The Baltimore Ravens definitively won their championship last year with the old cliché of running the ball and playing good defense. Oh sure, QB Joe Flacco was a monster in the second season, and he was able to get the job done when it mattered most, but the foundation of the team was its ‘D’. This year, Baltimore has one of the many defenses that we think could make a big time difference when we’re talking about wins and losses. Check out the Top 10 defenses that we are keeping an eye on this year in the NFL!
1: San Francisco 49ers – The Niners only allowed 17.1 points per game last season, and we think that they have the ability to better that this time around as well. The litany of draft picks that the team had gave it the ability to trade up to take S Eric Reid in the first round, and when combined with S Donte Whitner, the back of this secondary should be solid. Adding in DB Nnamdi Asomugha should help as well. The front seven added some depth with DE Tank Carradine from Florida State, a man that might have been a Top 10 pick in the NFL Draft this year if not for the fact that he tore his ACL in his final season at FSU. This could be the best defense in football this season.
2: Seattle Seahawks – Head Coach Pete Carroll is always looking for a way to bolster his defense. He probably doesn’t have the best front seven on the face of the earth, but the combination of DB Richard Sherman and DB Brandon Browner might be the best in the league, especially when you toss in S Earl Thomas to the mix as well. The addition of DE Cliff Avril should make the pass rush more exciting with both DE Bruce Irvin and DE Chris Clemons also coming back to the squad. Seattle is helped out by the fact that it runs the football a ton, thus limiting drives, but this team is no joke. The Seahawks can flat out play on this side of the ball, and it’s not a mistake that they led the league in scoring defense last year.
3: New England Patriots – When you think of the Patriots, you don’t think of a Top 5 defensive team. You think of a team that throws the ball all over the place and has to ultimately just do barely enough defensively to get the job done. However, take a closer look at what New England is bringing to the table this year off of a season in which it ranked 10th in points allowed at 20.7 points per game. Names like Jermaine Cunningham, Dont’a Hightower, Jerod Mayo, and Brandon Spikes are littering the linebacker corps, while Kyle Arrington, Devin McCourty, and Aqib Talib might make up one of the best trios of DBs in football. The cagey S Adrian Wilson was a smart pickup in the offseason, and men like DT Vince Wilfork and the rest of the defensive linemen are stout as well. For as great as New England is offensively, this might be the most underrated defense in the NFL this year.
4: Houston Texans – For years, the Texans had one of the worst defenses in football. Now, they have one of the best. Last season, they didn’t quite have the swagger necessary to go into New England and win a playoff game, but they have all the swagger that they ever could have asked for now with S Ed Reed coming to town. Reed and the drafting of S DJ Swearinger will more than offset the loss of S Glover Quin, and LB Whitney Mercilus was drafted two years ago as a replacement for the now-departed LB Connor Barwin. DE JJ Watt is still one of the most feared men in football, and LB Brian Cushing is back after last season’s torn ACL that cost him the last three quarters of the year. Houston allowed just 14.6 points per game last season when Cushing was playing, and it allowed 23.5 points per game when he didn’t.
5: Denver Broncos – This might be a little low for a team that ranked fourth last season in scoring defense at 18.1 points per game allowed. Losing DL Elvis Dumervil is going to hurt a lot (more on him in a second), but the rest of the pieces are in play for the Broncos to once again be very solid on this side of the ball. Many think that throwing against a secondary that features DB Champ Bailey is tough, but in actuality, Denver was a tremendous team against the run this past season. No team in the AFC averaged allowing fewer yards per carry than Denver did at 3.61, and as a result, the team allowed just 4.58 yards per play, easily the best mark in the game. The Broncos won’t be as dominating on this side of the ball, simply because of the fact that most teams are going to be playing catch-up against them all year long, but they’ll be a solid unit no less, and potentially one of the best five teams in the league.
6: Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals check in here at No. 6, and they’re the first team that we are listing in the AFC North. It might surprise you to know that Cincinnati only allowed six more points for the season last year than Pittsburgh did, and it actually held foes to 24 points fewer than Baltimore. LB James Harrison has a ton to prove after last season when he was essentially excommunicated from the Steelers, and this secondary is stacked with Leon Hall, Dre Kirkpatrick, Terence Newman, Taylor Mays, Reggie Nelson, and the newly drafted Shawn Williams. The Bengals are our favorite team in the AFC North this season, and this defense is the reason for that.
7: Chicago Bears – Perhaps we’re low on the Bears at this point, but we do think that the loss of LB Brian Urlacher is going to be a real kick in the backside. The team needs to do a lot of rebuilding, and it has to find its identity once again in a hurry. Though we think that the offense is going to be suitable this season, the fact of the matter is that the ‘D’ allowed 17.3 points per game last season, and it wasn’t even good enough to get into the playoffs. The Bears have the talent surrounding LB Lance Briggs to do some damage on this side of the ball, but we aren’t all that optimistic that they are going to be able to get the job done against the high flying teams in the NFC North.
8: Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Head Coach Greg Schiano wants a stronger defense this year, and you can bet that he is going to be getting it. Tampa Bay went out and traded for DB Darrelle Revis, and if he is healthy, he is one of the best at his trade in the game. Add in there two potentially great picks in the NFL Draft in DB Johnthan Banks and DE William Gholston, and then consider the growth of some of the younger players on this team, especially in the middle of the defense, and all of a sudden, you see the makings of a big time defense. Playing against Atlanta and New Orleans a combined four times isn’t going to be fun by any stretch of the imagination, but the Buccaneers did rank No. 1 in the NFL against the rush last year, allowing just 3.50 yards per rush.
9: New York Jets – We might not be as crazy as you think we are. Head Coach Rex Ryan is a defensive guy, and he has his cupboard stocked once again with some defensive players that could make a real difference this year. The Jets allowed just 5.08 yards per play last season, which was one of the better marks in football, and we know that the offense set this defense up for failure time and time again. That fact probably isn’t going to change any, but the dominance of the defense could still be there. Picking up DB Dee Milliner should help replace DB Darrelle Revis, and when you really look at it, the combination of Milliner, DB Antonio Cromartie, and DB Kyle Wilson is pretty darn good. Don’t underrate the New York defense this season.
10: Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens lost S Ed Reed, LB Ray Lewis, and LB Paul Kruger in the offseason, but the addition of DL/LB Elvis Dumervil might make it all just fine. S Matt Elam will shift into the starting safety role. The question of middle linebacker still exists, but there are plenty of options at outside linebacker as well. LB Terrell Suggs and DE Haloti Ngata are the new faces of this defense, and there is no doubt that they have proven that they can be big time leaders. Though the Ravens won’t be as flashy as they were in 2012 when they won the Super Bowl, they’ll still have the goods to be one of the best 10 defenses in the league this year.
is a staff writer living in the Orlando area. He has covered NFL, MLB, college football, CFL, AFL, NBA, college basketball, NASCAR, golf, tennis, and the NHL for a number of various outlets in his career, and he has been published by a number of different media outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel and the Wall Street Journal.