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2023 NFL defense rankings: Evaluating all 32 NFL teams before training camp

Who has the best NFL defense in 2023? Our weekly NFL defense rankings examine every unit across the league on a weekly basis to determine the best defenses in the NFL. You can also check out our NFL offense rankings.

Let’s dive into our 2023 NFL defense rankings, evaluating where all 32 defenses stand heading into the summer.

Who has the worst defense in the NFL?

32. Los Angeles Rams – Worst NFL defense

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Los Angeles Rams
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams are rebuilding and the teardown of the roster depleted this defense in a hurry. Aaron Donald, one of the best defensive players in NFL history, will be healthy and should play at an All-Pro level next season. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, he’s the line bright spot on this defense. Because the Rams have the worst secondary in the NFL and the worst pass rush, outside of Donald, it’s fair to say the Rams have the worst NFL defense in 2023.

31. Las Vegas Raiders

The Las Vegas Raiders have an excellent edge-rushing trio headlined by Maxx Crosby, Chandler Jones and Tyree Wilson. Even with Jones declining, Las Vegas should be able to maintain one of the best pass-rushing duos in the NFL as Wilson develops. However, the Raiders have one of the worst NFL secondaries, linebacker is a significant weakness and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham doesn’t have the necessary pieces for his scheme to work. Unless someone steps up at cornerback, the Raiders will have one of the worst pass defenses in 2023.

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30. Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals defense projects to be one of the least-talented units in the NFL next season. With J.J. Watt, Markus Golden and Zach Allen gone, the Cardinals will be relying on Zaven Collins, BJ Ojulari and Myjai Sanders as their top pass rushers. It raises serious doubts about their ability to pressure the quarterback. If this team can’t generate consistent pressure, quarterbacks will exploit a secondary that allowed the second-highest QB rating (98.2) and the highest completion rate (69.8%) in the NFL last season. To make matters worse, the interior defensive line is a major weakness and that may also result in Arizona having one of the worst run defenses in the NFL.

Related: 2024 NFL Draft picks by team

29. Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears had the worst defense in the NFL this season. Across 17 games, Chicago allowed opponents to average a 94.4 QB rating, 4.9 yards per carry and they allowed the most points per game (27.2) in the NFL.

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Chicago improved at linebacker with T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds. It’s a positive step forward, but the Bears’ secondary and pass rush remain glaring weaknesses on the roster. It then added to the defensive line (Gervon Dexter Srm Dzacch Pickens), while bringing in developmental cornerback Tyrique Stevenson. There are more bright spots than before, but the Bears will likely still have one of the worst NFL defenses in 2023.

28. Minnesota Vikings

When the Minnesota Vikings pass rush couldn’t create pressure, it was finished. Opponents posted a 92.7 QB rating with an 11-5 TD-INT ratio in the final eight games and Minnesota had one of the softest second-half schedules. With both Patrick Peterson and Dalvin Tomlinson free agents, Minnesota needs to re-sign its starters and overhaul the cornerback room.

However, there is more optimism after the hiring of defensive coordinator Brian Flores. He’s one of the NFL’s best defensive minds, with success that speaks for itself in New England and Miami. He’s going to get a lot more out of this defense than his predecessor. How far the Vikings move up in the 2023 NFL defense rankings this summer will depend on who they sign and draft.

Swapping in Marcus Davenport for Za’Darius Smith does the same thing as switching Patrick Peterson for Byron Murphy, bringing in a younger player who may or may not repeat the level of production. Minnesota drafted Mekhi Blackmon and Jay Ward, but this is still a bottom-five secondary. There’s an upside because of Flores, but the holes at linebacker and corner are alarming.

27. Indianapolis Colts

It’s not difficult to find reasons to like the Indianapolis Colts defense. When everyone is healthy, this unit has two All-Pro candidates (DeForest Buckner and Shaquille Leonard) along with emerging pass rusher Kwity Paye and free-agent signee Samson Ebukam. Indianapolis also invested draft capital in high-upside cornerbacks Darius Rush and Julius Brents.

With that said, it’s also imperative to keep in mind that the Colts ranked 31st in pass rush win rate (33%) last season and they’ve got a lot banking on a young secondary. While this could eventually be a top-15 defense once Rush and Brents develop, the secondary is a weak point right now and Leonard isn’t even a lock to be on the field in Week 1. Throw in the Isaiah Rodgers’ suspension and it raises even more worries about this pass defense.

