2022 NFL defense rankings: Best NFL defenses entering Week 17

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 16. Our NFL Week 17 previews for the best defenses in football are provided throughout the week.

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

Dropped from NFL defense rankings: Detroit Lions (18)

20. Houston Texans

Syndication: The Tennessean
Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • Previously: Unranked

The Houston Texans finally didn’t allow a 200-yard game to Derrick Henry. It certainly helped that Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing put far more of this game on the shoulders of Malik Willis (23 attempts, 2 INTs, four sacks) than he should have. However, the 14 points and 272 total yards allowed to Tennessee were also reflected in how this unit fared against the Dallas Cowboys two weeks prior. Just don’t expect a repeat performance against Trevor Lawrence in Week 17, especially with Travis Etienne going after the Texans’ run defense.

19. Los Angeles Chargers

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

All-Pro defensive back Derwin James Jr. is back and edge rusher Joey Bosa isn’t too far behind. For a Los Angeles Chargers defense that has allowed just 179.8 pass ypg with a 54.9% completion rate, the returns will just be another shot in the arm. With Jonathan Taylor out, the Indianapolis Colts’ ground game isn’t much of a concern on Monday Night Football and this defense could tee off on Nick Foles behind a shaky offensive line.

18. 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 and there is an even higher level of confidence because Miami has one of the best pass rushes in the NFL since November.

17. Tennessee Titans

NFL: Denver Broncos at Tennessee Titans
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: 14th in NFL defense rankings

It’s hard to believe the Tennessee Titans lost to one of the worst teams in the NFL, but the blame for the defeat can’t really fall on the defense. Houston averaged just 4.5 yards per play, finishing with 70 rushing yards and 215 net passing yards with 19 total points scored. Unfortunately, Tennessee is in a position where it must be near-perfect to have a shot at beating anyone.

16. Los Angeles Rams

Syndication: Stevens Point Journal
Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey (5) celebrates after stripping the ball away from Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones on Monday, December 19, 2022, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers won the game, 24-12.Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Apj Packers Vs Rams 121922 2920 Ttm

The Los Angeles Rams’ defense is earning some kudos for how it is performing. At this time of year, when teammates on the other side can’t sustain drives, it would be easy for the Rams to start waving the white flag on defense. Instead, this secondary has allowed a 5-5 TD-INT line with seven sacks and an 88.4 QB rating in the last four games. Facing a lifeless Denver Broncos offense on Sunday, the Rams D/ST is an excellent play.

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%

15. Indianapolis Colts

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Week 15 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.

Related: Indianapolis Colts coaching candidates

14. Carolina Panthers

NFL: Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 15 in NFL defense rankings

The Carolina Panthers just contained one of the best offenses in the NFL. Brian Burns (two sacks) led the way, but it was truly a team-wide effort that quieted Amon-Ra St. Brown (76 yards on 13 targets) and neutralized the Lions’ rushing attack (45 yards, 2.6 ypc). The effort from this unit under Steve Wilks warrants the interim tag being removed in 2023. Looking ahead to Week 17, the Panthers D/ST is a great play against Tampa Bay.

13. 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.

12. New Orleans Saints

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 13 in NFL defense rankings

After getting bullied on the ground by the Atlanta Falcons (231 yards allowed, 5.9 ypc), the New Orleans Saints locked in against Cleveland. Even in conditions ripe for running the football, the Browns’ ground game averaged just 3.6 yards per carry on 34 attempts without a single 20-yard run. Set to face Gardner Minshew in Week 17, we could see the Saints’ secondary run into some big problems if it can’t create penetration through one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 10 in NFL defense rankings

Opposing quarterbacks have enjoyed plenty of success against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense in recent weeks, posting a 10-2 TD-INT ratio with a 104.3 QB rating. It would lead us to bet on the secondary being exposed by great offenses, but Baker Mayfield is leading a Rams’ offense that is anything but that. An aggressive pass rush and tight coverage against the Rams’ backup receivers should lead to a dominant performance on Sunday.

Related: Todd Bowles expected to return in 2023

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. Washington Commanders

NFL: Washington Commanders at San Francisco 49ers
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 8 in NFL defense rankings

Kyle Shanahan brought another top defense back down to earth. We’ve seen him do it countless times and it looked relatively easy on Saturday. Fans saw what this secondary looks like when the Commanders’ pass rush doesn’t get home. Fortunately, the Cleveland Browns aren’t nearly as formidable as a foe.

Related: Washington Commanders receiving historic offers for potential sale

9. Baltimore Ravens

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Baltimore Ravens
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 10 in NFL defense rankings

We’re slowly starting to buy into the Baltimore Ravens’ defense. After all, this unit allowed just 45 points (11.25 PPG) over its last four contests. Facing one of the NFL’s run-heaviest teams, Baltimore did an admirable job (117 yards, 3.5 yards per carry) and it never allowed Desmond Ridder to find a rhythm. The one hesitation is the level of competition (Broncos, Steelers, Browns, Falcons). It’s not a question that will be answered in Week 17, with a rematch vs Pittsburgh.

