Top 25 NFL Defenses of All Time

As the game has become more offensive, we might weigh defenses a little heavier in this era. We can look back at the Monster of the Midway in Chicago years, and look at when Pittsburgh and Baltimore dominated defensively for a decade long. Defenses can come in different forms, as Seattle’s secondary set the tone in their Super Bowl run in recent years. You also have insane pass-rushers such as J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald tearing things up. Going back through the years we are looking for game and even season changing defenses. In 1976, the Steelers defense allowed 28 points over their final nine games of that season. Yes, you read that correctly. Chicago’s defense in 1985 had shut out two of their three playoff opponents, allowing just ten total points in their three playoff games that season. We can appreciate the high flying passing league the NFL has become, but going back through the years and finding stats like that is truly impressive. Both Chicago and Pittsburgh will be mentioned a few times, but through NFL history there was a lot of dominant defenses that made it very tough to narrow down to just 25 teams.

1985 Chicago Bears

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
15-11981,3192,816616

The 1985 Chicago Bears are a historic team, and overall are just iconic. You had Mike Ditka leading this team to a 15-1 record, and ended up going onto win the Super Bowl. Chicago allowed just 198 total points that year, and Mike Singletary led that defense as their middle linebacker. Buddy Ryan was the defensive Coordinator, who ran a 46 defense that revolutionized the way we see blitzes now. It was a coin toss between them and the 1976 Steelers team below, and I am going to give the edge to the Super Bowl team when all is said and done.

1976 Pittsburgh Steelers

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
10-41381,4571,86659

As mentioned above, this Steelers defense allowed just 28 points over their final nine games of this season. The Steelers allowed 138 points, and had 41 sacks this year. Mel Blount and Glen Edwards were part of a ball-hawking secondary, both with six interceptions. This was a stretch of years with a very good defense, as Pittsburgh has often been known for in their franchise history. Jack Lambert and Jack Ham are some other names. Did I forget to mention Mean Joe Greene was bullying offensive lineman for a decade. This was truly a toss up, as I wouldn’t deny anyone arguing they were the best defense of all-time.

2000 Baltimore Ravens

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
12-41659702,997511

The 2000 Super Bowl Ravens were built on a strong running game with Jamal Lewis, and a one of the best defenses of all-time. I mean how else do you win with Trent Dilfer as your quarterback? The Ravens allowed 10.3 points per game, and this defense was led by Ray Lewis who finished the year with 137 tackles. Duane Starks was their shutdown corner, and names like Chris McAlister and Rod Woodson also rounded out a strong secondary. Rob Burnett led the team with 10.5 sacks. Lots of future head coaches also came from this group as Jack Del Rio, Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, and Mike Smith were all involved on the defensive staff.

1969 Kansas City Chiefs

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
11-31771,0912,072610

You had the Kansas City Chiefs over in AFL, where they went 11-3, allowing 12.6 points per game. The Chiefs had a dominant stretch in the postseason where they allowed less than ten points in each game. Emmitt Thomas finished the year with nine interceptions, while Johnny Robinson had eight. This isn’t even naming the three Hall of Famers, Buck Buchanan, Bobby Bell, and Willie Lanier. Kansas City’s postseason might go down as one of the most dominant performances of all-time, especially with the goal-line stand against the Jets in the Divisional Round. Minnesota also had just two rushing first downs in the Super Bowl.

1986 New York Giants

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
14-22361,2843,4731015

Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick led this New York Giants team to a 14-2 record, and their defense allowed just 14.8 points per game. When you have a player like Lawrence Taylor, your defense is already getting a significant edge. This defense had a handful of years up at the top of the league, and the success followed. During this postseason stretch, the Giants defense held the Redskins and 49ers to a total of three points before going onto beat Denver in the Super Bowl. The Giants had two games within the regular season where they forced seven turnovers.

1969 Minnesota Vikings

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
12-21331,0891,63148

In that same season where the Chiefs beat this Minnesota Vikings team, it came down to a battle of defenses, and the Chiefs came out on top. In the NFL, Minnesota allowed just 9.5 points per game, but in the postseason they allowed the Rams and Chiefs to go over 20. This Vikings team had Pro Bowl performances by Paul Krause, Jim Marshall, and Alan Page. Minnesota allowed just nine offensive touchdowns over the course of the season, but unfortunately allowed their second most points in a game that year in the Super Bowl. They would go onto have some dominant defenses but postseason success never came. 

1991 Philadelphia Eagles

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
10-62441,1362,413416

Any defense that was in Bud Carson’s hands was going to be a good one, and the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles were another success story in Carson’s long line of defenses. This Eagles team isn’t like the teams above who went onto have postseason success. It came with their offense averaging just 17.8 points per game, but also Dallas and Washington just running through the league. This was a team that had a tremendous line, with Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, and Jerome Brown. Seven times this season the Giants had forced four or more turnovers in a game. Their opponents averaged just 3.9 yards per play.

