The days of teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers riding dominant defenses to Super Bowl titles may be over, but these units still impact a team’s championship chances.
Just ask Aaron Rodgers why he wanted to join the Jets this offseason. While New York has some talented young weapons on offense, the future Hall of Famer wasn’t lured to the Big Apple by Breece Hall and Garrett Wilson.
In the modern NFL, a solid defense gives teams (and their offenses) a platform to succeed.
With that being said, let’s look at my latest NFL defense power rankings to see which teams are on track for a strong 2023 season.
NFL Defense Power Rankings 32-21
32. Arizona Cardinals
Arizona’s top tackler from a season ago, Budda Baker, requested a trade in April to get away from this defense. That says a lot about the talent around him.
The Cardinals allowed the second-most points per game (26.4) in the league last season and relied on the now-retired J.J. Watt (12.5 sacks) to get after the quarterback. Only one other Arizona pass-rusher, Zach Allen (5.5), had more than four sacks.
New HC and former Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon has a lot of work to do to turn this unit around.
31. Detroit Lions
Opposing offenses had little trouble moving the ball against the Lions, who allowed a league-high 6.2 yards per play last season. They also conceded a league-high 377 first downs and 25.1 points per game (third most).
2022 first-rounder Aidan Hutchinson had a standout rookie campaign, leading Detroit with 9.5 sacks and making plays all over the field. The Michigan product made 52 total tackles, had three interceptions, and recovered two fumbles.
However, to avoid playing in a bunch of high-scoring games in 2023, Hutchinson will need some help from the rest of the defense, which brought in corners Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley to shore up one of the league’s worst secondaries.
30. Las Vegas Raiders
Despite the presence of standout pass-rushers Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones, the Raiders recorded the third-fewest sacks (27) in the NFL last season. That duo accounted for 63% of that total.
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In addition to struggling to get after opposing quarterbacks, Las Vegas also finished last league-wide in takeaways (13).
No. 7 overall pick Tyree Wilson is another big body up front, but relying on a 30-year-old Marcus Peters to start at corner feels like a mistake.
29. Los Angeles Rams
Who is left on this LA defense?
The Rams lost four of their five leading tacklers from a season ago, with key veterans like Bobby Wagner, Leonard Floyd, and A’Shawn Robinson moving on. Los Angeles also traded top corner Jalen Ramsey and lost safeties Taylor Rapp and Nick Scott in free agency.
Sure, this defense still has Aaron Donald, but he is 32 and coming off an injury-hit season that saw him post his lowest production in years. This unit isn’t inspiring much confidence heading into the 2023 season.
28. Chicago Bears
The Bears arguably had the worst defense in the league last season, allowing an NFL-high 27.2 points per game.
Chicago’s problems started up front as the defensive line failed to get after opposing quarterbacks. The Bears recorded the fewest QB pressures (85), consequently resulting in the fewest sacks in the league (20) and a league-high Net Yards gained per pass attempt (7.4) for opposing quarterbacks.
Still, there’s some hope in the Windy City after bringing in talented linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and DE DeMarcus Walker this offseason.
27. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta ranked 30th in DVOA on defense last season, per Football Outsiders, but it bolstered this unit heavily through free agency.
The Falcons signed former Bengals Jessie Bates III and Tre Flowers to shore up their secondary and beefed up the defensive front with David Onyemata and Calais Campbell.
New DC Ryan Nielsen, who worked with the rival Saints for the last six seasons, has the opportunity to turn things around quickly.
26. Minnesota Vikings
The NFC North champion Vikings were an opportunistic defense that relied heavily on turnovers and red-zone stops.
Minnesota generated 25 turnovers last season (ninth most) but still ranked 27th in DVOA and notably struggled against the pass. The Vikings allowed the second-most passing yards (4,515) and yards after catch (2,390), highlighting a weakness in the secondary.
The offseason additions of Byron Murphy and Joejuan Williams could help in the short term, and the Vikes drafted corners with their third- and fourth-round picks in the 2023 NFL Draft. Still, there’s room for improvement.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville falls into a similar category as Minnesota, but it was more effective at keeping opponents off the scoreboard.
