Who has the best NFL defense in 2022? Our weekly NFL defense rankings are back after a wild offseason that saw plenty of moves shake up where many of the best defenses in football stand heading into the 2022 season.
Teams like the Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens made huge additions in an effort to put together some of the best NFL defenses this season. On the other end of the spectrum, there are concerns about regression for the likes of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots.
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 1 fantasy rankings for D/ST can be found at the bottom.
NFL defense rankings – Best NFL defenses in 2022
Stats courtest Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Focus and ESPN
Just Missed: Seattle Seahawks, Washington Commanders, Arizona Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals
20. New England Patriots
Look at the final games against the Buffalo Bills, allowing 622 passing yards and 8 touchdowns to Josh Allen. What did the New England Patriots do this offseason? Let top cornerback J.C. Jackson walk, replacing him with 32-year-old Malcolm Butler after a year away from football. Even if Josh Uche steps up as a pass rusher, there isn’t a cornerback here outside of nickel Jonathan Jones who can be trusted.
Related: New England Patriots schedule
There will be some information to be gained when the Patriots’ defense faces the Miami Dolphins. For one thing, it’s an opportunity for New England to prove it can consistently generate pressure outside of Matthew Judon. In addition, we get to see how the secondary fares against Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. The chess match between Belichick vs Mike McDaniel will also be a gauge on how much a seeming lack of talent will matter.
19. Las Vegas Raiders
The Las Vegas Raiders edge-rushing combo of Chandler Jones and Maxx Crosby will create all kinds of chaos this year. Putting them together and hiring defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, those are ingredients for success. However, the secondary still feels like an alarming weak spot in a division with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Russell Wilson. When Las Vegas faces a quick-thinking quarterback or a great offensive line, it will run into trouble.
Related: Las Vegas Raiders schedule
We’ll see the Raiders’ secondary thrown into the fire against the Los Angeles Chargers. Las Vegas really doesn’t have the quality depth to stick with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Josh Palmer. Containing the Chargers’ passing offense will then depend on Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones getting to Justin Herbert. We’re expecting a poor performance, with Los Angeles exposing the issues with the Las Vegas defense.
18. Tennessee Titans (Previously: 11)
The Harold Landry injury is devastating for the Tennessee Titans’ defense. In an instant, the second-best pass rusher is gone and his replacement won’t come close to replicating his production or effect on an offensive line. It also puts Bud Dupree in a worse position, thrusting him into the role as a No. 1 edge rusher and thus easier for teams to handle. We put the Titans 11th in our initial NFL defense rankings because their outstanding pass rush could make life easier for a secondary with a lot of unproven and inconsistent cornerbacks. The margin for error with that group is now gone. We could see Tennessee have some real issues creating pressure off the edge in Week 1 against the New York Giants.
Related: Tennessee Titans schedule
17. Indianapolis Colts
There is definitely a hesitation with putting the Indianapolis Colts higher than this. Losing defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is a significant hit, raising wonder about how this group will perform. With that said, there is even more talent than before. Stephon Gilmore is a reliable No. 1 cornerback and he’s going to get help from a pass rush that now features Yannick Ngakoue, DeForest Buckner, Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo.
Related: Indianapolis Colts schedule
Unfortunately, there has to be a dip in the NFL defense rankings for Indianapolis because of the Shaquille Leonard injury. There is no timetable for his return and the All-Pro linebacker is going to miss multiple games in the regular season. That’s a massive blow for this run defense and it will erase turnovers. Combine that with our concerns regarding Gus Bradley – a passive defensive play-caller who won’t blitz enough – Indianapolis misses out on the top-15.
16. Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings cornerbacks will greatly shape where this team lands in our NFL defense rankings throughout the year. At safety, the team is set with Harison Smith and rookie Lewis Cine. Closer to the box, Minnesota can overwhelm teams with Danielle Hunter, Za’Darius Smith, Dalvin Tomlinson and Harrison Phillips. We just have to see if Patrick Peterson and Andrew Booth Jr. are turnstiles in coverage or consistent enough to make this a top-12 defense.
Related: Minnesota Vikings schedule
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers receive a slight bump upwards in the NFL defense rankings before Week 1. There are reasons to be optimistic about linebacker Myles Jack, reducing some of the worry with this group tied to Devin Bush. Pittsburgh’s coaching staff (Mike Tomlin, Teryl Austin and Brian Flores) is also outstanding and that matters a lot. We still have concerns at cornerback and with the run defense, but the coaching and superstars now carry more weight as the 2022 NFL season nears.