26. Houston Texans

The Houston Texans had the worst run defense in the NFL last season, but they proved they could at least hold their ground against the pass. Heading into the 2023 season, first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans will attempt to have the same impact on Houston’s young defenders as he did with the San Francisco 49ers. However, the Texans are still short-handed defensively and the dependency on Will Anderson Jr. to become an immediate star and for Derek Stingley Jr. to play like a No. 1 cornerback is asking a lot

2023 NFL defense rankings: Top 25 defenses this year

25. Jacksonville Jaguars

Syndication: Florida Times-Union
Bob Self/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Jacksonville Jaguars defense is led by two young standouts in cornerback Tyson Campbell and edge rusher Josh Allen. Campbell, 80 QB rating allowed in coverage, became a lockdown defender in his second year, while Allen (67 pressures) is an ascending pass rusher. From Weeks 14-18, Jacksonville held opponents to an 81.1 QB rating with 16 sacks and 197.8 pass ypg allowed in five contests. What holds this unit back, for now, is the uncertainty in the slot and skepticism about the Jaguars using Travon Walker most effectively. There is a top-20 upside here, but the Jaguars need some of their young players to deliver a Campbell-like leap.

24. Atlanta Falcons

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons finally escaped their salary cap problems and immediately devoted significant money toward the defense. It was long overdue, especially when considering Atlanta had fewer sacks (39) in their last 34 games than 17 NFL teams had in 2022 alone. The Falcons are finally providing Grady Jarrett with help, adding Bud Dupree, Calais Campbell and David Onyemata. Atlanta also upgraded its secondary with safety Jessie Bates and cornerback Jeff Okudah. While the Falcons will still have a bottom-10 pass rush and cornerback room, the depth and experience added will make this a more stable defense in 2023.

Related: Dynasty fantasy rankings

23. New York Giants

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Kayvon Thibodeaux looked great late in the year, recording 21 pressures and three sacks in his final six games. Meanwhile, Dexter Lawrence played like a Defensive Player of the Year and Leonard Williams (33 pressures, 12 QB hits) was an outstanding interior pass rusher. Things will be even better if Azeez Ojulari takes a step forward this fall.

It’s no surprise this defensive line finished with the fifth-highest pass rush win rate (45%) and finished sixth in pressure rate (24.3%). However, New York also couldn’t stop the run – 5.2 ypc, 144.2 rush ypg allowed – and its cornerback unit ranks 22nd in the NFL (Mike Clay). This can be a top-20 defense, but it’s going to require excellent play from Deonte Banks and Adoree Jackson.

22. Detroit Lions

NFL: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The ceiling for the Detroit Lions’ defense is higher than this. After a brutal start in 2022, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn’s changes made a significant impact the rest of the way. In the final 10 games, Detroit’s opponents averaged an 84.3 QB rating with a 14-10 TD-INT ratio and completed just 58.7% of their pass attempts. However, the opposition also averaged 5.3 yards per carry and had a 41.3% third-down conversion rate.

Related: NFL executives raise concerns about Detroit Lions draft picks

It all led to the Lions injecting significant resources into their defense this spring. Detroit overhauled its cornerback room, adding Emmanuel Moseley, C.J. Gardner Johnson and Cameron Sutton. Not only will the pass defense likely improve overall, but linebacker Jack Campbell should also help shore up the run defense and Detroit’s new cornerbacks are adept at tackling, too.

21. Tennessee Titans

NFL: Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee Titans had the best run defense in the NFL last season. Led by a defensive line featuring Denico Autry, Jeffery Simmons and Teair Tart, the Titans ranked first in Rush DVOA (-24.4%), first in run stop win rate (36%) and allowed just 76.9 rush ypg. Considering this was a top-five run defense in 2021, it’s safe to project the Titans to have a top-five run defense in 2023.

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Here’s the problem. Tennessee also ranked 28th in Pass DVOA (16.3%), with its opponents averaging 245.2 passing yards and 7.1 yards per attempt. We do expect the pass rush – 20th in pass rush win rate (38%) – to improve with Harold Landry returning and Arden Key added to the front seven. Unfortunately, Kevin Byard is still a possible trade candidate and the Titans’ cornerbacks group is a significant liability. Great quarterbacks will eat this defense alive.