Still, the Jags ranked 30th in pass defense DVOA and surrendered the fifth-most passing yards per game (238.5). But they made up for it with an abundance of takeaways (27, T-4).
The pass-rushing duo of Josh Allen and 2022 No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker will try to help a secondary that didn’t change much this offseason.
24. Houston Texans
Teams ran all over the Texans in 2022. Houston allowed a league-high 170.2 rushing yards per game and yielded 25 rushing touchdowns, the second most in the NFL.
Having one of the league’s worst offenses likely played a factor — the Texans’ defense was on the field 31:21 per game — but there’s hope heading into 2023 thanks to some new arrivals.
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Incoming head coach DeMeco Ryans, who coordinated San Francisco’s vaunted defense, recruited Jimmie Ward and Hassan Ridgeway from the 49ers. Houston also signed a significant number of veterans to one-year deals.
This unit should be much improved in 2023.
23. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts had the worst red-zone defense in football last season, allowing opponents to score a touchdown 68% of the time they passed the 20-yard line. Otherwise, this unit was relatively solid.
However, the offseason departures of 2022 sack leader Yannick Ngakoue and linebacker Bobby Okereke are concerns, especially since three-time First-Team All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard played just three games last season.
Indy cut promising corner and primary kick returner Isaiah Rodgers, who received a season-long suspension for violating the league’s gambling policy, so 2023 second-round corner Julius Brents could be called into action early.
22. Seattle Seahawks
Geno Smith and Seattle’s surprisingly solid offense gave the team an opportunity to make a playoff run, but the defense didn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
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After allowing the third-most rushing yards in the NFL last season, the Seahawks beefed up the defensive front by signing Dre’Mont Jones and Jarran Reed and drafting DE Derick Hall in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft. The team also brought back linebacker Bobby Wagner and added former Steelers first-rounder Devin Bush.
Those additions should nicely complement a young secondary that hit big on 2022 fifth-rounder Tariq Woolen and added Devon Witherspoon with the No. 5 pick in April.
21. Green Bay Packers
The Packers have used first-round picks on defense each of the last three drafts and in five of the last six, so former Iowa EDGE Lukas Van Ness is linking up with a unit that has plenty of young talent.
Former Georgia Bulldog Quay Walker was the team’s top tackler as a rookie last season, and 2018 first-rounder Jaire Alexander has become one of the top cover corners in the league.
However, Green Bay struggled against opposing rushing attacks last season, ranking 31st in DVOA and allowing five yards per carry. That will have to improve this season, especially since the offense may take a step back with Jordan Love under center.
NFL Defense Power Rankings 20-11
20. Cleveland Browns
Myles Garrett had another outstanding season with 16 sacks, but no other player on Cleveland’s defense registered more than three.
Browns GM Andrew Berry addressed that lack of depth this offseason, trading for three-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith.
The team also signed veteran Dalvin Tomlinson and drafted DT Siaki Ika to improve a rush defense that ranked 28th in DVOA and surrendered 22 rushing touchdowns (second-most in the AFC) a season ago.
19. New York Giants
The Giants’ defense was solid under blitz-heavy coordinator Wink Martindale, who dialed up extra pressure at a league-high 39.7% rate.
While that helped New York get after opposing quarterbacks, it has room to improve after ranking 32nd in DVOA against the run.
The offseason addition of linebacker Bobby Okereke should help, while first-round rookie Deonte Banks gives Martindale a cover corner that will allow him to continue to send the house.
18. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs allowed the most passing touchdowns in the NFL during the 2022 regular season (33), which feels like a product of a team always playing with a lead.
Kansas City, ranked No. 1 in our NFL offense power rankings, knows it doesn’t have to do much on defense to win games. Still, GM Brett Veach has done a great job building this unit through the draft, and DC Steve Spagnoulo is one of the most experienced game-callers in the league.