Related: Pittsburgh Steelers schedule 2022
14. Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns defense certainly has some talent worth getting excited about, including perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Myles Garrett. The Jadeveon Clowney-Garrett combo did a lot of damage in 2021 and expectations should be high once again. Things also look great in the secondary, especially if Greg Newsome II takes that second-year leap.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, the interior defensive line is a massive concern. Taven Bryan is a massive liability and Jordan Elliott isn’t any better. This also isn’t a position with great depth considering was awful in his rookie season. When you’re this week up the middle, opposing quarterbacks can step up to avoid pressure and attack the middle of this defense.
13. Carolina Panthers
As the 2022 NFL season draws closer, we gain more confidence in the Carolina Panthers defense. Consider that this group allowed the third-lowest yards per play (5.1) this past season, ranked ninth in third-down conversion rate allowed (37.8%) and it generated the seventh-highest pressure rate (26.1%).
It’s because there is an incredible amount of talent on the roster. Brian Burns is capable of being an All-Pro candidate, Matt Ioannidis is going to create disruption on the interior and there’s still hope for Yetur Gross-Matos putting it all together. Combine that with a secondary featuring Xavier Woods, Jeremy Chinn and a deep pool of cornerbacks (Jaycee Horn, C.J. Henderson, Donte Jackson).
The buzz coming out of training camp is that Henderson looks like one of the best players on the Panthers roster. If that’s the case, with Woods filling the precise role this team wanted, Carolina’s concerns in the secondary fade away. At some point, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Panthers crack our top 10 NFL defenses.
12. Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins defense finished with third-highest pressure rate (28.5%) and the seventh-lowest QB rating allowed (85.4) during the regular season. While Brian Flores is gone, a majority of the defensive coaching staff returns and every impact starter is back.
One player who deserves a spotlight is safety Jevon Holland. Even as a rookie, he showed the qualities of being an elite center fielder. Playing a position that is all about experience and recognition, he should take another step forward in 2022. If he does and edge rusher Jaelan Phillips is more destructive off the edge, there’s a strong chance this unit ranks among the 10 best NFL defenses this season.
11. Dallas Cowboys
This is a massive dip for the Dallas Cowboys in our preseason NFL defense rankings. Trevon Diggs is back, Micah Parsons enters his second season and a full season from DeMarcus Lawrence could be huge. However, there’s a big reason to expect regression.
|Team||Year by Year INTs||Differential|
|Chicago Bears (2018-’19)||27 – 10||-17|
|Miami Dolphins (2018-’19)||21 – 13||-8|
|New England Patriots (2019-’20)||25 – 18||-7|
|Miami Dolphins (2020-’21)||18 – 14||-4|
Take a look back at the defenses that led the NFL in interceptions over the past few years, there is a notable year-to-year dip for many of the leaders. It’s also worth remembering Dallas ranked 20th in the red-zone touchdown rate allowed (61.7%). Regression in the number of takeaways and more scoring drives allowed are reasonable expectations.
This can still be a very good defense. We’re betting on Parsons to become one of the best defensive players in the NFL this year and Diggs can be even better if he cleans up some of his mistakes. Plus, Dan Quinn is a brilliant coach who knows how to get the most out of his group.
Top 10 defenses in NFL right now
10. Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams made Aaron Donald the highest-paid non-quarterback in NFL history for a reason. Outside of Lawrence Taylor, this is arguably the best defensive player football has ever seen. He won the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LVI. Incredibly, he’s not the lone future Hall of Famer on the field with Jalen Ramsey and Bobby Wagner joining him.
Related: Los Angeles Rams schedule 2022
Looking at Week 1, Los Angeles’ defense had its hands full against the high-flying Buffalo Bills. With Von Miller on the other side, the defending champs had a hard time creating a pass rush outide of Aaron Donald. It led to Josh Allen scoring four total touchdowns in a blowout 31-10 Rams loss. Even more troublesome, Los Angeles’ secondary struggled big time. That included Jalen Ramsey being eaten alive by Stefon Diggs. Without a consistent pass rush, this coud be a continued issue.
10. Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos might deliver one of the best defensive performances in Week 1. Patrick Surtain Jr. can match up against DK Metcalf, an enticing one-on-one battle in its own right. Denver also boasts the talent at safety and in the slot to at least contain Tyler Lockett. All of that means defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero can harass Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith with relentless pressure. Expect multiple sacks and a signal-caller with a 26.5 quarterback rating when pressured last season to either cough up the football or provide a defensive back with a shot at an interception.
8. Baltimore Ravens
Is an elite secondary or a great pass rush more important? We’ll find out and the answer will have plenty of sway on our NFL defense rankings. The Baltimore Ravens’ secondary is outrageous. It’s about more than playmaking cornerback Marcus Peters and All-Pro talent Marlon Humphrey returning. Baltimore also injected Kyle Hamilton and Marcus Williams into the mix as their new safeties.