Top 20 NFL defenses in 2023

20. Seattle Seahawks

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks might have one of the best NFL secondaries in 2023. With cornerback Devon Witherspoon added into the mix, Jamal Adams returning and safety Julian Love signed, Seattle boasts all the talent and versatility it needs in its defensive backfield. Not to be outdone, the Seahawks improved at linebacker by bringing in Bobby Wagner and Devin Bush, with Jordyn Brooks on track for a comeback early this fall. Unfortunately, Seattle’s pass rush is holding it back. There isn’t a true standout disruptor who you can consistently bet on to get to the quarterback and until someone demonstrates they can take on that role, Seattle’s defense won’t reach its ceiling.

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19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Once one of the best NFL defenses, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have started fading rather quickly. While Jamel Dean is an outstanding cornerback, it’s the other questions at cornerback that resulted in the Buccaneers’ secondary ranking 19th in DVOA vs No. 2 and No. 3 receivers last season. We also can’t ignore a run defense that allowed 170-plus rushing yards to opponents on six separate occasions, including two 200-yard games. There’s some excellent talent – Dean, Lavonte David, Vita Vea, Antoine Winfield Jr and Ryan Neal – then a massive drop-off.

Related: 2024 NFL mock draft

18. Green Bay Packers

Syndication: Journal Sentinel
Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Green Bay Packers have the elements of a top-10 defense with Jaire Alexander, Kenny Clark and De’Vondre Campbell making an impact at every level. Things could be even better when Rashan Gary and Eric Stokes are healthy, especially if Devonte Wyatt and Quay Walker make a second-year lap after showing flashes in their NFL debuts. However, the Packers are alarmingly thin at defensive tackle and have arguably the worst safety tandem in the NFL. Plus, defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s track record has fairly put him on the hot seat this year.

17. Carolina Panthers

NFL: Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Ordinarily, losing a defensive coordinator like Steve Wilks would be a significant blow but the Carolina Panthers replace him with Ejiro Evero. Now, the former Denver Broncos defensive play-caller takes over a group that averaged 2.1 sacks per game with only 211.4 pass ypg, 6.7 ny/a and an average 89.0 QB rating in its first 14 games last year. Brian Burns, Derrick Brown and Frankie Luvu are already standouts, but Carolina will have a top-15 defense if Jaycee Horn has a breakout season as the No. 1 cornerback.

Related: Bryce Young scouting report

16. Kansas City Chiefs

NFL: Super Bowl LVII-Kansas City Chiefs vs Philadelphia Eagles
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs have one of the youngest NFL defenses and with that comes upside and growing pains. Trent McDuffie went through that and injuries in his rookie year, as did rookie defensive backs Bryan Cook, Jaylen Watson and Joshua Williams. With more experience and confidence, we could see a version of the pass defense that allowed just 181.4 pass ypg in its finals even regular-season contests.

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Naturally, everyone’s life is made easier when Chris Jones is on the field. The All-Pro defensive tackle went on an absurd stretch last season, compiling 22 quarterback hits, 12 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks in the final 11 games. George Karlaftis, Watson and Cook are being thrust into much larger roles this season and if they thrive, Kansas City will climb the NFL defense rankings fast.

15. Los Angeles Chargers

Syndication: Florida Times-Union
Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Los Angeles Chargers have one of the best pass defenses in the NFL. Last season, the Chargers ranked 10th in Pass DVOA (-3.8%) and they allowed the seventh-fewest passing yards (200.4 ypg) and the eighth-lowest completion rate (61.4%). All of this was accomplished with Joey Bosa (12 games missed) and Derwin James (3 games missed) absent at times. If Bosa is healthy, Los Angeles should be confident that its pass rush (30th in pass-rush win rate, 21st in pressure rate) is even better this upcoming season.

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However, the Chargers have been incapable of stopping the run in the last two seasons. Los Angeles allowed 138.9 rush ypg, 22 touchdowns and 4.6 ypc in 2021. Last year, despite free-agent additions, it surrendered 145.8 rush ypg and 5.4 ypc. Until Brandon Staley’s unit proves itself, this will be the Achilles heel that opponents exploit.

