San Francisco 49ers defense
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL has implemented plenty of rule changes in recent years to increase scoring and boost offenses. Despite the changes, it’s a defense that helps determine the Super Bowl champion each year.

We saw it this past season in Super Bowl LIV. The San Francisco 49ers defense carried them to an NFC title, but it was the Kansas City Chiefs defense that came through in the fourth quarter to help complete the Super Bowl comeback.

The teams with the best defenses in the NFL give their organization a chance to compete for a championship. So, let’s take a look at the five best defenses entering the 2020 NFL season.

5. Los Angeles Chargers

The Los Angeles Chargers went into the offseason knowing they would rely on their defense to win. An offense with Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert at quarterback will need a defense capable of generating turnovers and shutting down the passing game.

We don’t expect that to be an issue for Los Angeles. This is the best secondary in the NFL with shutdown corner Casey Hayward and All-Pro defensive backs Chris Harris Jr, Derwin James and Desmond King. It will be difficult for opposing receivers to get open. Now add in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram creating havoc off the edge and Linval Joseph collapsing the pocket inside, it’s a nightmare for quarterbacks. If rookie Kenneth Murray lives up to his first-round billing, this could even become a top-three defense this year.

4. New England Patriots

Bill Belichick’s defense this past season was beyond insane. It allowed the fewest points (225), first downs (261) and total yards (4,414) in the NFL. Frankly, this defense played at a Super Bowl-caliber level and its the offense that kept it from reaching the top. Unfortunately, we aren’t going to see the Patriots replicate that defensive success in 2020.

The losses of Kyle Van Noy and Danny Shelton will hurt the front seven. New England will struggle to create as much pressure on opposing quarterbacks and its linebacker corps takes a significant hit. Even with those losses, though, the secondary will shut down plenty of passing attacks. Stephon Gilmore will be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate once more and the NFL’s deepest secondary keeps this unit as an elite defense.

3. Buffalo Bills

Tre’Davious White is quickly emerging as one of the league’s elite cornerbacks. Behind him, the outstanding safety duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer will help cover for any of Josh Norman’s mistakes and take away the run. In the front seven, Buffalo added defensive end Mario Addison and edge rusher A.J. Epenesa, making this defense even stronger.

We’re particularly excited about Ed Oliver. While he didn’t always play like a top-10 pick in 2019, the pure talent and athleticism are off the charts. If he takes a big step forward this year, he will likely make the Pro Bowl and this defense gets even better. Buffalo’s defense will carry it to an AFC East crown in 2020, the rest will be up to Josh Allen and this offense.

2. Baltimore Ravens

We already loved Baltimore’s defense before the offseason. Big moves to land Marcus Peters and Earl Thomas in 2019 paid off big time as the secondary started shutting down air space all year long. It turns out, that wasn’t enough for general manager Eric DeCosta.

The Ravens made two huge additions this offseason with Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe. Instantly, a productive pass-rush unit turned into a ferocious defensive line. Oh, they also drafted Patrick Queen to address their remaining need at linebacker. From the defensive line to the secondary, Baltimore’s defense is loaded. Pair it with the offense and it’s clear why the Ravens are a Super Bowl contender.

1. San Francisco 49ers

Yes, trading away All-Pro DeForest Buckner is a hit for this defense. If we’ve learned anything from the 49ers, they know how to identify and develop talent. Javon Kinlaw can develop into a star and this defense already has the force that is Nick Bosa.

We’ll also need to keep an eye on Kwon Alexander and Dee Ford’s health next season. If they can stay on the field, this group will keep playing at an elite level. Even if the front seven isn’t as dominant, Richard Sherman will shutdown No. 1 receivers. When it’s all over, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will use this defense’s dominance to prove he is ready to become a head coach.