2022 NFL defense rankings: Best NFL defenses entering Week 16

Who has the best NFL defense in 2022? Our weekly NFL defense rankings examine every unit across the league on a weekly basis to determine the best defenses in the NFL.

Bookmark this page throughout the 2022 NFL season for weekly analysis and previews of matchups for the top-20 teams.

Let’s dive into our NFL defense rankings 2022, reviewing how the top 20 teams performed in Week 15. Our NFL Week 16 previews for the best defenses in football are provided throughout the week.

20. Los Angeles Chargers

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Arizona Cardinals
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 20 in NFL defense rankings

The Los Angeles Chargers pass rush is starting to come alive before Joey Bosa even returns to the field. Six sacks in the past two weeks are something to build upon, especially now that Derwin James and Bosa are weeks, if not days way, from taking the field. Closing out the regular season against the Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Rams and Denver Broncos should be a cakewalk for the Chargers defensively.

19. Miami Dolphins

Syndication: Democrat and Chronicle

Dealing with injuries in the secondary, the Miami Dolphins had plenty of problems on Saturday even with the cold weather and wind hindering the passing game. Josh Allen finished with a 118.3 QB rating, the third consecutive week Miami allowed a 100-plus passer rating. Aaron Rodgers might find a few soft spots in the Dolphins’ secondary, but we’re not nearly as concerned about the Packers’ offense as a matchup as we used to be.

18. Detroit Lions

NFL: Detroit Lions at New York Jets
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 18 in NFL defense rankings

It’s simply a tale of two halves for the Detroit Lions defense. Facing Zach Wilson certainly made things easier – 5.5 yards per play allowed, 17 points on 11 drives – but defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn’s group is getting things done. The turnaround can be tied to experience, with rookies Aidan Hutchinson, Kerby Joseph, Malcolm Rodriguez and rotational edge rusher James Houston gaining confidence and becoming far more comfortable.

PPG Total YPG Yards per Play NY/A
Week 1-8 32.1 421.3 6.5 7.7
Week 9-14 20.3 382.2 5.9 6.5
QB Rating Allowed TD % / INT % 3rd Down Conv. Sacks
Week 1-8 108.5 5.2 % / .08% 50.6% 11 / 1.6 per
Week 9-14 84 4% / 3.1% 45.2% 15 / 2.5 per

17. Los Angeles Rams

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Rams
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 18 in NFL defense rankings

After allowing 10 points and 121 total yards to the Las Vegas Raiders in the first quarter and 177 total yards with 13 points on the first three drives, the Los Angeles Rams defense largely shut things down. Las Vegas managed just 125 total yards the rest of the way, failing to convert many of its third-down attempts.

Related: Los Angeles Rams coaching candidates if Sean McVay retires

Even without Aaron Donald and other playmakers on the field Week 15 against the Packers, it wasn’t the defense that let this team down. In fact, the Rams forced two turnovers and got to Aaron Rodgers for five QB hits as well as three sacks. Another solid outing from Los Angeles’ defense.

NFL defense stats – Best pass defenses in NFL

Here are the best NFL pass defenses entering Week 16, based on passing yards allowed per game, yards per attempt, average QB rating allowed and completion rating surrendered.

TEAM Pass YPG TD% YPA QB rating allowed Completion Rate
Philadelphia Eagles 172.4 3.9% 6.1 78.2 61.3%
New York Jets 193.9 2.8% 6.4 79.0 62.2%
Denver Broncos 194.5 2.4% 6.0 75.9 62.9%
Dallas Cowboys 191.6 4.2% 6.7 86.3 64.2%
San Francisco 49ers 211,4 2.6% 6.5 79.8 64.5%

16. Indianapolis Colts

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: 16th in NFL defense rankings

Saturday perfectly summed up the Indianapolis Colts defense. You’ll witness stretches where this unit looks like a top-10 defense in the NFL, with the first half serving as an example. Then the second half happens. The Minnesota Vikings scored 36 points in two quarters, with Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, K.J. Osborn and Dalvin Cook doing whatever they wanted to Gus Bradley’s group. Justin Herbert should be counting down the hours until he faces the Colts’ secondary in Week 16.