14. Cincinnati Bengals

Syndication: The Enquirer
Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

A great defensive mind can do a lot for a unit and Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is a testament to that. One of the top NFL coaching candidates in 2023, some of Anarumo’s most impressive work – 10-7 TD-INT, 16 sacks, 59.3% completion rate, 3.9 rush ypc – occurred after No. 1 cornerback Chidobe Awuezie suffered an ACL tear.

For now, there are enough questions to keep Cincinnati from being viewed as a top-12 defense. It takes time for cornerbacks to return to form after an ACL tear, Tre’Davious White is an example. The Bengals also lost safeties Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates this offseason and that will have a negative influence both on what Anarumo can do and how effective the new Bengals’ safeties are. We still like the scheme and there’s a fair amount of talent (Trey Hendrickson, Germaine Pratt, Sam Hubbard, B.J. Hill, DJ Reader – but there isn’t as much talent and familiarity as last season.

13. New Orleans Saints

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Once the backbone of this group, the New Orleans Saints deteriorated over the last two seasons. It got even worse during the first wave of NFL free agency with Marcus Davenport and David Onyemata leaving. It’s why New Orleans spent its top picks on defensive tackle Bryan Bresee and defensive end Isaiah Foskey.

There are certainly still challenges ahead. New Orleans ranked 32nd in pass-rush win rate (29%) 31st in takeaways (14), 29th in third-down conversion rate allowed (41.6%), 24th in run defense (130.5 ypg allowed), Fortunately for the Saints, Dennis Allen boasts an excellent track record and there will still be Cameron Jordan, Tyrann Mathieu, Demario Davis, Carl Granderson and Marcus Maye on the field. New Orleans boasts a high defensive floor, but things could unravel and the long-term outlook isn’t great with Jordan (age 35), Davis (age 35) and Mathieu (age 32) aging fast.

12. Cleveland Browns

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns needed to find a complementary edge rusher to play opposite Myles Garrett and they found one. Za’Darius Smith isn’t a safe bet to stay healthy, but he will make a significant impact on Cleveland’s defense when he is available. Just last season in Minnesota, Smith compiled 78 total pressures, 24 QB hits and 10 sacks all with solid run defense.

Related: 2024 NFL Draft picks by team

Cleveland’s run defense – 135 rush ypg, 4.7 ypc allowed in 2022 – should also look a lot better. Dalvin Tomlinson fits perfectly into what Jim Schwartz wants to run and coverage specialist Anthony Walker returns at linebacker. Cleveland also overhauled its safety tandem, signing Juan Thornhill and Rodney McLeod. If Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome II play up to their talent level, this will be a top-10 defense in 2023.

11. Denver Broncos

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Denver Broncos
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain II – 84 QB rating, 417 receiving yards allowed in 17 games – is one of the best players in football. With safety Justin Simmons behind him and linebacker Alex Singleton covering underneath, it’s no wonder Denver finished seventh in Pass DVOA (-6.6%) and surrendered the fifth-lowest passing touchdown rate (3.3%) last year.

However, there are some issues that keep Denver from cracking the top 10 in our NFL defense rankings. Among them, the average QB rating from opponents rose to 92.5 in the final nine games and the Broncos finished 26th in pressure rate (18.5%). Vance Joseph could fix that as the play-caller, but he’s not exactly working with an abundance of talent on the defensive line.

Fortunately for Joseph, Denver signed Frank Clark. Last season in Kansas City, Clark recorded 45 total pressures in 469 pass-rush snaps during the regular season. A year prior, he generated 46 pressures in 426 pass-rush snaps. Clark is a complementary edge rusher, offering a safe floor of five-plus sacks with double-digit quarterback hits and 40-plus pressures. He doesn’t completely fix the Broncos’ pass rush, but he’s a nice addition to address a weakness.

Top 10 NFL defenses

10. Buffalo Bills

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

At its peak, the Buffalo Bills have one of the best defenses in the NFL. From Weeks 1-10 last season, Buffalo held opponents to 210.2 pass ypg with a 75.7 average QB rating, a 9-13 TD-INT line and 27 sacks. In that same stretch, this unit ranked fourth in Defensive DVOA (-14.1%).