Fans should see a transformational improvement against the pass. After getting carved up in the final 11 games, allowing a 22-5 TD-INT ratio, 8.2 ypa and 103.0 QB rating, this could be one of the best pass defenses in the NFL. It all comes down to the pass rush.
Will edge rusher Odafe Oweh take the next step? Can the front of Michael Pierce and Calais Campbell turn back the clock, playing at the high level we’ve seen from them in previous seasons? If the answer is yes, Baltimore will be one of the best NFL defenses in 2022. If not, a great secondary won’t be enough.
Re-signing Justin Houston will help. While the veteran didn’t rack up a ton of sacks (4.5) last season, he applied consistent pressure in a situational role. Baltimore still needs someone to have a breakout season on the defensive line, but it will at least have more depth at an area with some concern.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers fielded the worst run defense in the NFL for the majority of the 2021 season. Not only did Brandon Staley’s group allow 138.9 rush ypg, it conceded seven games with 170-plus rushing yards. While recognizing that, this could still be one of the best NFL defenses in 2022.
Related: Los Angeles Chargers schedule
Khalil Mack is a monumental addition. Joey Bosa (27% run stop win rate, 10th among EDGE) needed a complementary edge rusher. Since 2020, he boasts the highest PFF run-defense grade (90.6) and he’s an excellent pass rusher. Los Angeles also signed (22 stops last season) to strengthen the defensive interior.
Derwin James Jr. showed he can be an All-Pro safety when healthy and there are reasonable expectations for Asante Samuel Jr. to take a step forward in his second season. The J.C. Jackson injury is a short-term blow, highlighting the risk of a “stars and scrubs” defense, but it doesn’t warrant a massive drop in the Week 1 NFL defense rankings.
6. Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles defense is in a great position to improve dramatically this fall. A group that ranked 31st in sack rate (4.7%), 22nd in pressure rate (24%) and allowed the second-highest completion rate (69.4%) gained reinforcements this spring.
No. 1 cornerback Darius Slay (74.4 QB rating allowed in coverage) is no longer alone. James Bradberry is the ideal No.2 boundary defensive back, capable of matching up against top receivers and bringing the physical style of play that matches with Slay. It keeps Avonte Maddox in the slot, a better spot for him.
Previewing the Week 1 matchup against the Detroit Lions, this is a good test for Philadelphia. The Lions’ offensive line is one of the best in the NFL, meaning this is a battle of strength vs strength. However, the Eagles’ secondary matches up very well against the Lions’ wideout and that means they can take away the comfortable throws for Jared Goff/ We’re not expecting takeaways, but several “coverage sacks” and a low point total are very doable for the Eagles defense.
Top 5 defenses in NFL
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers easily have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. While we did see the run defense fall apart a bit in the second half last season, allowing 4.9 ypr in the final eight games, this unit also dealt with a lot of injuries. Heading into 2022, there are some new bodies on the defensive line and the linebackers are healthy.
Related: Tampa Bay Buccaneers schedule 2022
Tampa Bay will be counting on Joe Tryon-Shoyinka to step up in his second season, filling the void of Jason Pierre-Paul’s departure. While it’s a tough assignment for the 2021 first-round pick, he’ll benefit from a lot of unobstructed paths to the quarterback thanks to Vita Vea, Akiem Hicks, William Gholston, Logan Hall, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Shaquill Barret. As for the linebacker tandem of Lavonte David and Devin White, they play at an elite level when on the field together.
Facing the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football in Week 1, expect Tampa Bay to apply a ton of pressure against a shaky offensive line. With a lot of blitzes and moves off the edge, it should force Dak Prescott into some uncomfortable throws. Combine that with Tampa Bay’s ability to shut down the run, the Bucs become one of the underrated plays in Week 1 D/ST rankings.
4. Green Bay Packers
Talent plays a huge part in where the Green Bay Packers land in our NFL defense rankings 2022. On the surface, a unit that ranked 15th in yards per play allowed (5.4), scoring drive rate (36.6%) and allowed the fourth-highest rush ypa (4.7) with the 10th-worst red-zone touchdown rate (62.26%) wouldn’t seem like a top-10 defense.
Related: Green Bay Packers schedule 2022
However, Green Bay rosters one of the best cornerback trios in the NFL. Jaire Alexander surrendered just a 68.3 passer rating when targeted in a healthy 2020 season, Eric Stokes allowed a 78.8 passer rating in coverage on 96 targets as a rookie and Rasul Douglas allowed just a 50.8% reception rate in 2021.
Looking ahead to Week 1, Green Bay will have its hands full with Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson in this new-look offense. There might be a big play or two, but the Packers should also find success pressuring Kirk Cousins. There are better options in our Week 1 NFL defense rankings from a fantasy perspective, but one bad game won’t shake our long-term forecast for this unit.