15. Carolina Panthers

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 12 in NFL defense rankings

It’s a bit difficult to blame the Carolina Panthers defense for the loss on Sunday. Holding an opponent to 4.8 yards per play is an accomplishment. Unfortunately, the Panthers’ young defenders also spent a lot of time on the field (36:11) and the inability to stop Pittsburgh on third-down attempts (75% third-down conversion rate) doomed Carolina.

Related: Steve Wilks gaining support to become Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2023

14. Tennessee Titans

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Philadelphia Eagles
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 15 in NFL defense rankings

After what transpired in recent weeks, Sunday represents a monumental step forward for the Tennessee Titans defensively. Justin Herbert threw for 313 yards, but it came with a 68.9 QB rating and two interceptions without a single 100-yard receiver. Of course, the best run defense in the NFL held Los Angeles to 3.1 yards per carry. It’s just not enough to win with the Tennessee offense treating the end zone like its lava.

13. New Orleans Saints

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 13 in NFL defense rankings

The New Orleans Saints feasted on a rookie making his first NFL start. Desmond Ridder did exactly what you’d expect from a third-round pick in a hostile environment, finishing with a 59.3 QB rating and averaging an awful 3.7 yards per attempt with 89 net passing yards. However, the Atlanta Falcons did whatever they wanted on the ground (231 rushing yards, 5.9 ypc).

We expect the Cleveland Browns to deploy the same strategy in Week 16. Only this time, Deshaun Watson should be quite a bit more effective moving the football against the Saints’ secondary. New Orleans is solid defensively, it’s just not close to the unit it used to be.

12. Pittsburgh Steelers

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 14 in NFL defense rankings

The Pittsburgh Steelers pulverized the Panthers’ rushing attack on Sunday, allowing a combined 19 rushing yards on 14 carries to Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman. It captured Pittsburgh’s dominance in the trenches, also reflected in the six quarterback hits and four sacks. This is the peak of how this defense can look when it constantly wins at the line of scrimmage. When that doesn’t happen, quarterbacks tear the Steelers’ secondary apart. Looking ahead to Week 16, the offensive line is not the Las Vegas Raiders’ strength by any means.

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Syndication: The Enquirer
Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • Previously: No. 10 in NFL defense rankings

Even the best NFL defense can only hang on for so long when they have to defend a short field. When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense faced Joe Burrow and Co. in positive territory, it more than held its own. Once the high-powered Cincinnati Bengals offense kept starting possessions inside Tampa Bay’s 40-yard line, though, that was all the confidence they needed to start rocking a defense without Vita Vea and Antoine Winfield Jr.

NFL defense stats – Best run defenses in NFL

Here are the best NFL run defenses in 2022, based on yards per carry, rushing yards per game, rushing touchdowns and run defense DVOA. NFL team defensive starts are prior to Week 16.

San Francisco 49ers 74.7 3.4 9 12.56 -24.5%
Tennessee Titans 80.8 3.6 8 11.95 -27%
Baltimore Ravens 85.6 3.8 10 8.54 -15.4%
Pittsburgh Steelers 109.0 4.1 7 5.23 -9.8%
Los Angeles Rams 101.9 4.0 8 12.04 -17.5%

NFL defensive rankings: Top 10 NFL defenses in 2022

10. Baltimore Ravens

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: 11th in NFL defense rankings

Defensively, the Baltimore Ravens did everything they needed to on Saturday. Cleveland converted just 5-of-15 third-down attempts, finishing with 283 total yards on 54 plays (4.4 yards per play). One series – a 12-play, 91-yard touchdown drive – accounted for the majority of the damage. Even so, Baltimore held up well. Considering the success Cleveland had on the ground vs Baltimore, we’d expect the run-heavy Atlanta Falcons to at least eclipse 100 yards against one of the best run defenses in the NFL.

