“Defense wins championships” is simply not a myth in football. You need to have a reliable-enough unit with the right amount of game-changers to compete for a Super Bowl.
So with the 2023 NFL season right around the corner, how do all 32 NFL defenses stack up against each other? Let’s dive right into it!
32. Arizona Cardinals
Hoo boy. Where do we even start? The Cardinals were 31st in scoring D last year and lost future Hall of Famer JJ Watt, another reliable pass-rusher in Zach Allen and their top cornerback in Byron Murphy.
Budda Baker is still one of the game’s best safeties, but the Cardinals don’t have a single game-changer on this side of the ball otherwise.
31. Las Vegas Raiders
Getting Texas Tech defensive lineman Tyree Wilson at No. 7 overall was a nice move, but it remains to be seen how much he’ll play as a rookie. Maxx Crosby is still a superstar…but the Raiders don’t offer much else on top of that.
We’ve got no reason to think this unit will be the slightest bit better compared to the wretched group we saw last year.
30. Minnesota Vikings
Well, this could also get really bad. The Vikings had the No. 28 scoring D last year and allowed the second-most yards.
They lost their top cornerback in Patrick Peterson, sacks specialist Za’Darius Smith and workhorse linebacker Eric Kendricks. We’re not sold on Byron Murphy and Marcus Davenport serving as upgrades over the guys they’re replacing.
Good luck with this group, Brian Flores.
29. Houston Texans
Rookie Will Anderson Jr. and second-year defensive backs Jalen Pitre and Derek Stingley Jr. lead a promising nucleus here, and ex-49ers safety Jimmie Ward was a savvy pickup to help out the secondary.
But the rest of the secondary has question marks, the linebacker corps remains a problem and the defensive line lacks proven impact players.
28. Chicago Bears
No team surrendered more points last year than the Bears, but they spent a lot of dough to address that side of the ball this offseason.
Enter Tremaine Edmunds, TJ Edwards, DeMarcus Walker and Yannick Ngakoue — who suddenly give the Bears a scary-good looking front seven. For this D to take another step, however, Chicago will need immense production from its young defensive backs.
27. Detroit Lions
The Lions allowed the most yards last season. Only Arizona and Chicago allowed more points per game. Detroit also didn’t have one player with double-digit sacks, with rookie Aidan Hutchinson leading the way with 9.5
But there is upside here if Hutchinson and Malcolm Rodriguez take their games to another level, and if rookies Jack Campbell and Brian Branch can make impacts. Also, the signings of CJ Gardner-Johnson, Emmanuel Moseley and Cam Sutton can only improve a secondary that’s been an issue for a while now.
26. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta’s D was mediocre in every key aspect last year, and it prompted GM Terry Fontenot to go crazy on fixing the unit. Enter safety Jessie Bates III, cornerback Jeff Okudah and veterans Calais Campbell, Bud Dupree, David Onyemata and Kaden Ellss to beef up the front seven.
AJ Terrell and Grady Jarrett, Atlanta’s only defensive stars, finally have some support. Will it all come together? Stay tuned.
25. Indianapolis Colts
Shaquille Leonard and DeForest Buckner are still superstars…but there’s not much else to love here. Indy’s top corner of 2022, Stephon Gilmore, was traded to the Dallas Cowboys for pennies on the dollar.
2021 first-rounder Kwity Paye had six sacks last year, so he’s a potential breakout candidate to watch. Aside from the front seven, however, that secondary is loaded with question marks. Truth be told, all eyes are on rookie QB Anthony Richardson in Indy this year anyway.
24. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams’ D dropped from championship-level to mediocre in just one year. They still have the game’s best defensive player in Aaron Donald…aaaaand not much else.
All-Pro corner Jalen Ramsey, future Hall of Famer and linebacker Bobby Wagner and reliable edge rusher Leonard Floyd are all gone. Raheem Morris is one of the best defensive minds in the game, but he’s got a really tall task here in turning the Rams’ D back into a juggernaut.
23. Carolina Panthers
This unit has some upside, but will it ever gel together? Brian Burns is a rock star. When healthy, Jaycee Horn — limited to 16 games through two seasons — has been among football’s elite shutdown corners.
Was Frankie Luvu’s career year that saw him post seven sacks a breakout campaign, or flash in a pan? Will Justin Houston again defy father time and push for double-digit sacks?
So many questions, not enough answers with this group.
22. Tennessee Titans
The Titans are weird. They’re machines in the front seven but absolutely awful in the secondary.
In 2022, they were dead-last against the pass…and No. 1 against the run. In regards to sacks and takeaways, they were a middle-of-the-pack group.
Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry, Harold Landry and Arden Key headline a stout front seven. But star safety Kevin Byard can’t do it all in the secondary. Can youngsters Roger McCreary and Caleb Farley and free agent pickup Sean Murphy-Bunting help out here? If so, this could be a borderline top-10 unit.
21. Miami Dolphins
Miami’s D wasn’t exactly special in any major categories last year. Losing prized trade acquisition Jalen Ramsey until December is a big-time blow, but it shouldn’t completely sink this group.
New DC Vic Fangio is one of the all-time great defensive minds. We’re sure he’ll find a way to get more out of this group than Josh Boyer. Xavien Howard, Jaelan Phillips, Emmanuel Ogbah, Christian Wilkins, Jevon Holland and a full year of Bradley Chubb is a nice nucleus to work around…
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs’ D fell well short of expectations last year. We wouldn’t be surprised if this is a top-10 group again, but a lot has to go right.
Can Lavonte David again fight off father time? Will Shaq Barrett be 100 percent? Will Devin White regain his 2020 superstar form?
Antoine Winfield Jr. and Vita Vea remain some of the game’s best at their respective positions, though, and rookie Calijah Kancey could help this rush D return to dominant status after a sloppy year.
19. New York Giants
The Giants’ D isn’t loaded with stars, but Brian Daboll and Don ‘Wink’ Martindale found a way to get immense production out of the unit last year.
The G-Men didn’t dominate any specific categories last year, but being “average” was enough to end a six-year playoff drought and lead the club to the elite eight. Now, if youngsters Deonte Banks, Dexter Lawrence, Azeez Ojulari and/or Kayvon Thibodeaux make major progress? The potential for this group will be limitless.
18. Los Angeles Chargers
You know what you’ve got with this group: A top-10 secondary, a world-class pass-rusher in Joey Bosa…but also a real-soft rush D and a unit that commits an unbelievable amount of brain cramps. Hence the whole “Classic Chargers” thing…
Bosa, Derwin James Jr., Asante Samuel Jr. and Khalil Mack round out a nice nucleus. But it just feels like this D never fully lives up to its sky-high potential. As usual, expect a middle-of-the-pack finish here in most major categories.
17. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs’ strength under DC Steve Spagnuolo will always be the pass rush. They had 55 sacks last season, second-most in the league behind only Philadelphia.
This is a classic bend-don’t-break D. They’ll give up their yards but make up for it with red zone stops, turnovers and sacks.
16. Green Bay Packers
Felt like the Packers’ D didn’t live up to its ceiling last year. There are no weaknesses on paper. Jaire Alexander is a top-five corner.
The front seven is loaded with pass-rushers and supremely-athletic linebackers. Kenny Clark, De’Vondre Campbell. Devonte Wyatt. Quay Walker Lukas Van Ness. Rashan Gary. Preston Smith.
It’s a loaded group on paper. Let’s see if it comes together.
15. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks were a bottom-half team in both yards allowed and points allowed last season, but we expect a big jump this year. Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant should improve after impressive rookie years, and rookie Devon Witherspoon should immediately produce in that defense.
The ‘Hawks brought back Bobby Wagner and signed Dre’Mont Jones to bolster the front seven. Uchenna Nwosu is coming off a career-high 9.5-sack season. And of course, Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams are as dynamic of a safety duo as it’ll get.
Immense potential for this Seattle D.
14. Jacksonville Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence and the offense got all the love last year, but the Jags’ bend-don’t-break defense finished 12th in scoring a year ago.
This group is loaded with young talents in Travon Walker, Tyson Campbell, Josh Allen, Andre Cisco and veteran Foyesade Oluokun — who’s coming off a breakout year. The potential to be a top-five unit is there, so let’s see if they can make the jump to “elite” in 2023.
13. Cleveland Browns
The Browns D has been mediocre at best for a while now, but we’re confident they’ll make a big jump this year. Myles Garrett is still a top-five defensive player in the league, and now he finally has some much-needed pass-rushing help with newcomers Za’Darius Smith, Dalvin Tomlinson and Ogbo Okoronkwo.
Juan Thornhill was a great pickup in free agency to bolster the secondary. Martin Emerson is a top breakout candidate, and Pro Bowler Denzel Ward from rebound from a rough year. The ceiling for this group is a top-five D, and the floor is…a bottom-20. At worst.
12. Denver Broncos
Denver’s stingy D finished seventh in yards and 14th in scoring D — pretty impressive considering how many unfavorable situations the league’s worst offense put them in last year.
