2023 NFL defense rankings: Week 18 outlook

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 17. Our NFL Week 18 previews for the best defenses in football are provided throughout the week.

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

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

Dropped from NFL defense rankings: Houston Texans (19), Carolina Panthers (16)

20. Tennessee Titans

Syndication: The Tennessean
George Walker IV / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • Previously: Unranked

Even with Denico Autry, Kristian Fulton, Bud Dupree and Jeffery Simmons inactive, the Tennessee Titans defense made a positive impression. On a short week, it generated three takeaways against the Dallas Cowboys offense and ceded 4.9 yards per play. Any time you can do that without your star players, it’s a credit to great coaching.

19. Kansas City Chiefs

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: Unranked

Signs of consistent improvement from the Kansas City Chiefs defensively. A lot of this can be attributed to the opponent, but we’ve seen times this year when Kansas City faltered even in advantageous matchups. The incremental progress at least suggests the Chiefs’ defense might not cost this team in the playoffs.

18. Los Angeles Rams

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Chargers
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: 14th in NFL defense rankings

The Los Angeles Rams lost in the trenches in Week 17 and that swung everything. Justin Herbert sat back and posted a 119.9 QB rating while Austin Ekeler turned 10 carries into 122 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. Aaron Donald is greatly missed and Los Angeles can only hope he doesn’t retire in 2023.

Related: Los Angeles Rams coaching candidates if Sean McVay retires

Worst NFL defenses in 2022

Here are the worst defenses in the NFL this season. The following NFL defense stats are reflective of scores entering Sunday’s Week 17 slate.

  1. Chicago Bears – 360.3 total ypg allowed, 6.0 yards per play, 26.2 PPG allowed
  2. Atlanta Falcons – 373 total ypg allowed – 5.8 yards per play, 26.2 PPG allowed
  3. Detroit Lions – 409.9 total ypg allowed, 6.3 yards per play, 26.7 PPG allowed
  4. Minnesota Vikings – 402.3 total ypg allowed, 6.0 yards per play, 24.9 PPG allowed
  5. Seattle Seahawks – 373.4 total ypg allowed, 5.7 yards per play, 25.3 PPG allowed

17. Indianapolis Colts

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: 15th in NFL defense rankings

We mentioned at the end of the blurb in the Week 17 preview that the Indianapolis Colts are always capable of a defensive dud, regardless of the opponent. Just a casual 394 total yards later, with the New York Giants averaging 6.5 yards per play, you see the latest example. There’s no safe floor with this defense, it’s been high-ceiling or basement-level play all year.

16. Miami Dolphins

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Miami Dolphins
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: 18th in NFL defense rankings

The Miami Dolphins held the New England Patriots to 249 total yards, 4.4 yards per play and two offensive touchdowns. Miami also proved why it has one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. All of this is just adding to a stretch of defensive excellence, which is all being wasted by the offense in a bizarre flip of the script no one saw coming.

15. Green Bay Packers

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: 20th in NFL defense rankings

Jaire Alexander erased Justin Jefferson on Sunday, doing what no other cornerback could really accomplish this season. Quite frankly, the Green Bay Packers looked like the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL. Even without Rashan Gary and Eric Stokes, Green Bay boasts more than enough talent to contain the Detroit Lions offense and make the playoffs.

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%

14. Los Angeles Chargers

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Chargers
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: 17th in NFL defense rankings

It’s all starting to come together very quickly for the Los Angeles Chargers defense. Put the single-game control over the Rams’ offense out of the equation, the past three weeks of play speak volumes. Joey Bosa is back, Derwin James Jr. will be fully healthy for the playoffs and you’ve got a brilliant defensive mind orchestrating everything.

13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: 11th in NFL defense rankings

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the NFC South on Sunday, but they only fueled certainty that this team is headed for a first-round exit in the playoffs. DJ Moore (117 yards, 1 TD) eviscerated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers secondary, helping Sam Darnold achieve a 300-yard, three-touchdown performance. We’ve seen far too much inconsistency from the Buccaneers’ defense this season to believe it can hold its own in a Wild Card Game against an elite offense.

12. Washington Commanders

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Washington Commanders
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: 10th in NFL defense rankings

After informing the Washington Commanders about their playoff situation, someone should inform Ron Rivera that his defense has now allowed 672 total yards in the last two games. It comes down to the secondary, which allowed 105 yards to Amari Cooper on four targets with Deshaun Watson recording three touchdowns on nine completions. It’s safe to say there is a clear area of weakness to address this offseason.

Related: Ron Rivera makes startling admission

11. Pittsburgh Steelers

Syndication: Beaver County Times
Michael Longo/For USA Today Network / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • Previously: 13th in NFL defense rankings

With Lamar Jackson ruled out for Week 17, this matchup sets up perfectly for Pittsburgh. It has allowed just 98 rush ypg to opponents in the last three games and running the football is the only thing the Baltimore Ravens can even try and attempt to do effectively right now. Expect a very low-scoring game.

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%

NFL defense rankings:Top 10 defenses in NFL

10. New Orleans Saints

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 12 in NFL defense rankings

It’s going to be a strong closing statement for the New Orleans Saints defense. We saw what Gardner Minshew did to the Dallas Cowboys secondary, he wasn’t quite as successful in Week 17. Cameron Jordan (3 sacks) led the way as New Orleans dominated at the line of scrimmage and surrendered just a 25% third-down conversion rate. Count on the Saints putting a bow on this late-season run in Week 18, cementing their status as a top-10 defense in 2023.

