2022 NFL defense rankings: Best NFL defenses for Week 17, 49ers to feast against Raiders

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. Green Bay Packers

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Miami Dolphins
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: Unranked

A lack of talent was never the problem for the Green Bay Packers defense, even after the season-ending injuries to Rashan Gary and Eric Stokes. The past few weeks served as another reminder of what Green Bay can accomplish. Over the last four games, opponents averaged just 192.3 pass ypg with a 79 QB rating, nine sacks and six interceptions. However, Green Bay is allowing a league-high 6.2 yards per rush with 168 rush ypg allowed during that stretch.

Heading into a Week 17 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings, everyone remembers what happened in the season opener. Kirk Cousins is playing better football now than he was then and if the Packers take the same approach they did with Justin Jefferson – putting linebackers and safeties on him – this stretch of excellence from Green Bay’s pass defense will end.

19. 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.

18. Miami Dolphins

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Miami Dolphins
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 19 in NFL defense rankings

The Miami Dolphins defense held up its end of the bargain on Sunday. Green Bay finished with just 79 rushing yards, averaging 3.2 yards per carry as Christian Wilkins ate up running lanes. As for the Dolphins’ secondary, it allowed two big plays (41-yard, 31-yard receptions), but otherwise prevented Aaron Rodgers from doing much of anything. It just wasn’t enough thanks to Tua Tagovailoa’s turnovers and Miami’s kickoff team providing Green Bay with short fields.

17. Los Angeles Chargers

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Indianapolis Colts
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 20 in NFL defense rankings

We expected the Los Angeles Chargers defense to feast on the Indianapolis Colts, especially with Nick Foles under center. Sure enough, Los Angeles terrorized the 33-year-old quarterback with nine quarterback hits, seven sacks and the happily snagged his three interceptions. While we can’t elevate the Chargers dramatically, considering the foe, getting Joey Bosa back in Week 17 will only help matters in the playoffs.

16. 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.

NFL defense stats – Best pass defenses in NFL

Here are the best NFL pass defenses entering Week 17, 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 181.2 4.3% 6.4 81.4 62.4%
Denver Broncos 196.9 2.7% 6.2 78.9 64.2%
San Francisco 49ers 215.3 3% 6.6 82.1 65%
New England Patriots 213.1 4.4% 6.7 82.8 61.1%
New York Jets 195.5 2.6% 6.4 79.5 62.3%

15. Indianapolis Colts

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • Previous: No. 16 in NFL defense rankings

The wild fluctuations in performances from the Indianapolis Colts defense continued on Monday Night Football. It held Justin Herbert to 235 passing yards on 31 attempts, limiting him to a pedestrian 34.5 QBR. On the ground, Austin Ekeler (3.7 yards per carry) did little outside of a 16-yard run.

There are times this season when Indianapolis plays like a top-10 defense, this was a perfect example. We might seem them close out the season strong against the New York Giants and Houston Texans, but there is always a possibility they lay a dud as we’ve seen so often this year.

Related: Indianapolis Colts coaching candidates

14. Los Angeles Rams

NFL: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Rams
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: 17th in NFL defense rankings

A defensive masterpiece from the Los Angeles Rams. 12 quarterback hits, six tackles for loss, six pass deflections, six sacks, four interceptions and a pick-six. Russell Wilson gifted Los Angeles with a few presents on Christmas Day, but the Rams’ defense just played phenomenal football. It’s a confidence builder, which is something this unit needs before taking on Justin Herbert and Co. in Week 17.

13. Pittsburgh Steelers

Syndication: Beaver County Times
Michael Longo/For USA Today Network / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • Previously: No. 14 in NFL defense rankings

It’s another dominant performance from the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, holding the Las Vegas Raiders to 201 total yards, 3.9 yards per play and thee points allowed after the first quarter. At the line of scrimmage, a healthy Steelers’ defensive line consistently won with just 3.1 ypc allowed and three sacks. Over the last five games, Pittsburgh is holding opponents to a 74.0 QB rating with 153 pass ypg surrendered stellar numbers. Even if Lamar Jackson plays in Week 17, the Steelers’ defense should hold up very well.

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: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arizona Cardinals
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 11 in NFL defense rankings

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense was again tasked with overcoming multiple Tom Brady interceptions and it did its job. Facing third-string quarterback Trace McSorley, Tampa Bay bottled up Arizona’s offense with just 4.3 yards per attempt surrendered on 46 attempts. Although, the Cardinals found success on the ground (121 yards, 4.3 yards per carry). Set to face the Panthers’ offense in Week 17, keep in mind that Tampa Bay has allowed three games with 120-plus rushing yards in the last five weeks.

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 17.

San Francisco 49ers 75 3.3 9 27.3
Tennessee Titans 80.1 3.5 8 16.35
Baltimore Ravens 87.5 3.8 10 16.36
Pittsburgh Steelers 105.6 4.0 7 9.24
Los Angeles Rams 104.5 4.0 8 11.48

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. Denver Broncos

NFL: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Rams
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 2 in NFL defense rankings

An inexplicably bad performance from the Denver Broncos defense. Los Angeles is starting multiple backups at quarterback and wide receiver and it is ravaged by injuries on the offensive line. Yet, Denver just allowed 6.2 yards per play, 26 first downs and a 124.7 QB rating to Baker Mayfield. This truly came out of nowhere and it might be a reflection of a defense that is ready to check out on the season.

Related: Denver Broncos coaching candidates

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

Here are the best pass-rushing teams in the NFL entering Week 17. Data will be updated after the conclusion of Monday Night Football.

  1. Dallas Cowboys – 24.3% pressure rate (4th), 54% pass-rush win rate (1st), 49 sacks
  2. Philadelphia Eagles – 24.4% pressure rate (3rd), 53% pass-rush win rate (2nd), 61 sacks
  3. New York Jets – 23.3% pressure rate (9th), 44% pass-rush win rate (10th), 40 sacks
  4. New England Patriots – 24.7% pressure rate (1st), 35% pass-rush win rate (27th), 50 sacks
  5. Miami Dolphins: 20.8% pressure rate (18th), 49% pass-rush win rate (3rd), 37 sacks

Top 5 defenses in NFL

5. 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.

4. Dallas Cowboys

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

We’ll start with the bad, specifically, the impact injuries have had on the Dallas Cowboys defense. Over the last three games ahead of Thursday Night Football, opponents averaged 293 pass ypg with a 96.3 QB rating and a 65.1% completion rate against the Cowboys’ secondary. Losses at cornerback played a significant role in that, but the disappearing pass rush is also a worry. With opposing quarterbacks getting the ball out faster, the Cowboys have gone from averaging 4.3 sacks per game from Weeks 3-11 to six total sacks in December. Not the type of momentum you want before the playoffs.

The positive was a get-right matchup against the Tennessee Titans. Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill were out on Thursday Night Football, meaning one of the best NFL defenses faced a bottom-five offense without its best players. Dallas ultimately held the Titans to 317 total yards of offense and 13 points. It was not a great performance. But it’s better than what we’ve seen recently.

3. 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.

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

Unfortunately, this matchup lost a lot of appeal with the Las Vegas Raiders switching to Jarrett Stidham. We’ve seen more than enough from Stidham to know he isn’t a starting-caliber NFL quarterback, especially with Josh McDaniels’ play-calling and lack of in-game adjustments. Expect the 49ers’ defense to destroy Las Vegas, with a shutout at least possible. As for Josh Jacobs, this is the worst possible matchup for him.

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

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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