Related: Highest paid NFL players

9. Cincinnati Bengals

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals
Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: 9th in NFL defense rankings

DJ Reader stepped up in a major way on Sunday. Recognizing that the Cincinnati Bengals defense needed someone to take over the game with Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson out, the 335-pound defensive tackle did just that. Four second-half turnovers made all the difference and Cincinnati keeps proving it can overcome the absences of impact starters. It’s safe to say the Bengals’ defense will have some fun against a vanilla Patriots offense in Week 16.

8. Washington Commanders

NFL: New York Giants at Washington Commanders
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Failing to record a sack on Daniel Jones in 32 dropbacks isn’t the best look for the Washington Commanders’ defense, nor is the 18-play, 97-yard touchdown drive allowed to the New York Giants. Yet, Washington still allowed just one offensive touchdown on 10 drives and New York finished with a 20% third-down conversion rate and 288 total yards. This is a very good defense, even if it might not perform like one against Kyle Shanahan’s offense in Week 16.

Related: Washington Commanders schedule

7. New England Patriots

NFL: New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 5 in NFL defense rankings

Bill Belichick took Davante Adams away in Week 15, but we also saw some of the things that happen to this secondary when Matthew Judon and Josh Uche can’t get home. Derek Carr threw three touchdowns, spreading the ball around to eight different pass-catchers. Things are about to get much more difficult in Week 16 against Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.

6. Buffalo Bills

Syndication: Democrat and Chronicle
  • Previously: No. 6 in NFL defense rankings

Missed tackles proved to be a huge problem for the Buffalo Bills in Week 15. It culminated in Miami rushing for 188 yards and averaging 7.5 yards per carry against a front that had looked respectable in recent weeks. Buffalo also let multiple interceptions slip through its hands, but the defense at least came through with consistent stops on third downs. One thing is for certain, there is a lot of room for improvement before the playoffs. It’s just clear how badly this group misses Von Miller and Micah Hyde, who we won’t see again this season.

NFL team defense stats – Best pass rush teams in NFL 2022

Here are the best pass-rushing teams in the NFL entering Week 15. Data will be updated after the conclusion of Monday Night Football.

  1. Dallas Cowboys – 27.9% pressure rate (1st), 53% pass-rush win rate (1st), 48 sacks
  2. Philadelphia Eagles – 25% pressure rate (3rd), 52% pass-rush win rate (2nd), 49 sacks
  3. New York Jets – 23.7% pressure rate (8th), 44% pass-rush win rate (9th), 39 sacks
  4. New England Patriots – 26.4% pressure rate (2nd), 34% pass-rush win rate (27th)
  5. Miami Dolphins: 21.5% (20th), 50% pass-rush win rate (3rd), 33 sacks

Top 5 defenses in NFL

5. Dallas Cowboys

Syndication: Florida Times-Union
Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Unio / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • Previously: No. 3 in NFL defense rankings

Facing a top-flight quarterback makes quite the difference. After holding Daniel Jones, Matt Ryan and the Texans’ QB platoon to a 79.3 QB rating with a 4-4 TD-INT ratio in the last three weeks, Trevor Lawrence carved up a Dallas Cowboys defense that is starting to look thin at cornerback. To make matters worse, the Jacksonville Jaguars became the third consecutive opponent to rush for 100-plus yards vs Dallas.

None of this bodes well for the Cowboys vs Eagles matchup. Philadelphia possesses one of the best pass-blocking lines in the NFL and quarterback Jalen Hurts won’t have any trouble finding rush lanes if the heart of the Cowboys’ defense is open. Frankly, a 30-burger from Philly is expected.