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: Latest on Baltimore Ravens contract talks with Lamar Jackson

8. Cincinnati Bengals

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Monday Night Football is a perfect test for the Cincinnati Bengals defense, one that could ultimately prove this entire team’s legitimacy as a Super Bowl contender. One crucial element of this matchup is the Bengals’ pass rush against the Buffalo Bills.

From Week 11-16, Buffalo allowed the fifth-most pressures (65) and it ranked 23rd in PFF’s Pass Blocking Efficiency. All of that matters because quarterback Josh Allen holds an 83.2 QB rating with a 50.9% completion rate and 3-1 TD-INT ratio vs pressure compared to a 67.1% completion rate and 88.2 QB rating from a clear pocket since Week 10.

If Trey Hendrickson and Co. can get through the Bills’ offensive line, Cincinnati is in business. Failing to do so means Allen attacks a weak Bengals’ cornerback tandem with Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis making big plays.

7. Denver Broncos

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 6 in NFL defense rankings

The fight has left the Denver Broncos’ defense. It’s not entirely surprising, this was one of the best NFL defenses in 2022. One thing that separated it from others in our rankings, Denver’s defenders never had the fire of playoff competition or being supported by a quality offense to support them. All we can do is hope that Dan Quinn comes in as head coach in 2023.

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 for Week 18 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

6. Dallas Cowboys

Syndication: The Tennessean
George Walker IV / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • Previously: No. 4 in NFL defense rankings

The Dallas Cowboys defense has multiple problems right now. First, a pass rush that dominated in the first half of the season has lost its consistency. There are moments when DeMarcus Lawrence and Micah Parsons create havoc, but this entire front will also disappear for entire drives. Parsons is right that quarterbacks are getting the football out faster and that ties into the second problem.

Related: Jerry Jones reportedly already has eyes on new Dallas Cowboys coach

As we saw on Thursday Night Football, wide receivers aren’t having many issues against the Cowboys’ secondary. Injuries mean backup players get more snaps and that means a decline in talent and an increase in mental mistakes. The combination of pressuring opposing quarterbacks at a far lower rate and defensive backs being unable to stay with receivers in coverage is an alarming development for Dallas before the playoffs.

Top 5 defenses in NFL

  1. San Francisco 49ers
  2. Philadelphia Eagles
  3. New England Patriots
  4. New York Jets
  5. Buffalo Bills

Below you can find a detailed analysis for each of the top five NFL defenses right now.

Evaluating best NFL defenses in 2023

5. Buffalo Bills

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

There’s some concern regarding the Buffalo Bills defense with this matchup. Coverage has been an issue in recent weeks, especially with Tre’Davious White still not playing up to his usual standard. According to PFF, Christian Benford (146.8), Taron Johnson (114.2) and Dane Jackson (106.6) have each allowed a 100-plus QB rating when targeted since Week 11. Even White (57.3 PFF coverage grade) isn’t faring well.

All of that puts pressure on Buffalo’s pass rush, minus Von Miller, to get to Joe Burrow within seconds. Blitzing isn’t well-advised as Burrow boasts a 111.1 QB rating with six touchdown passes in his last six games against the blitz. With Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd all playing well, this could be a long night for the Bills’ secondary.

4. New York Jets

NFL: New York Jets at Seattle Seahawks
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 2 in NFL defense rankings

The New York Jets run defense was a bigger problem than some realized and it became obvious on Sunday, allowing 198 yards to the Seattle Seahawks. New York’s corners played well vs Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, but it’s easy to lose sight of that when tight ends do whatever they want in the middle of the field. Even through all of that, the Jets have played like a top-5 defense for a majority of the yeara and it’s more remarkable because of the lack of offensive support.

3. New England Patriots

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 7 in NFL defense rankings

Facing the Miami Dolphins without Tua Tagovailoa certainly made Sunday’s matchup easier for the New England Patriots. However, Bill Belichick’s defensive game plan still held Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill to a combined 107 receiving yards on 12 targets. Considering how banged-up New England’s secondary is, it softens the worry about matchups against No. 1 receivers. Let’s see what Belichick has in store for Stefon Diggs and Josh Allen in Week 18.

Related: Rebuilding the 2023 New England Patriots coaching staff

2. Philadelphia Eagles

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 3 in NFL defense rankings

We’re beginning to see greater weaknesses among the playoffs contends. Yes, the Philadelphia Eagles’ pass rush dominated plenty (7 sacks), but it also allowed some big plays and New Orleans converted 7-of-17 third-down attempts. Still, the pure talent in the front seven and secondary gives us confidence in this unit locking in come playoff time.

1. San Francisco 49ers

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Las Vegas Raiders
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
  • Previously: No. 1 in NFL defense rankings

The San Francisco 49ers are the No. 1 defense in the NFL, even after Sunday’s awful performance against the Las Vegas Raiders. It came out of nowhere, with Jarrett Stidham playing like a perennial Pro Bowl QB, slicing San Francisco apart. Yet, San Francisco retains the No. 1 spot because we’ve seen some other top defenses get blown up in recent weeks. One real cause for concern moving forward is what No. 1 receivers are doing to the 49ers’ cornerbacks in the last two weeks. Keep that in mind for the playoffs.

Week 18 NFL defense rankings

The Week 18 defense rankings are specifically based on matchups for Sunday’s games, focusing on how each team stacks up for Week 18.

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

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

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