2013 Seattle Seahawks

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
13-32311,6262,752416

In more recent years, Seattle put together a Super Bowl run that was at the hands of their defense. They allowed just 14.4 points per game, and the “Legion of Boom” was created. They ranked inside the top ten against both the run and the pass, and were first in turnovers. Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Byron Maxwell, and Earl Thomas made up the secondary, but the linebacker core of Bobby Wagner, Malcolm Smith, and Bruce Irvin was stellar as well. This defense ran through Colin Kaepernick, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning over the three postseason games, holding all three to under 20 points.

1962 Detroit Lions

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
11-31771,2311,986611

There was no postseason during this time, and Detroit narrowly missed out on a chance to play for the Super Bowl. They ranked 2nd in points per game allowed that season, allowing just 12.6 per game. The Lions forced ten turnovers in a game against the Vikings, which is one of the highest in NFL history. Yale Lary, Night Train Lane, Alex Karras, Joe Schmidt, and Roger Brown all made the Pro Bowl that season. Dick LeBeau was also on this Detroit team, and we know the long coaching career he had on the defensive side in more recent years.

1962 Green Bay Packers

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
13-11481,5311,746410

The reason why the Lions team above didn’t make the Super Bowl was because of this Green Bay Packers team. They allowed just 10.6 points per game, and under Vince Lombardi they went onto win the Super Bowl, holding the New York Giants to seven total points. Green Bay forced 50 turnovers that season, and were number one against the pass and the run. Leading the pack in turnovers was Willie Wood and Herb Abbderley, who both went onto the Pro Bowl that season. Ray Nitschke and Willie Davis were both the big defensive players in the front seven who went onto dominate for years to come.

2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
12-41961,5542,490810

This 2002 Buccaneers team went onto win the Super Bowl, and had one of the most dominant defenses in the last 20 years. They allowed 37 total points in their three postseason games, shutting down some of the top offenses from that season. Name value alone, this Bucs team had some future Hall of Famers and Pro Bowl regulars. Derrick Brook and Shelton Quarles both had over 100 tackles that season. Brian Kelly, Ronde Barber, and John Lynch made up a very good secondary. Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice both combined for 20+ sacks, which completed a top to bottom defense.

1973 Miami Dolphins

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
12-21501,9911,290105

While it wasn’t the undefeated Miami team, this defense allowed just 10.7 points per game in 1973. They went onto win the Super Bowl, allowing 33 total points in the postseason. They had a shutdown secondary ranking first against the pass, and were inside the top half against the run. Miami didn’t flash in the turnover column like some of these other teams, but they had a stout defense that didn’t allow production. Dick Anderson, Jake Scott, Nick Buoniconti and Bill Stanfill were the Pro Bowl selections from this defensive side. Miami enjoyed most of these names on the defense for a few years.

2008 Pittsburgh Steelers

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
12-42231,2842,511712

Dick LeBeau ran the Steelers defense for a while in the 2000s, and his time in Pittsburgh led a lot of categories on the defensive side. In a Super Bowl winning year, the Steelers allowed just 13.9 points per game. They had the best pass defense in the league, allowing just 12 total passing touchdowns. They were also inside the top five against the run. You had notable names like Troy Polamalu, James Farrior, James Harrison, and LaMarr Woodley. Before the Steelers offense had an electric offense, they relied on the defensive side, and this year it showed. The offense scored just 21.7 points per game, which was bottom 12.

2006 Baltimore Ravens

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
13-32011,2143,011526

It was another dominant performance by the Ravens defense in 2006, allowing just 12.6 points per game. The Ravens fell short in the playoffs, but held a Peyton Manning led offense to just 15 points, so it is hard to put the blame on them. Over the regular season, the Ravens ranked first in yards and points allowed. They were also second in turnovers. It was another monster year for Ray Lewis, and Bart Scott joined him with over 100 tackles. Ed Reed had five interceptions, while Terrell Suggs and Trevor Pryce had over 20 combined sacks.

1968 Los Angeles Rams

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
10-3-12001,3051,813912

The 1968 Rams were third overall in points allowed, and first in yards allowed. They forced 44 turnovers, which ranked second overall. Eddie Meador, Maxie Baughan, and Merlin Olsen all made Pro Bowl appearances this season. The Rams failed to make the postseason finishing behind the Baltimore Colts, who were in the midst of a defensive juggernaut team as well. The Rams were high flying, and they only had three games where they allowed less than three turnovers. A better offense and this Rams team may have had a better outcome.

2005 Chicago Bears

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
11-52021,6372,872910

In the 2000s the Bears had a stretch of seasons with a very strong defensive unit. In 2005 the Bears finished first in the division, but only to be bounced early against Carolina. The Bears defense allowed just 12.6 points per game, and forced 34 turnovers. They allowed the second fewest yards and were first in the league in points allowed. The linebacker duo of Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher combined for over 200 tackles. Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman both were part of a shutdown secondary. The Bears had five Pro Bowl defenders this season, and this would repeat for a few years moving forward.