Related: Von Miller could open season on PUP list

Things changed after Von Miller’s ACL tear and there are concerns he’ll open the season on the PUP list. Buffalo’s pass defense then allowed a 92.4 QB rating with a 12-1 TD-INT ratio from Weeks 11-16 and it fell to ninth in DVOA in its final five games, including the playoffs. Miller’s potential absence, the loss of linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and alarming issues against No. 1 receivers – 29th in DVOA – are all concerns heading into the summer.

Adding Leonard Floyd does push Buffalo back into the top 10 NFL defense rankings. Floyd isn’t an outstanding player, but he recorded 59 quarterback hits and 29 sacks in 50 games with Los Angeles. He’s the perfect addition to this pass rush until Miller is healthy and they’ll be nice complements later in the year.

9. Baltimore Ravens

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Baltimore Ravens
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens had one of the best NFL defenses in the second half of last season. During that stretch, per Mina Kimes, they ranked fifth in yards per play, third in DVOA and second in EPA per play. Furthermore, opponents averaged only 192.5 pass ypg with a 4-3 TD-INT line and 3.8 yards per carry in the final six weeks of the season.

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If that carries over into 2023, Baltimore climbs up the NFL defense rankings quickly. However, let’s not forget opponents averaged 253.8 pass ypg in the first 12 contests with a 90.5 QB rating and the Ravens’ defense ranked 18th in opponents’ second-half scoring during the regular season. Another season in Mike Macdonald’s scheme should help and Baltimore’s secondary is excellent, but there will be problems if the pass rush – 17th in pass-rush win rate and 25th in pressure rate – can’t consistently get to the quarterback.

8. Washington Commanders

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Washington Commanders
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Through the first eight games in 2022, opponents averaged a 99.2 QB rating with a 14-2 TD-INT ratio and posted a 7.4 ypa through the air against the Washington Commanders defense. In the final 10 weeks, the average QB rating plummeted to 83.3 with a 12-7 TD-INT line and a 6.5 ypa. It speaks volumes about what this unit is capable of, especially with top picks spent on cornerbacks.

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Washington can overwhelm anyone in the trenches and it boasted the best third-down defense (31.9%) in the NFL last season. All of this occurred with Chase Young struggling in his first season returning from an ACL tear. We do still have some concerns at inside linebacker and in the secondary – the track record for sub-170 pound cornerbacks isn’t good – but Emmanuel Forbes should be an upgrade for a defense that ranked 23rd in DVOA against No. 2 receivers. If Young is closer to the player we saw in his rookie season, the Commanders could have a top-five defense.

7. Pittsburgh Steelers

Syndication: Beaver County Times
Michael Longo/For USA Today Network / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense struggled in large part due to injuries in 2022. T.J. Watt, Ahkelio Witherspoon and Minkah Fitzpatrick all missed multiple games, with Watt and Witherspoon both landing on injured reserve. As a result, a previously top-10 defense finished 20th in yards per play allowed (5.5), first-half opposition scoring (11.7) and 16th in third-down conversion rate (39.35%).

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Not only is the Steelers’ defense healthy heading into the summer, it added talent. Patrick Peterson provides the length, consistency and experience this secondary lacked on the outside. Pittsburgh also signed defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko and linebacker Cole Holcomb then selected Joey Porter Jr to the secondary with Keeanu Benton and Nick Herbig bolstering the front seven. Health will be crucial, but it’s reasonable to think a defense that allowed a 76.3 QB rating with 21 sacks in its final seven games will be an elite unit in 2023.

6. New England Patriots

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots consistently have one of the best NFL defenses. Bill Belichick’s group allowed the fourth-fewest yards per play (5.0), the ninth-fewest offensive touchdowns per game allowed (2.1) and ranked third in Football Outsiders Total DVOA (-12.4). However, even Belichick would admit this unit needed a cornerback with size and athleticism who could match up with some of the best wide receivers in the league.

Christian Gonzalez is the perfect fit. While there’s an adjustment period for rookie cornerbacks, he landed in the perfect system with a coaching staff that boasts an outstanding track record in player development. Gonzalez complements New England’s secondary perfectly and with outstanding seasons from Josh Uche, Matthew Judon, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Kyle Dugger, the Patriots will have one of the best defenses in the NFL in 2023.