4. New York Jets

NFL: Detroit Lions at New York Jets
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Hats off to Lions’ play-caller Ben Johnson – one of the best NFL coaching candidates in 2023 – for scheming up Brock Wright’s 51-yard touchdown. Outside of that perfect design, which Robert Saleh didn’t see coming, the New York Jets defense held Detroit to 308 total yards on 65 plays (4.73 yards per play). Those things happen against great offensive minds, especially when a defense is missing a player like Quinnen Williams.

Related: 2023 NFL salary cap tracker

We expect another fantastic matchup in Week 16. Travis Etienne is explosive, when he protects the football, and that bodes well against a Jets’ defense that has allowed 116.2 rush ypg in its last six contests. Trevor Lawrence should also prove to be an admirable foe for New York’s secondary.

3. Denver Broncos

NFL: Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 7 in NFL defense rankings

The Denver Broncos allowed one explosive play (29-yard reception) on Sunday, outside of that it was essentially a lights-out performance. It’s certainly fair to say the level of competition helped, but a defense earns kudos whenever it holds an opponent to 4.1 yards per play with a 16.7% third-down conversion rate. Fire up the Broncos D/ST with extreme confidence in Week 16 against a Rams’ offense comprised of backups and fringe starters.

Related: Denver Broncos coaching candidates

2. Philadelphia Eagles

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears
Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 2 in NFL defense rankings

Justin Fields‘ athleticism gave the Philadelphia Eagles defense fits on Sunday, with linebackers and defensive coordinators quickly learning about the new Lamar Jackson. It allowed Chicago to register some big plays in Week 15. However, the Eagles pass rush overwhelmed Chicago with six quarterback hits and six sacks. Because of that dominant front, the Bears’ offense averaged just 4.3 yards per play.

Related: Philadelphia Eagles schedule

The explosive plays allowed by Philadelphia will be something to monitor in Week 16. The Cowboys’ offensive line is more than capable of protecting Dak Prescott, especially if the running tandem of Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott is effective. We’d bet on both offenses getting the best of two of the best NFL defenses in 2022.

1. San Francisco 49ers

nfl defense rankings
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 1 in NFL defense rankings

The Seattle Seahawks became the first team to rush for 70 yards against the San Francisco 49ers defense since Oct. 23 and yet this matchup never felt close. San Francisco’s dominant pass rush (39% pressure rate on Thursday) resulted in Geno Smith not even attempting a throw 20-plus yards downfield (Amazon Prime Analytics).

Following the Week 15 performance, Demeco Ryans’ group has now allowed just 58.4 rush ypg, eight total touchdowns,s and a 36.9% third-down conversion rate in the last seven games. The 49ers have the No. 1 defense in the NFL, Week 15 demonstrated why.

Related: San Francisco 49ers bracing for DeMeco Ryans to become head coach

Feedback can be sent to matt.johnson@sportsnaut.com

Week 16 fantasy defense rankings

The following defense rankings are for fantasy football purposes and only apply to Week 16.

  1. San Francisco 49ers D/ST vs Washington Commanders
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers D/ST vs Arizona Cardinals
  3. Denver Broncos D/ST vs Los Angeles Rams
  4. Tennessee Titans D/ST vs Houston Texans
  5. Cincinnati Bengals D/ST vs New England Patriots
  6. Los Angeles Rams D/ST vs Denver Broncos
  7. Baltimore Ravens D/ST vs Atlanta Falcons
  8. Buffalo Bills D/ST vs Chicago Bears
  9. Detroit Lions D/ST vs Carolina Panthers
  10. Pittsburgh Steelers D/ST vs Las Vegas Raiders
  11. New York Jets D/ST vs Jacksonville Jaguars
  12. Los Angeles Chargers D/ST vs Indianapolis Colts
  13. Arizona Cardinals D/ST vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  14. Miami Dolphins D/ST vs Green Bay Packers
  15. Minnesota Vikings D/ST vs New York Giants

Stats courtesy Football Outsiders, Pro Football Reference, ESPN, and Pro Football Focus.

This article was originally published on Sportsnaut.com and is republished here with permission.

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