Pittsburgh Steekers OLB T.J. Watt leads the NFL's best defense
Oct 25, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) celebrates the missed field goal by Tennessee Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski (3) during the second half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

NFL defense rankings: It’s been a wild NFL season, with defenses falling behind early in the year without the benefit of a full offseason and preseason games. As we head into Week 8, we’re starting to see defenses settle in and it is bringing more changes to our defensive rankings.

Of course, weekly performances aren’t the only thing that influences where a defense lands in our rankings this season. The first blockbuster trade has come down and more will come before the NFL trade deadline on Nov. 4.

While offenses make the highlight plays, especially in an era where the rules favor quarterbacks, a few teams still boast defenses capable of taking them to the Super Bowl. Even if a contender’s defense isn’t elite, all it takes is a few playmakers to get hot at the right time.

As Week 7 of the NFL season draws to a close, we rank the top–20 defenses in the NFL entering Week 8.

NFL Week 8: Schedule and game-by-game predictions

20. Green Bay Packers (Last Week: Unranked)

It was never really a question about the talent on this defense, the Packers have that. Jaire Alexander might become the best cornerback in the NFL and edge rusher Za’Darius Smith is still playing well. However, Pro Bowl linebacker Preston Smith and defensive tackle Kenny Clark have struggled this year. Green Bay’s defense woke up on Sunday, recording 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. It’s a start and the Packers could climb even higher with a strong performance in Week 8 against the Minnesota Vikings.

NFL Week 7: Top takeaways from around the league

19. Cleveland Browns (LW: UR)

It’s difficult not to marvel at this defense. Myles Garrett, on pace for 20.5 sacks this season, is playing at a ridiculous level. On top of that, safety Ronnie Harrison is playing very well and cornerback Denzel Ward continues to show flashes in coverage. It’s largely a three-man effort right now, but that’s good enough for this defense to lead the NFL in takeaways (14).

Related: If you’re a fan of the Browns, check out #Browns rumors, rankings, and news here.

18. Tennessee Titans (LW: 19)

It’s frankly incredible that Tennessee’s defense ranks third in takeaways (12), given their pass rush. Heading into Week 8, the Titans generate pressure on just 16.8% of defensive snaps and have the fourth-lowest hurry rate (5.5%) in the NFL. However, this defense is in the right spots at the perfect moments and that leads to turnovers. We’d expect a few from Joe Burrow on Sunday, but he’ll also put up a few scores.

17. Carolina Panthers (LW: 18)

On a day when the Saints were without Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Carolina’s defense still had no answers for Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara. Yet, while the Panthers allowed 415 total yards, they limited New Orleans to six points in the second half. This is a respectable defense with plenty of youth and room to improve, especially as edge rusher Brian Burns further develops into an All-Pro talent.

16. New Orleans Saints (LW: 14)

Drew Brees finally played like the Hall of Famer passer we’re used to seeing and it came at the right time with this defense still struggling. New Orleans had no answer for DJ Moore, who exploded for 93 yards and two scores. The Saints hit Teddy Bridgewater just twice in this game. With time to throw, he sliced up this secondary. New Orleans can use Week 8 against Nick Foles to figure some things out, but this defense will be overmatched in Week 9 against Tom Brady and Co.

15. Buffalo Bills (LW: 15)

Might we finally be seeing signs of life from this defense? Buffalo’s secondary took the field, allowing opponents to post a 107.2 quarterback rating against them this year. Questions were mounting about this once highly-regarded defense, with the biggest being if it could stop anyone. The answer is yes, the Bills can stop Sam Darnold. Perhaps they can do the same in Week 8 against the New England Patriots, but the real test won’t come until Week 9 (Seattle Seahawks).

Related: If you’re a fan of the Bills, check out #BillsMafia rumors, rankings, and news here.

14. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 17)

Oct 25, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals linebacker Isaiah Simmons (48) intercepts a pass by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (left) intended for Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) during overtime at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Stopping Russell Wilson is practically impossible, but Arizona’s defense did a good job of containing him in Week 7. While Wilson threw for 388 yards and three scores, with another 84 yards on the ground, his three interceptions were pivotal to Arizona’s victory. Vance Joseph dialed up the pressure in overtime, resulting in two stops and a turnover that set up the game-winning field goal. We also might remember this as the game that gave Isaiah Simmons the confidence he needed to become a breakout star.

13. Los Angeles Chargers (LW: 11)

It’s a story as old as time, injuries and bad luck have taken a toll on the Chargers. It’s evident how much this secondary misses Derwin James and Chris Harris Jr., a playmaking duo in the secondary that makes life so much easier for the front seven. Even without their All-Pro defensive backs, this is still a quality defense. Heading into Week 8 against the Denver Broncos, this unit should do enough to help Justin Herbert deliver another win.

Related: Race for Rookie of the Year: Are Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert fading?

12. Miami Dolphins (LW: 14)

Everyone will be talking about Tua Tagovailoa’s NFL debut heading into Week 8. The hype is deserved, but some of that national recognition should also talk about this defense. Under head coach Brian Flores, Miami holds opponents to an 86.3 quarterback rating, 18.8 points per game with the lowest third-down conversion rate (31.3%) in the NFL. The Dolphins will cause some problems for Jared Goff and Co.