NFL defense rankings 2023: Top 5 defenses

5. Miami Dolphins

Syndication: Palm Beach Post

If evaluating defenses purely off 2022 NFL stats, the Miami Dolphins don’t have a top-10 unit. They ranked 24th in scoring defense (24.1 PPG allowed), third-down conversion rate (41.6%), 23rd in red-zone scoring rate (59.3%) and 13th in yards per play (5.3) last year. However, this is a protection for the 2023 NFL season.

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Miami added All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, a phenomenal chess piece for any defense and the perfect fit in what new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio wants to run. Furthermore, linebacker David Long Jr. was one of the best run-stoppers in the NFL last season and he is an effective blitzer. Now, add that to one of the best defensive lines in the NFL – Bradley Chubb, Christian Wilkins, Zach Sieler and Jaelan Phillips – with Xavien Howard and Jevon Holland in the secondary. Excellent talent and great coaching, that gives Miami a top-five defense in 2023.

4. New York Jets

NFL: New York Jets at Green Bay Packers
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets defense experienced a dramatic one-year turnaround. In 2021, Robert Saleh’s unit ranked 32nd in Football Outsiders Total DVOA (14.4%), allowed the most points (29.6 PPG) and surrendered the second-highest average passer rating (103.2). One year later, the Jets ranked fifth in Total DVOA (-10.1%), gave up the second-fewest points (18.6 PPG) and ceded the second-lowest average passer rating (80.5) to opponents.

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Call it the Sauce Gardner effect. New York’s star earned first-team All-Pro honors, playing at a level truly never seen before from a rookie defender. Meanwhile, Quinnen Williams became a DPOY candidate, free-agent signee D.J. Reed. Jr was the perfect No. 3 corner and the Jets’ played well-rounded football. New York has since added Will McDonald IV to its defensive line and putting Aaron Rodgers at quarterback means less pressure on the defense. This is an elite group.

3. Dallas Cowboys

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Commanders
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys had one of the best NFL defenses entering the offseason. Led by edge rusher Micah Parsons and cornerback Trevon Diggs, executing Dan Quinn’s scheme, Dallas led the NFL in pressure rate (25.5 percent), ranked third in sacks (54) and allowed the sixth-fewest points per game (19.7) in the regular season. There are now reasons to believe this unit will be even better.

Stephon Gilmore is the No. 2 cornerback the Cowboys have needed for years. While he’s no longer an All-Pro talent, Gilmore held opponents to an 82.6 QB rating and a 56.2 percent completion rate when targeted in coverage last season. He’ll make Diggs better and allow the Cowboys’ pass rush to create more havoc. Plus, Dallas added Mazi Smith (323 pounds) at nose tackle to free up Parsons and Randy Gregory and the edge and improve the Cowboys’ run defense (129.9 ypg, 4.4 ypc).

2. Philadelphia Eagles

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Sean Desai has all the weapons at his deposal. In replacing Jonathan Gannon, Desai takes over an Eagles’ defense that was just the fourth in NFL history to record 70 sacks in a season and the first to have four players with double-digit sacks. While Hargrave is gone, Philadelphia brings in Jalen Carter and edge rusher Nolan Smith.

It’s neck and neck between the 49ers and Eagles for No. 1 in the 2023 NFL defense rankings. Ultimately, the edge goes to the team with the more proven defensive coordinator and a better linebacker corps. With that said, the Eagles boast top-20 cornerbacks (Darius Slay, James Bradberry) and an outstanding pass rush. In a pass-heavy league, that’s crucial

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1. San Francisco 49ers

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers have the best run defense in the NFL. In 2022, San Francisco allowed just 77.7 rushing yards per game and a 3.4 yards per carry average to opponents. Losing DeMeco Ryans hurts, but new 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks worked wonders with the Panthers’ defense last season. It’s also important to remember that Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead either played through injuries (Bosa) or missed significant time (Armstead) last season.

San Francisco ranked fifth in pass-rush win rate (46%) and sixth in run-stop win rate (32%) last season and this unit was outstanding situationally. The 49ers allowed the third-fewest points per game (4.0) in the fourth quarter and ceded the fewest red-zone scoring attempts (2.5) per game in the NFL. The 49ers added Javon Hargrave (17% pass-rush win rate) and addressed the need at safety with Ji’Ayir Brown. With phenomenal talent and coaching, expect another defensive clinic.

