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.
While it’s important not to overreact too much to Week 1, the first game of the 2022 season provided plenty of useful information to evaluate as we go forward. Some teams with high expectations (Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles) fell short, but others delivered with promising signs for the future.
Bookmark this page throughout the 2022 NFL season for weekly analysis and previews of matchups for the top-20 teams. For fantasy purposes, our Week 2 fantasy defense rankings can be found at the bottom.
NFL defense rankings – Reviewing Week 1 performances with a look at Week 2
Dropped from NFL defense rankings: New England Patriots (20), Tennessee Titans (18)
Let’s dive into our NFL defense rankings for Week 2, reviewing every performance from Week 1.
20. Las Vegas Raiders (19)
Many questioned how the Las Vegas Raiders defense would fare in 2022 with holes in the secondary. In Week 1, Keenan Allen quickly reached 66 receiving yards before exiting in the second quarter with a hamstring injury. Las Vegas did a quality job containing Mike Williams (10 receiving yards on two targets) and Austin Ekeler (2.6 ypr), but Justin Herbert had a 129.4 QB rating. Las Vegas clings to a top-20 spot in the NFL defense rankings for now, but it could lose it quickly.
Related: Winners, losers from NFL Week 1
Looking ahead to the Week matchup between the Cardinals vs Cowboys, Las Vegas must be careful. Kyler Murray posted the seventh-highest passer rating (114.6) in the NFL last season when blitzed, but that figure sits at 78.3 when pressed. It means Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones need to be extremely efficient. One thing that does help Las Vegas, the Cardinals’ offense simply isn’t the same without DeAndre Hopkins.
19. Indianapolis Colts (17)
The Indianapolis Colts certainly don’t have one of the best NFL defenses in 2022, especially when Shaquille Leonard is sidelined. Davis Mills made quick work of the Colts’ secondary, posting a 98.9 passer rating with 240 passing yards and hitting nine different pass-catchers. There’s room for the Colts to improve, especially when Leonard returns. Let’s see what Indianapolis does next Sunday against Trevor Lawrence.
Previewing the Colts vs Jaguars matchup, Indianapolis must turn pressure (24.4% pressure rate in Week 1) into sacks and quarterback hits. Trevor Lawrence had the third-worst QB rating (69.1) in the NFL when blitzed in 2021and he struggled under duress in Week 1.
18. Cincinnati Bengals (UR)
After closing out the 2021 season on a high note, the Cincinnati Bengals defense carried that momentum into Week 1. Of the 23 points the Pittsburgh Steelers scored on Sunday, 17 came immediately after a Bengals’ turnover. Defensively, Cincinnati surrendered just 267 total yards in five quarters and it held Pittsburgh to a 26.6% third-down conversion rate.
This quickly became a favorable Week 2 matchup for Cincinnati. The Bengals can feel comfortable when Chidobe Awuzie lines up on CeeDee Lamb and Jessie Bates can provide help when necessary. Of course, the real exploitation will be edge rusher Trey Hendrickson against rookie left tackle Tyler Smith.
17. Carolina Panthers (13)
We’ll start with the glass half full perspective for the Carolina Panthers. A new-look secondary held the Cleveland browns to 138 passing yards on 34 attempts, an elite 4.3 ypa. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean as much when you remember they faced Jacoby Brissett. The real concern for Carolina is how easy Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt (187 yards, 5.7 ypr) did whatever they wanted against this defensive front. Considering the upcoming schedule (vs NYG, vs NO, vs ARZ, vs SF), we’ll find out quickly if this is the Achilles’ heel of the run defense.
16. Kansas City Chiefs (UR)
We’ll start with the good news for the Kansas City Chiefs defense. The pass rush (30.9% pressure rate) is excellent through the first two games of the season and it’s not like Kansas City is blitzing all the time (10.6% blitz rate). This unit is also holding its own against the run, surrendering just 3.9 ypr through two games. However, what Mike Williams did to this secondary is a concern moving forward. There’s a little room for the Chiefs to climb in the NFL defense rankings, but there is also a lot more work to be done.
Related: Kansas City Chiefs schedule
15. Los Angeles Rams (Previously: 9)
We’re concerned about the Los Angeles Rams defense. We knew this would be a top-heavy group heading into the season, forcing a top-five unit in previous seasons down to 9th in our NFL defense rankings. Against the Buffalo Bills, we witnessed a pass rush that generated just one quarterback hit and a single sack when excluding Aaron Donald. Meanwhile, Jalen Ramsey and the entire Rams’ secondary was repeatedly torched by Buffalo’s receiving corps. If the complementary players don’t step up in the weeks ahead, Los Angeles is in trouble.
14. Minnesota Vikings (16)
A revenge game for Za’Darius Smith brought even more juice out of the Minnesota Vikings’ defense. Harrison Smith (90.4 PFF coverage grade) looked like his old self and this pass rush generated the seventh-highest pressure rate (9.3%) in Week 1. It earns a slight bump in the NFL defense rankings for Week 2, but we need to see how Minnesota fares against a unit that isn’t starting three backup offensive linemen.