2015 Denver Broncos

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
12-42961,3373,1931019

In 2015 the Broncos relied heavily on their defense with a ready to retire Peyton Manning. The offense averaged just 22.2 points per game, and the defense allowed 18.5 points per game. Denver faced Ben Roethlisburger, Tom Brady, and Cam Newton in the playoffs, holding them all to under 20 points each game. Chris Harris and Aqib Talib established themselves as shutdown corners, while the pass rush of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware were relentless. Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall both had over 100 tackles. We have seen some good defenses pass through Denver, but they stand out as one of the more clutch groups.

1971 Baltimore Colts

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
10-41401,1131,73989

The 1971 Baltimore Colts held teams to just 10 points per game, allowing just 140 points in 14 games. This was good enough to get them into the playoffs that year, where they eventually lost to Miami in the Conference Championship. Baltimore forced 41 turnovers, and had the best rush and pass defense in the league. Ted Hendricks, Rock Volk, Jerry Logan, and Mike Curtis were all Pro Bowl members. Charlie Stukes led the team in interceptions with eight. Whether it was the Colts or Ravens, Baltimore has seen some of the best defenses of all-time.

1967 Oakland Raiders

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
13-12331,1392,165918

It was unfortunate for the 1967 Oakland Raiders to run into Vince Lombardi and the Packers. They lost in the Super Bowl, allowing an uncharacteristic 33 points after allowing 16.6 per game all season. Oakland also forced 45 turnovers, which was second in the league. The Raiders were both top three against the pass and the run. Oakland’s defense saw Pro Bowl selections with Willie Brown, Kent McCloughhan, and Dan Conners. In the AFL Championship, Oakland held Houston to just seven points, forcing three turnovers, holding them to 38 rushing yards.

1984 San Francisco 49ers

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
14-12271,7853,3811014

The 1984 49ers were one of the most dominant teams in history, but defensively they will also go down as one of the best. They held opponents to just 14.2 points per game, and allowed 26 total points across their Super Bowl run in the postseason. San Francisco was top ten against the pass and run. San Francisco’s secondary stands out here with three Pro Bowl selections. Keena Turner was also a Pro Bowl linebacker who had one of his best seasons of his career. San Francisco was destined to win it all this year.

2000 Tennessee Titans

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
13-31911,3902,423710

One of Jeff Fisher’s good years came in 2000 with Tennessee. They held opponents to 11.9 points per game, but struggled in the Divisional Round against Baltimore. The Titans had one of the best passing defenses in the game, allowing just ten passing touchdowns and 4.7 yards per attempt. The rushing defense was also top five. Samari Rolle and Blaine Bishop were Pro Bowl selections from this secondary, while Jevon Kearse had one of many Pro Bowl years with 11.5 sacks. Kenny Holmes also had an underrated year with eight sacks. The Titans kept this defense intact for a few years.

1977 Los Angeles Rams

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
10-41461,6981,877711

The Rams had another dominant defensive season a few years later, but results were much of the same when it came to the postseason. Los Angeles allowed just 10.4 points per game, and lost in the Divisional Round to Minnesota 14-7. The Rams forced 41 turnovers, and had a top ten rush and pass defense. Monte Jackson and Isiah Robertson both found their way to the Pro Bowl that year, and Bill Simpson led the team with six interceptions and two fumble recoveries. It was some tough years for the Rams with this type of defense and not much to show for it.

1963 Chicago Bears

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
11-1-21441,4421,734710

The World Champion Bears in 1963 hold one of the best defenses of all-time, and of course this is probably behind a few other Bears teams. They held teams to just 10.3 points per game, and in their championship game they held the Giants to just ten points. Chicago forced 54 total turnovers, and allowed under five yards per pass. Rosey Taylor and Richie Petitbon both were Pro Bowl selections, and had 17 combined interceptions. In fact every member of their starting secondary had an interception returned for a touchdown that season.

1992 New Orleans Saints

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
12-42021,6052,470813

The Saints defense was dominant all season long in 1992, and then the Eagles came in and dropped 36 on them in the Wild Card game. New Orleans allowed 12.6 points per game, and had top ten defenses against the pass and run. The Saints had three defensive players over ten sacks, which were Wayne Martin, Rickey Jackson, and Patt Swilling. Sam Mills had 130 tackles, and Toi Cook locked down six interceptions. This was a dominant defense, and they would be higher in the rankings if they could have put up a better postseason performance.

2009 New York Jets

RECPARUSH YDS ALLOWPASS YDS ALLOWRUSH TD ALLOWPASS TD ALLOW 
9-72361,5782,459118

With a mediocre offense, the 2009 Jets defense had to carry the weight, and they did exactly that. They held teams to 14.8 points per game, and held each the Bengals and Chargers to 14 in the postseason before getting hammered by Peyton Manning for 30 points. There is no shame there. The secondary was one of the best in recent years, allowing just eight passing touchdowns and under 2,500 yards. Darrelle Revis led that secondary with a Pro Bowl season and six interceptions. David Harris had over 100 tackles, and Calvin Pace had a team high eight sacks.

  
Jason Guilbault has been writing and podcasting in the fantasy sports world for over five years. You can find his work at The Fake Baseball and Daily Fantasy Cafe. He is an avid Tottenham fan, and follows the Boston sports teams. When he isn’t diving into stats, he is enjoying the outdoors or down at the local brewery.

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