Patrick Surtain II and Justin Simmons headline a lockdown secondary. The front seven has three capable game-changers in Frank Clark, Zach Allen and Alex Singleton. If Russell Wilson can rebound in 2023, it’ll help Denver’s D return to elite status
11. Washington Commanders
Washington allowed the third-fewest yards per game last season, and they finished seventh in scoring. They bring back the same defensive nucleus of last year, plus the arrival of first-year corner Emmanuel Forbes.
Washington’s strength is a ferocious front seven headlined by Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat and Chase Young. Expect the D, again, to be close to a top five or 10 unit in 2023.
10. Baltimore Ravens
With the exception of 2021, the Ravens have fielded a top-10 scoring D every year since 2016.
They give up a lot of yards through the air, but this group always finds a way to hold in the red zone. Only seven teams had more takeaways than the Ravens’ D, which racked up 27.
We’re concerned about the lack of a proven edge-rushing star there, but the Marcus Williams-Kyle Hamilton-Marlon Humphrey led secondary should again flourish and keep this team in games week in and week out.
9. New Orleans Saints
Despite a rash of injuries to key players on D, the Saints finished top-10 in yards, scoring and sacks. There’s no telling how far this unit could go if the main stars stay healthy in 2023.
Cameron Jordan and Demario Davis headline a stout front seven. If youngsters Pete Werner, Payton Turner and/or Bryan Bresee can also produce early? Look out, league.
The secondary, as always, will be more than serviceable with Marshon Lattimore, Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye leading the way. As always, this D will give opponents a ton of fits — and it’ll help having one of the league’s easiest schedules.
8. Cincinnati Bengals
Cincy isn’t exactly loaded with A-listers on defense, but Lou Anarumo’s scheme just keeps on suffocating opposing quarterbacks. They ranked sixth in scoring D last year, after all.
It’s your typical bent-don’t-break D that gives up its fair share of big plays…but then they redeem themselves with the game-changing plays of their own.
7. New York Jets
Gang Green was top-four in yards, passing D and scoring D last year. Quite impressive considering how many tough spots the atrocious offense put them in.
But now Aaron Rodgers is here to save the day on offense, making life all the more easy for an already-stingy D. Sauce Gardner is ready to cement himself as the game’s top corner, and the Carl Lawson-Quinnen Williams pass rush just might hit its peak together this year.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
Reigning Defensive Player of the Year TJ Watt missed seven games last year, yet the Steelers still allowed the 10th-fewest points last year.
Minkah Fitzpatrick is the best safety in football. Rookie Joey Porter Jr. could make an immediate impact in that secondary. Oh, and Alex Highsmith and Cameron Heyward are super studs in that front seven.
5. New England Patriots
Nothing new to see here. As long as Bill Belichick is coaching the Patriots, their D will be close to No. 1 every year.
Josh Uche and Matt Judon broke out together as one of football’s elite pass-rushing duos. The secondary got even scarier after the Pats drafted Oregon corner Christian Gonzalez in round one.
Not sure how the Pats will fare in a brutal AFC East division, but the D will keep them in every game as always.
4. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys’ prolific offense gets most of the love, but the D has been the backbone of this team over the last two years.
Dallas led the league in takeaways last season with 33, and only Philly and KC topped the Cowboys’ sack total of 54. It’s scary to think that the D just added another All-Pro-level cornerback in Stephon Gilmore, who could easily form the league’s No. 1 cornerback duo with Trevon Diggs.
Oh, and Micah Parsons will contend for the sacks title. Carry on…
3. Buffalo Bills
No. 2 in scoring D last year, sixth-fewest yards allowed per game. Tied for the third-most takeaways. Yep, this is a juggernaut already.
The Bills’ D wasn’t the same after they lost Von Miller for the year with a torn ACL in the Thanksgiving game. If he’s healthy? The Miller, Matt Milano and Leonard Floyd three-headed monster could be downright unstoppable. Tre’Davious White can be an all-pro corner again at full strength, and Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are still football’s No. 1 safety duo.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles led the NFL in sacks last year with 70. They had the No. 8 scoring D and allowed the second-fewest yards per game. Only three teams finished with more takeaways than the Eagles’ 27.
James Bradberry and Darius Slay were football’s top cornerback duo last year. This already-dangerous front seven added Nolan Smith and Jalen Carter. As if Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat weren’t scary enough.
1. San Francisco 49ers
All San Fran did last year was allow the fewest yards and points. Only Dallas had more takeaways than the 49ers’ 33.
Fred Warner is the best linebacker in football. And Nick Bosa is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Are we really supposed to put another defense in this spot?
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