3. New Orleans Saints
The Buccaneers aren’t the only players happy Tom Brady returns in 2022. We saw once again this past year that the New Orleans Saints defense owns Brady in the regular season. The greatest quarterback ever posted an 89.7 passer rating with a 4-3 TD-INT ratio and two losses against the Saints in 2021.
Brady isn’t the only one who struggled against New Orleans. The Saints allowed the fourth-lowest average quarterback rating (81.7) and allowed the third-lowest touchdown rate (3.4%). Opponents couldn’t do anything on the ground, averaging the lowest yards per rush (3.7) in the NFL.
New Orleans is in a position to feast Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons. The Saints have the pass-coverage specialists to match up with Atlanta’s weapons. It means the pass rush can create havoc on one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. We’d set the O/U at 2.5 sacks and take the over, with a chance for an interception.
2. San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers defensive line is ridiculous. Nick Bosa is already one of the best players in the NFL, coming off his first full season post-ACL surgery that was still dominant (75 pressures, 39 stops, 21 TFLs ). He is joined by Arik Armstead (11 QB hits, 42 hurries) and a depth chart also featuring Dee Ford, Javon Kinlaw, Kerry Hyder Jr. and rookie Drake Jackson.
- San Francisco 49ers defense stats (2021 playoffs): 12 sacks, 85.8 QB rating allowed, 3.1 ypr, 15.6 ppg allowed
This is one of the best defenses in the NFL right now as we head into Week 1. San Francisco draws a fantastic matchup against the Chicago Bears, facing an offensive line that was destroyed in the preseason. While quarterback Justin Fields shows promise, the 49ers’ defensive talent will overwhelm him. We’re expecting a game with fewer than 20 points allowed and at least three sacks plus a turnover for San Francisco.
1. Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills already boasted one of the best NFL defenses before the offseason. With Super Bowl aspirations, the front office went out and made this unit even stronger. Von Miller (60 pressures, 19 QB hits) is a huge upgrade over Jerry Hughes (45 pressures, 7 QB hits). On top of that, Buffalo strengthen its defensive interior with DaQuan Jones, Tim Settle and Jordan Phillips.
Related: Buffalo Bills schedule 2022
Buffalo more than proved it was up to the task in a blowout Week 1 win over the defending champion Los Angles Rams. This defense intercepted Matthew Stafford three times and got to the Rams quarterback for seven sacks. Von Miller had two sacks himself. Meanwhile, the Bills’ defense didn’t seem to miss Pro Bowl cornerbac Tre’Davious White too much in the opener. Talk about a statement.
Week 1 NFL defense rankings
Here is our Week 1 NFL defensive rankings for football. It’s important to note, that these specific rankings only apply to the individual week, The full 2022 NFL defensive rankings are above.
- San Francisco 49ers D/ST vs Chicago Bears
- New Orleans Saints D/ST vs Atlanta Falcons
- Philadelphia Eagles D/ST vs Detroit Lions
- Baltimore Ravens D/ST vs New York Jets
- Denver Broncos D/ST vs Seattle Seahawks
- Green Bay Packers D/ST vs Minnesota Vikings
- Indianapolis Colts D/ST vs Houston Texans
- Carolina Panthers D/ST vs Cleveland Browns
- Cleveland Browns D/ST vs Carolina Panthers
- Tennessee Titans D/ST vs New York Giants
- Los Angeles Chargers D/ST vs Las Vegas Raiders
- Buffalo Bills D/ST vs Los Angeles Rams
- Miami Dolphins D/ST vs New England Patriots
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers D/ST vs Dallas Cowboys
- Cincinnati Bengals D/ST vs Pittsburgh Steelers
- Minnesota Vikings D/ST vs Green Bay Packers
- New England Patriots D/ST vs Miami Dolphins
- Washington Commanders D/ST vs Jacksonville Jaguars
- Buffalo Bills D/ST vs Los Angeles Rams
- Los Angeles Rams D/ST vs Buffalo Bills
Week 2 D/ST rankings
- Green Bay Packers D/ST vs Chicago Bears
- San Francisco 49ers D/ST vs Seattle Seahawks
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers D/ST vs New Orleans Saints
- Los Angeles Rams D/ST vs Atlanta Falcons
- Baltimore Ravens D/ST vs Miami Dolphins
- Denver Broncos D/ST vs Houston Texans
- Carolina Panthers D/ST vs New York Giants
- Buffalo Bills D/ST vs Tennessee Titans
- Cleveland Browns D/ST vs New York Jets
- Indianapolis Colts D/ST vs Jacksonville Jaguars
This article was originally published on Sportsnaut.com and is republished here with permission.