Statistics via Pro Football Reference, Football Outsiders, ESPN and Pro Football Focus.

Fantasy defense rankings – Week 1 D/ST rankings

In advance of the 2023 NFL season, here is our Week 1 defense rankings.

  1. Washington Commanders D/ST vs Arizona Cardinals
  2. San Francisco 49ers D/ST vs Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. Dallas Cowboys D/ST vs New York Giants
  4. Baltimore Ravens D/ST vs Houston Texans
  5. Philadelphia Eagles D/ST vs New England Patriots
  6. New Orleans Saints D/ST vs Tennessee Titans
  7. New York Jets D/ST vs Buffalo Bills
  8. Seattle Seahawks D/ST vs Los Angeles Rams
  9. New England Patriots D/ST vs Philadelphia Eagles
  10. Pittsburgh Steelers D/ST vs San Francisco 49ers
  11. Miami Dolphins D/ST vs Los Angeles Chargers
  12. Denver Broncos D/ST vs Las Vegas Raiders
  13. Minnesota Vikings D/ST vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  14. Green Bay Packers D/ST vs Chicago Bears
  15. Jacksonville Jaguars D/ST vs Indianapolis Colts

Related: NFL stadium rankings 2023

Who is the number 1 defense in NFL?

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers had the No. 1 defense in the NFL last season. In 17 regular-season games, San Francisco held opponents to an 82.7 QB rating (sixth in NFL), 77.7 rushing yards per game (second in NFL) and a 25.7 percent scoring rate (first in NFL).

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Who has the best defense in NFL history?

RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

The 1985 Chicago Bears had the best NFL defense ever. Led by three Hall of Famers – Mike Singletary, Richard Dent and Dan Hampton – Chicago allowed just 101 total points on its way to winning Super Bowl XX, including an NFL record two shutouts in the playoffs. In addition, the 1985 Bears’ defense held opponents to a 50.2 passer rating with a 46.5 percent completion rate and 17-37 TD-INT ratio in 19 total games and opponents averaged just 76 rushing yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry across 19 contests in the regular season and playoffs.

Who has the weakest pass defense in the NFL?

Syndication: Arizona Republic
Joel Angel Juarez/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Arizona Cardinals have the worst pass defense in the NFL entering the 2023 season. Last year, Arizona allowed the second-highest average QB rating (98.3), the second-most passing touchdowns (29) and the highest completion rate (69.8%). Even with Jonathan Gannon taking over as head coach, Arizona has the worst secondary in the NFL and a bottom-five pass rush.

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What teams have the best defense in the NFL?

The San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins have the best defenses in the NFL based on our 2023 NFL defense rankings.

Who has the worst defense in the NFL 2023?

The Los Angeles Rams have the worst NFL defense in 2023. The Las Vegas Raiders, Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears are also projected to be the worst defenses in the NFL this year.

What defense allows most rushing yards?

The Houston Texans defense allowed the most rushing yards, surrendering 2,894 rushing yards in 17 games with opponents averaging 170.2 rushing yards per game vs Houston.

Who will be the best fantasy defense this year?

Sportsnaut projects the Philadelphia Eagles to have the best fantasy defense in 2023. After becoming the fourth team in NFL history to record 70 sacks in a season, Philadelphia’s pass rush and its ability to create takeaways (27 last season) creates upside that appeals to fantasy football.

Who leads the NFL in sacks?

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa led the NFL with 18.5 sacks last season. Here are the NFL sacks leaders in 2022 and the league-leader in sacks over the last five season.

NFL sack leaders 2022
  1. Joey Bosa, San Francisco 49ers – 18.5 sacks
  2. Haason Reddick, Philadelphia Eagles – 16 sacks
  3. Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns – 16 sacks
  4. Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs – 15.5 sacks
  5. Matthew Judon, New England Patriots – 15.5 sacks
NFL sack leaders by year
  • 2022: Joey Bosa, San Francisco 49ers – 18.5 sacks
  • 2021: T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers – 22.5 sacks
  • 2020: T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers – 15 sacks
  • 2019: Shaquil Barrett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 19.5 sacks
  • 2018: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams – 20.5 sacks