Related: Takeaways from NFL Week 1
One thing to keep in mind, quarterback Jalen Hurts (97.7 QB rating and 90.8 PFF run grade) handled the blitz well last season. Minnesota only blitzed Aaron Rodgers on 18.6% of his dropbacks in Week 1, a number that should be slightly higher on Monday Night Football. Two issues for Minnesota; First, they allowed 6.2 ypr against Green Bay and now face a more explosive ground game. Second, the Vikings lack the standout talent at corner to contain A.J. Brown.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (6)
It’s a steep drop in the NFL defense rankings for the Philadelphia Eagles heading into Week 2. D’Andre Swift (144 yards, 1 TD) and Jamaal Williams (2 TDs) ran for whatever they wanted, with Swift averaging 9.6 ypr. Frankly, the Detroit Lions offense might have scored even more than 35 points if Jared Goff was even a marginal quarterback.
Related: Philadelphia Eagles schedule
There is talent for days at every level of this defense but it didn’t translate to a quality performance in Week 1. Philly gets a few days to figure things out before a daunting matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. We’re most intrigued to see how often Darius Slay gets lined up vs Justin Jefferson.
12. Denver Broncos (10)
We’re honestly surprised by Denver’s struggles on defense in the team’s ugly Week 1 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Facing a team with two rookie starting offensive tackles, the Broncos got to Geno Smith for four quarterback hits and a mere two sacks. Meanwhile, the veteran journeyman completed 17-of-18 passes in the first half. This unit played better in the final two quarters, but it didn’t look like one of the top-10 NFL defenses in Week 1.
11 Cleveland browns (12)
It’s fair to say the Cleveland Browns enjoyed facing their former quarterback. Baker Mayfield completed just 59.2% of his pass attempts in Week 1, suffering six quarterback hits and coughing up the football four times. As for our concerns heading into the season about Cleveland’s run defense, it responded with five tackles for loss and surrendered just 2.8 ypr on 19 attempts. Expect the Browns to feast on the New York Jets in Week 2, which will subsequently push them further up the NFL defense rankings.
10. Dallas Cowboys (11)
The Dallas Cowboys defense played winning football in Week 1. Micah Parsons (five pressures, two sacks) proved he is ready to win Defensive Player of the Year in 2022. Dallas also kept Tom Brady (1-1 TD-INT, 53.4 QBR) in check with just 19 points allowed. However, the Dak Prescott injury is going to put a lot more weight on this defense’s shoulders.
It’s especially troubling for a unit that just allowed 127 yards to Leonard Fournette and now faces the Bengals in Week 2. Ja’Marr Chase vs Trevon Diggs is going to be a great matchup, but Dallas lacks the horses to cover Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, too. We’re not expecting 28-plus points from Cincinnati, but this won’t be the finest defensive performance from Dallas.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (15)
The Pittsburgh Steelers grab a top-10 spot in the NFL defensive rankings for now. Unfortunately, the likelihood of a torn pec for T.J. Watt puts this in jeopardy. Pittsburgh dominated on Sunday, generating five takeaways in regulation, sacking Joe Burrow seven times and holding the usually uber-accurate quarterback to a 62% completion rate. Just as important, for a run defense that allowed 5 ypr in 2021, Joe Mixon averaged just 3 ypr on Sunday.
We won’t be able to make a fair assessment of this group until later in September. The Patriots offense looks like one of the worst in the NFL right now and there are issues for the offensive line in a new scheme. Keeping New England under 24 points won’t be saying a lot.
8. Green Bay Packers (4)
Not allowing Jaire Alexander to shadow Justin Jefferson far more often was foolish and the Green Bay Packers top defender was right to call out the decision. Green Bay did a nice job pressuring Kirk Cousins, Minnesota just schemed things up so he could dump the football quickly. The Packers should fare much better against the Chicago Bears in Week 2, but it’s clear this isn’t one of the best NFL defenses right now.
Week 2 is an opportunity for Green Bay to really turn things around. The field conditions will be ideal to attack Chicago’s offensive line, creating a lot of pressure from different angles on Justin Fields. The Packers also have the secondary to match up perfectly against one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL. We have high expectations for the Packers’ defense on Sunday.
7. Miami Dolphins (12)
Talent was never the question with the Miami Dolphins’ defense, it was all about execution and timing. Kicking off Week 1, Miami took advantage of a New England Patriots offense that lacked continuity. The Dolphins racked up six pass deflections, four tackles for loss, three takeaways, two sacks and allowed New England to reach the red zone just once.
Looking at Sunday’s matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, this could be one of the best things to watch in Week 2. Miami frustrated Lamar Jackson in 2021, forcing him into one of the worst games in his NFL career. The coaching staff in Miami is largely the same and this unit looks even better than last year. If the Dolphins repeat their efforts, the No. 5 spot in the NFL defense rankings is for the taking.
6. New Orleans Saints (3)
The New Orleans Saints might have a problem. A year ago, this unit boasted one of the best run defenses in the NFL with opponents averaging just 3.7 ypr and 93.5 rushing yards per game. In Week 1, Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Mariota combined for 192 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Not only that, the Saints’ pass rush recorded just one quarterback hit and zero sacks.