Related: NFL insider raises the possibility of Lamar Jackson trade in 2023

8. Cincinnati Bengals

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 9 in NFL defense rankings

Getting Trey Hendrickson back provides a huge boost for the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense. He helped set up teammates with four sacks on Mac Jones and the New England Patriots offense finished with just 285 total yards and 14 points. It’s a solid effort, stringing together three straight weeks of excellence. If Cincinnati wants to be recognized in the upper echelon of NFL defenses, though, the Bengals need a strong performance vs Josh Allen in Week 17.

7. New England Patriots

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at New England Patriots
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 7 in NFL defense rankings.

There are a few ways to look at how the New England Patriots fared defensively in Week 16. On the positive end, they held Cincinnati to a 50% red-zone touchdown rate, generated three takeaways and all 22 points allowed came in the first half. However, the Patriots’ defense still allowed 442 total yards with a 5.7 yards per play average and it benefitted from Evan McPherson wiping four points off the board. Facing Tua Tagovailoa and the big-play Dolphins’ offense in Week 17, it’s an unfavorable matchup for New England.

6. Buffalo Bills

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 6 in NFL defense rankings

Credit to the Buffalo Bills defense for holding Justin Fields to his lowest rushing total (11 yards) of the season. Leslie Frazier’s group really stood out on third down, allowing a 16.7% conversion rate on 12 attempts and Chicago averaged just 3.5 total yards per play. It’s a nice turnaround after the mental mistakes that popped up against Miami. However, we’ll hold off on calling this one of the top 5 NFL defenses until we see it vs Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.

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 – 25.3% pressure rate (2nd), 53% pass-rush win rate (T-1st), 49 sacks
  2. Philadelphia Eagles – 24.6% pressure rate (3rd), 53% pass-rush win rate (T-1st), 55 sacks
  3. New York Jets – 23.3% pressure rate (10th), 44% pass-rush win rate (10th), 40 sacks
  4. New England Patriots – 26.8% pressure rate (1st), 34% pass-rush win rate (28th), 48 sacks
  5. Miami Dolphins: 22.2% (15th), 49% pass-rush win rate (4th), 35 sacks

Top 5 defenses in NFL

5. Dallas Cowboys

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 5 in NFL defense rankings

Four takeaways and 86 rushing yards allowed to a Nick Sirianni offense are stellar numbers. On the opposite side of the spectrum, though, Gardner Minshew shredded the Dallas Cowboys secondary for 355 yards with DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert eclipsing the 100-yard mark. It highlights the toll injuries at cornerback have taken on Dallas. It’s a concern for the playoffs, but in Week 17 against a Titans’ offense that often doesn’t seem to know what a third-down conversion is.

4. Philadelphia Eagles

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 2 in NFL defense rankings

Nine quarterback hits and six sacks are great, as is holding Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to 74 rushing yards on 25 attempts. However, Dak Prescott did whatever he wanted to the Philadelphia Eagles’ pass defense when given a little time to throw. Philly can’t work to correct its issues against soft competition in the next few weeks, but we won’t see this secondary truly tested again until the NFC Divisional Round.

3. Denver Broncos

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Denver Broncos
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 2 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. New York Jets

Syndication: The Record
Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • Previously: No. 4 in NFL defense rankings

Another strong performance by the New York Jets defense that is wasted by Zach Wilson. New York held Trevor Lawrence to an 86.6 QB rating with only 229 passing yards on 31 attempts, a pedestrian line considering the MVP-caliber play we’ve seen from Lawrence recently. Yet, it didn’t matter much on a night when the Jets’ offense did nothing. Looking ahead to Week 17, our expectations are for New York to hold Geno Smith and Co. under 250 passing yards. However, Kenneth Walker could find some room to run against a Jets’ run defense allowing 120.6 rush ypg and 4.3 yards per carry in its last seven contests.

1. San Francisco 49ers

NFL: Washington Commanders at San Francisco 49ers
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 1 in NFL defense rankings

Kudos to Washington’s offense for hanging 20 points and 349 total yards against the No. 1 defense in the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers neutralized opponents for weeks, but Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel did some nice damage to the 49ers’ secondary. It doesn’t change our view of San Francisco having the best defense in football, but the success through the air makes the Week 17 matchup vs Davante Adams more intriguing.

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

Week 17 fantasy defense rankings

The following defense rankings are for fantasy football purposes and only apply to Week 17.

  1. Dallas Cowboys D/ST vs Tennessee Titans
  2. Philadelphia Eagles D/ST vs New Orleans Saints
  3. New York Jets D/ST vs Seattle Seahawks
  4. San Franciso 49ers D/ST vs Las Vegas Raiders
  5. Baltimore Ravens D/ST vs Pittsburgh Steelers
  6. Carolina Panthers D/ST vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  7. Los Angeles Chargers D/ST vs Los Angeles Rams
  8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers D/ST vs Carolina Panthers
  9. Washington Commanders D/ST vs Cleveland Browns
  10. Pittsburgh Steelers D/ST vs Baltimore Ravens
  11. New York Giants D/ST vs Indianapolis Colts
  12. Jacksonville Jaguars D/ST vs Houston Texans
  13. Miami Dolphins D/ST vs New England Patriots
  14. Kansas City Chiefs D/ST vs Denver Broncos
  15. Denver Broncos D/ST vs Kansas City Chiefs

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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