Obviously, Chris Jones (15.5 sacks last season) is the anchor of this unit, but 2022 first-rounders George Karlaftis and Trent McDuffie are emerging talents that will carry this group forward for years to come.
17. Tennessee Titans
Tennessee had the league’s top rush defense per DVOA in 2022 but ranked 28th against the pass as injuries to starting SS Amani Hooker and top corner Kristian Fulton took their toll.
The Titans also lost some key playmakers on defense this offseason, with linebacker Zach Cunningham signing in Philadelphia and DE DeMarcus Walker (seven sacks) joining Chicago.
Still, head coach Mike Vrabel usually makes the most of his talent, so I’m expecting this unit to remain respectable.
16. Carolina Panthers
The 2022 season was a tale of two halves for the Panthers, who were much improved on both sides of the ball after interim head coach Steve Wilks took over for Matt Rhule.
Carolina’s defense looks like a menacing unit on paper, especially after offseason signings like safety Vonn Bell, DT Shy Tuttle, and EDGE Justin Houston rounded out a solid core with some veteran know-how.
Brian Burns is a standout pass-rusher, and 2021 first-rounder Jaycee Horn is quickly becoming one of the top cornerbacks in football. New DC Ejiro Evero, who dialed up Denver’s defense last season, could turn this into a top-10 unit.
15. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers have had one of the worst run defenses in the league over the last few years, and that was the case again last season as Los Angeles allowed a league-worst 5.4 yards per rush attempt.
This unit has plenty of potential, but it needs Joey Bosa and J.C. Jackson to stay healthy and play 17 games.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Todd Bowles has proven to be a lackluster head coach (see where he ranks in our NFL coach power rankings), but he can still call a defense.
The Buccaneers ranked 13th in DVOA on defense last season despite various injuries to significant contributors.
Getting Shaq Barrett back from a torn Achilles should supplement Tampa Bay’s front seven, which features standout DT Vita Vea and one of the league’s top linebacker duos in Devin White and Lavonte David.
13. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins’ defense generated the second-fewest turnovers in the NFL last season (14).
That production looked likely to be getting a boost this season thanks to the arrival of star corner Jalen Ramsey, but a preseason meniscus injury has put his debut campaign in jeopardy.
Still, this unit should improve significantly under the guidance of new DC Vic Fangio, one of the top defensive minds in football.
12. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals were a top-five scoring defense a season ago, allowing a hair over 20 points per game. However, this unit lost some significant contributors in the secondary, especially at safety, with Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell departing.
Retaining defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, a hot prospect on the head-coaching market this offseason, was a significant boost to Cincinnati’s defensive prospects.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
When talking about Pittsburgh’s defense, it’s natural that most of the attention goes to T.J. Watt. The 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is a certified game-wrecker, and his absence was felt when he missed seven games last season.
Still, the Steelers were able to hold things together, thanks to their ball-hawking secondary.
Minkah Fitzpatrick has been a standout performer for Pittsburgh since he was acquired from Miami, and his six interceptions led the way for a defense that matched San Francisco for the most interceptions in the league last season (20).
If Watt can stay healthy and rookie corner Joey Porter Jr. makes a smooth transition to the league, this defense could be a top-10 unit again.
NFL Defense Power Rankings 10-1
10. Washington Commanders
Washington’s defense has been up and down the last few seasons, but it’s hard to ignore this team’s talent up front.
Daron Payne, Montez Sweat, and Jonathan Allen recorded at least 7.5 sacks last season, and former No. 2 overall pick Chase Young only played the team’s final three games after recovering from a knee injury.
With those four getting after opposing quarterbacks, 2023 first-rounder Emmanuel Forbes and the rest of the secondary shouldn’t have to cover wideouts for very long.
9. Denver Broncos
If the Broncos can take any positives from their disastrous 2022 season, the defense would be one of them. Denver allowed 20 or more points in just one of its first nine games, a tremendous achievement given how little help its offense provided.
Pat Surtain II is growing into one of the top young cornerbacks in football, and recent signing Frank Clark should be a solid addition to the pass rush.
