Illustration for article titled Bend, dont break: Ranking the NFLs top 10 defenses
Image: Getty Images

The Bears normally-opportunistic defense hasn’t quite been there this year; they have only 17 turnovers on the season, only 24th in the NFL. That said, they’re holding opponents to 4.1 yards per rush, and are limiting opposing defenses to the 9th-fewest points per game. Points matter, and they’re holding opponents to the 9th-fewest points per game in the NFL, keeping them in games and giving their offense a chance. If the Bears are going to make the playoffs as a wildcard team, the defense is going to have to turn up the heat like they are capable of doing, especially with stud Khalil Mack.

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9. Kansas City Chiefs

9. Kansas City Chiefs

Illustration for article titled Bend, dont break: Ranking the NFLs top 10 defenses
Image: Getty Images

Hiding in the shadow of the most potent offense in the NFL, the Chiefs defense has quietly been incredibly strong. They’re giving up the 6th-fewest points per game, despite offenses often trying to play catchup to Patrick Mahomes and company. Despite not generating many sacks, they have managed to force the 5th-most turnovers in the NFL. If Frank Clark can catch fire and start getting home on the pass rush, it will only add to the formidable defense they have going.

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8. Seattle Seahawks

8. Seattle Seahawks

Illustration for article titled Bend, dont break: Ranking the NFLs top 10 defenses
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No team in the NFL has seen their defense improve over the course of the season more than the Seahawks, who looked embarrassingly bad to start the year and now look like one of the best in the league. The trade deadline acquisition of Carlos Dunlap has given them a proven pass-rusher, and a healthy Jamal Adams is back to looking like one of the best safeties in the game. They are tied for the 9th-most turnovers generated, and quietly now have the 7th-most sacks in the NFL. They haven’t given up more than 17 points in the last five games, and are getting hot at just the right time.

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7. New Orleans Saints

7. New Orleans Saints

Illustration for article titled Bend, dont break: Ranking the NFLs top 10 defenses
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The Saints are good across the board on the defensive side of the ball, even though the last few weeks have been a bit bumpy for them. The Chiefs and the Vikings each scored 32 and 33 points on them, respectively. Before that, the Eagles scored 24. Prior to those three games, the Saints had not allowed more than 16 points in five straight games. They’re part of the tie for the 9th-most turnovers generated, give up the 8th-fewest points per game even including their recent struggles, and are dominant in the run game; they hold opposing running backs to only 3.9 yards per carry, 4th fewest in the league

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6. Baltimore Ravens

6. Baltimore Ravens

Illustration for article titled Bend, dont break: Ranking the NFLs top 10 defenses
Image: Getty Images

There isn’t a secondary in the NFL that is better at generating fumbles. The Ravens, lead by Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, and Marcus Peters, seem to constantly be punching at the ball, and the numbers show it – opponents fumble more times per game against the Ravens than against any other team, at 2.2 fumbles per game. The Ravens surrender the 4th-fewest points per game, and give their offense the chance to be the run-dominant team that they thrive at being.

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5. Washington Football Team

5. Washington Football Team

Illustration for article titled Bend, dont break: Ranking the NFLs top 10 defenses
Image: Getty Images

The only reason Washington is even remotely relevant is because of this studly defense they have been amassing. They hold opposing quarterbacks to the 3rd-fewest passing yards per game at 198.0, have the 6th-most sacks, and limit teams to the 5th-fewest points per game. They’re real, folks. All four players on their defensive front are first-round picks, and they’re living up to the billing. This defense is capable of controlling a game, and will be feared by any opponent that faces them in the playoffs… if they make it in.

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4. Miami Dolphins

4. Miami Dolphins

Illustration for article titled Bend, dont break: Ranking the NFLs top 10 defenses
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If you had to guess which team was limiting opponents to the fewest points per game in the NFL, I can almost guarantee you wouldn’t say the Dolphins – and you would be wrong. Miami made massive improvements since last year, and their offseason investments paid off. I almost don’t understand how. They are tied for the 9th-most sacks, but are a very poor 22nd in yards per carry at 4.6, and allow the 19th-most passing yards per game. By all accounts, that’s not very good, yet here they are. The way this defense excels is in the turnover category – they led the league with 27 total turnovers. They’re opportunistic and they take the ball away more than any. It’s a dangerous style of play, but if they can continue to generate the big plays, they’ll continue to be a hard out.

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3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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No defense in the NFL is better against the run than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, stifling opponents to only 3.5 yards per carry and 77.5 rushing yards per game. They essentially eliminate that aspect of the opposing offense. Once opponents abandon the run, the defensive front gets to tee off on the quarterback, and the Tampa Bay defense has racked up the 3rd-most sacks in the league. This is an opportunistic, fast, physical defense that can carry them far.

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2. Pittsburgh Steelers

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

Illustration for article titled Bend, dont break: Ranking the NFLs top 10 defenses
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To start the year, no defense was better than the Steelers. To go along with their perfect record, they led the league in interceptions, sacks, and points per game allowed. They are neck-in-neck with the Rams on most of these categories, but their recent injuries and general collapse has them looking more vulnerable than they have all year. They didn’t generate a turnover against the lowly Bengals, for instance. Still, this defense has elite talent at multiple levels, has a ferocious pass rush, and deserves to be looked at as one of the best in the league. If they can get healthy as they head into the playoffs, they could easily return to their dominant early-season style of play.

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1. Los Angeles Rams

1. Los Angeles Rams

Illustration for article titled Bend, dont break: Ranking the NFLs top 10 defenses
Image: Getty Images

The Rams defense is elite in all phases. No doubt about it. They surrender the 3rd-fewest points per game, have compiled the 2nd-most sacks, allow the 3rd-fewest yards per rush, and hold opposing quarterbacks to the fewest passing yards per game. When you have two guys who are arguably the best player in the league at their respective positions both on the same team, you’re in good shape. The Rams have that in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. This defense is a nightmare and is capable of going toe-to-toe with the best offenses in the NFL.

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