11. Denver Broncos (LW: 12)

If you just skimmed over the NFL scores from Week 7, it would be fair to assume Patrick Mahomes demolished Denver’s defense. However, that was far from the case. Drew Lock threw a pick-six, the special-teams unit allowed a 102-yard kickoff return touchdown and backup quarterback Chad Henne ran in a touchdown when the game was long decided. While Sunday’s loss was ugly, the Broncos can at least give props to their defense for an impressive effort.

10. New England Patriots (LW: 6)

The dynasty is long gone. New England’s offense did its teammates on the other side of the ball no favors in Week 7, but this defense didn’t exactly show up. San Francisco gashed the Patriots for 467 total yards, with 197 yards and four scores allowed on the ground. The Patriots should match up better against the Buffalo Bills in Week 8, but it’s tough to trust this team right now.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Patriots, check out #GoPats rumors, rankings, and news here.

9. Washington Football Team (LW: 10)

Talk about a dream matchup for Washington. The one area where this team wins is at the line of scrimmage defensively and they faced the Cowboys’ depleted offensive line on Sunday. The result, eight quarterback hits, six sacks and six tackles for loss. Washington’s defense is responsible for its two wins and it is scary to think what this team could look like in 2021.

8. Los Angeles Rams (LW: 7)

When you have a defense with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, the best players at their respective positions, great things happen. Scoring on this defense is challenging, but it’s practically impossible in the fourth quarter (16 points allowed). Even when Jared Goff isn’t playing well, this group keeps the game close until Sean McVay figures something out. Tua Tagovailoa will make his starting NFL debut in Week 8 against this defense and we wish him a lot of luck.

7. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 9)

On a day when Patrick Mahomes wasn’t playing to his usual standard, Kansas City’s defense dominated. Drew Lock stood no chance in this game, throwing two interceptions and posting a 57.7 quarterback rating. This team’s ability to create pressure, with the third-best pressure rate (26.9%) in the NFL per Pro Football Reference, is incredible. Don’t be surprised if this defense outscores Adam Gase and the New York Jets when they square off in Week 8.

NFL stats: Worst quarterback performances from Week 7

6. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 8)

Don’t look now, but an injury-plagued 49ers team is suddenly back in the hunt for the NFC West and potential Super Bowl contention. Things started rather poorly this season with a 3-3 record, but this defense continues to perform even without Nick Bosa and Richard Sherman. San Francisco put on a defensive showcase against the New England Patriots with four turnovers and six points allowed. Now, we get to see how this defense stacks up against Russell Wilson and Co. in Week 8.

Related: If you’re a fan of the 49ers, check out #NinerNation rumors, rankings, and news here.

NFL Defense Rankings Top 5

5. Chicago Bears (LW: 5)

Entering Monday Night Football, this defense is playing at an eye-popping level. If you’re an opponent facing Chicago, good luck converting on third downs or in the red zone. The Bears have held opponents to a 31.8% conversion rate on third down this season, which ranks second in the NFL, and lead the NFL in lowest red-zone touchdown rate (36.4%). The Week 8 battle against the Saints will be a chess match.

NFL trade deadline: Five teams that should be buyers

4. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 3)

Entering Week 7, Indianapolis allowed the lowest quarterback rating (71.7) and the fewest passing yards allowed per game (199.7). On top of that, the Colts are the only unit allowing holding teams under 200 passing yards per game. This is a dominant group and it gets two weeks to prepare for the Detroit Lions. Expect a strong performance from the Colts in Week 8.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 4)

Oct 25, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebacker Devin White (45) applies pressure to Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) during the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Against the same Las Vegas Raiders offense that tore the Kansas City Chiefs to shreds, Tampa Bay’s defense did an impressive job in Week 7. It recorded three sacks, all from breakout linebacker Devin White, tacking on 4.5 tackles for loss and five quarterback hits along the way. Allowing the third-fewest total yards per game (291.3) with the second-most sacks (25), this defense can help take the Buccaneers to the Super Bowl.

2. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 2)

Baltimore has forced a turnover in 19 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL. However, there were some inconsistencies at creating pressure. After acquiring Yannick Ngakoue, who grades as one of the best pure edge rushers in the NFL, this defense will be even better. A Week 8 matchup between the Steelers and Ravens is an incredible defensive slugfest.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Ravens, check out #RavensFlock rumors, rankings, and news here.

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 1)

There was some reason to question if Pittsburgh’s defense could sustain its absurd stretch of play entering Week 7. It just lost linebacker Devin Bush, the leader of this defense with unmatched athleticism in the middle of the field. Meanwhile, Tennessee’s offense came in averaging 32.8 points and 423.3 total yards per game. The Steelers held the Titans to 24 points and 292 total yards, with Ben Roethlisberger’s turnover problems responsible for a rough second half. Looking ahead to Week 8, we can’t wait to see what Pittsburgh does against Lamar Jackson.

Matt Johnson
Writer at Sportsnaut. Journalism student at San Diego State University. Seen on MSN. Previously: eDraft, The Connection