Although this unit will have a new coordinator this season, former Broncos head coach Vance Joseph is a familiar face with a solid pedigree as a play-caller.
8. New Orleans Saints
After a tough start to the season, New Orleans’ defense played its best down the stretch, allowing 18 points or fewer in its final six games.
The Saints made up for a lack of takeaways (14, second-fewest in the NFL) with an abundance of sacks (48, tied for fifth-most).
Although there were a few offseason departures up front, New Orleans targeted pass-rushers with their first two picks in the NFL Draft to reload for defensive-minded HC Dennis Allen.
7. Buffalo Bills
The Bills’ defense graded out as a top-five unit last season, but it was never the same after Von Miller went down with a torn ACL.
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This offseason saw talented linebacker Tremaine Edmunds leave town, creating a significant hole alongside Matt Milano. And Buffalo’s secondary, outside of second-year corner Kaiir Elam, is getting up there in age, so there are plenty of concerns for Sean McDermott’s squad heading into 2023.
Still, this unit has plenty of talent if it can stay relatively healthy.
6. New England Patriots
New England recorded the most takeaways in the AFC last season (30) and ranked second in the conference in sacks (54), one behind Kansas City.
EDGE Matthew Judon, who recorded a career-high 15.5 sacks last season, is living up to his price tag, and the addition of 2023 first-rounder Christian Gonzalez gives the Pats an embarrassment of riches at corner.
It’s hard to have too many concerns about Bill Belichick’s defense.
5. Baltimore Ravens
The midseason trade for All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith made Baltimore’s defense one of the league’s most formidable units down the stretch of last season.
The Ravens had the least penalized defense in football (79 flags) last season and were one of just three teams to limit opponents to fewer than four yards per carry.
Baltimore has a case for the top linebacker group in the league, and there’s plenty of talent in the secondary. However, the departures of Justin Houston and Calais Campbell raise a few concerns about the pass rush.
4. New York Jets
After grading out as the league’s worst defense in 2021 per DVOA, the Jets made a massive leap to fifth in 2022.
Robert Saleh’s squad was boosted by Defensive Rookie of the Year Sauce Gardner, who became the first rookie corner to earn First-Team All-Pro honors since Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott (1981).
Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, who earned a $96 million contract extension this offseason, recorded a team-high 12 sacks and caused plenty of chaos up front in his best season to date.
New York allowed 4.8 yards per play, 18.6 points per game, and had the league’s third-best defense in the red zone, allowing a TD on just 47.8% of opponents’ drives inside the 20.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
Quarterbacks didn’t have much fun facing the vaunted Eagles’ defense last season.
Philadelphia racked up a league-high 70 sacks, pressured passers on 25.5% of dropbacks, and limited them to a league-low 4.9 net yards per pass attempt.
While the Eagles were able to keep top corners Darius Slay and James Bradberry, this unit suffered some significant losses this offseason. Among the departures include DT Javon Hargrave, safety C.J. Gardner Johnson, and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon.
Still, Philadelphia’s defense should be among the league’s best again next season.
2. Dallas Cowboys
Dallas’ defense centers around linebacker Micah Parsons, the favorite in our 2023 NFL Defensive Player of the Year odds. Parsons has racked up 13-plus sacks in each of his first two NFL seasons and has the motor to make plays all over the field.
Still, this is far from a one-man unit. The Cowboys have playmakers at every level and added some talent in the secondary this season by bringing in veteran corner Stephon Gilmore.
Dan Quinn’s defense already led the league in takeaways (33) last season, so adding another ball-hawk makes this unit even more fearsome.
1. San Francisco 49ers
There’s no denying that the Niners had the NFL’s most dominant defense last season, and it should remain that way in 2023.
San Francisco allowed league-lows in points (16.3) and yards (300.6) per game while also forcing the second-most turnovers (30).
This unit relies heavily on its front seven, including reigning DPOY Nick Bosa (league-high 18.5 sacks), linebacker Fred Warner, and offseason addition Javon Hargrave.
The secondary is a slight concern, but there’s plenty of talent for new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.