Maybe this is going to be a one-game fluke, but these are numbers you don’t want to see before facing Tom Brady. It does help New Orleans that Chris Godwin is out Sunday and the Julio Jones-Mike Evans duo is injured. We also know the Buccaneers’ interior offensive line is the Achilles heel of this unit. There is just a level of hesitation for this run defense.
NFL defensive rankings: Top 5 defenses in 2022
5. Baltimore Ravens (8)
Concern surrounding the pass rush prevented the Baltimore Ravens from being even higher in our NFL defense rankings. In Week 1, defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s group came alive against the New York Jets. Baltimore registered 11 quarterback hits and that only strengthened a lockdown secondary. The Ravens held the Jets to 4.8 yards per play and nine points allowed with just a 14.2% third-down conversion rate allowed.
There’s a reason we are excited about this Ravens vs Dolphins matchup. Baltimore is hurting at cornerback with Marlon Humphrey (groin) and Marcus Peters (knee) both dealing with injuries. It’s a bad spot to be in facing Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. However, the Dolphins’ offensive line remains a weakness and we know what makes Tua Tagovailoa uncomfortable. Expect a low-scoring game and the winner will be viewed as having one of the best NFL defenses in 2022.
4. Los Angeles Chargers (7)
Getting J.C. Jackson back provided the Los Angeles Chargers defense with a huge boost and he helped contain the Chiefs’ passing offense. If not for penalties and a questionable replay decision, Los Angeles would have picked off Patrick Mahomes at least once. Overall, the Chargers deserve credit for containing Travis Kelce (51 yards on seven targets) and bottling up Mahomes for the most part. Moving forward, this should be one of the best NFL defenses in 2022.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5)
The unit that ranked No. 1 in the NFL defense rankings before injuries struck last year is back. Dallas couldn’t get anything going offensively, even before the Prescott injury. Tampa Bay held the star quarterback to a 15.3 QBR with a 48.3% completion rate. The Buccaneers also didn’t allow Ezekiel Elliott to break off a run of more than seven yards. Expect another phenomenal defensive clinic in Week 2 against the Saints.
In terms of specific matchups, the first exploitation is the left side of the Saints’ offensive line. Tampa Bay loves to blitz and it will send extra pressure to the weakest area. It forces Jameis Winston to make decisions under pressure, something that hasn’t worked out in his favor. With Alvin Kamara also hurt, life becomes even easier for Tampa Bay defensively.
2. San Francisco 49ers (1)
On a day when linebacker Dre Greenlaw had the worst game of his NFL career and Tashaun Gipson made a costly blunder in coverage, the San Francisco 49ers defense still dominated. The Chicago Bears averaged just 3.6 yards per play and San Francisco’s pass rush kept Justin Fields under frequent pressure, surrendering just 19 points.
The weather will be much better against the Seattle Seahawks and the 49ers’ defensive line should feast. We’ll be keeping the closest eye on how two rookie offensive tackles handle Nick Bosa. They performed admirably against Denver, but there is a massive difference between facing Bradley Chupp compared to a Bosa. San Francisco also has the athleticism and strength on the interior to collapse the pocket all around Geno Smith. He is poised when kept clean, but we’ll see the worst version of him if the 49ers’ pass rush gets into the backfield consistently.
1. Buffalo Bills (2)
The Buffalo Bills proved why they are the best defense in the NFL. Even without No. 1 cornerback Tre’Davious White, Leslie Frazier’s group made it a miserable Week 1 for Los Angeles. Buffalo didn’t need to blitz, with its four-man rush generating an astonishing 15 quarterback hits and seven sacks. Credit to the likes of Jordan Phillips (1.5 sacks), AJ Epenesa (1.5 sacks), Von Miller (2 sacks) and Greg Rousseau. If Buffalo’s pass rush is this dominant, they’ll be the No.1 NFL defense in 2022 throughout the year.
Also and feedback on the NFL defense rankings can be sent to @MattJ_Sports on Twitter
Week 2 D/ST rankings
- San Francisco 49ers D/ST vs Seattle Seahawks
- Buffalo Bills D/ST vs Tennessee Titans
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers D/ST vs New Orleans Saints
- Cleveland Browns D/ST vs New York Jets
- Cincinnati Bengals D/ST vs Dallas Cowboys
- Denver Broncos D/ST vs Houston Texans
- Green Bay Packers D/ST vs Chicago Bears
- Los Angeles Rams D/ST vs Atlanta Falcons
- Baltimore Ravens D/ST vs Miami Dolphins
- New Orleans Saints D/ST vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Carolina Panthers D/ST vs New York Giants
- Indianapolis Colts D/ST vs Jacksonville Jaguars
- Pittsburgh Steelers D/ST vs New England Patriots
- New York Jets D/ST vs Cleveland Browns
- Los Angeles Chargers D/ST vs Kansas City Chiefs
This article was originally published on Sportsnaut.com and is republished here with permission.