If we’ve learned one thing from the 2020 NFL season, it’s that offenses are dominating more than ever before. Whether it’s due to injuries, a decline in holding penalties or the eliminated preseason, NFL defenses are taking a step back in 2020.
Coming out of a wild Week 3 in the NFL, there are plenty of changes in our latest rankings of the league’s best defense. We can still identify few elite groups, like the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, but the rest of the field is narrowing with seemingly every defense having rough performances.
Here, we rank the top-16 defenses in the NFL heading into Week 4.
16. Cleveland Browns (Last Week: Unranked)
There is a staggering separation between the best defenses in the NFL and the teams in the 10-20 range. In Week 3, Cleveland’s defense generated five turnovers. This group is inconsistent, which isn’t that surprising given the youth and injuries. Ultimately, when defenses are so close, bet on the one that has Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward. By this time next week, though, we could have the Green Bay Packers or Philadelphia Eagles here.
15. Denver Broncos (LW: 15)
Denver’s defense isn’t exactly consistent, but it doesn’t take much these days to be considered a top-15 defense in the NFL. The Broncos are seeing a few guys step up with impact defenders like Von Miller and A.J Bouye sidelined, which keeps this group afloat. Even with the injuries, Denver should have no problems holding the Jets under 20 points in Week 4.
14. New Orleans Saints (LW: 3)
The national focus is on Drew Brees’ decline and its impact on the Saints’ Super Bowl hopes. That deserves discussion, but this defense might be just as concerning. After allowing 71 total points in consecutive losses, it’s evident this secondary could be a long-term problem. The Saints can overcome this with the NFC South being weak, but it would be a glaring problem in the playoffs.
13. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 13)
Arizona’s defense is surpassing expectations early in the 2020 season, but this still isn’t a group that will wow you. It’s a bend but don’t break defense, allowing the seventh-fewest points (20.3) and the eight-fewest passing yards (224.7) per game after Week 3. They should keep things contained against the Carolina Panthers in Week 4, but we’re already thinking about that Oct. 19 matchup against Dak Prescott and Co.
12. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 16)
Kansas City held the Ravens’ offense to 10 points in the first half, which in itself speaks volumes about this group. We knew the offense would be the best in the NFL, but some losses in the secondary made the defense an area of concern. The talent and speed from the Chiefs’ defenders are standing out. When you pair this defense with Patrick Mahomes and Co., it’s difficult to see anyone beating the Chiefs.
11. Los Angeles Rams (LW: 9)
Aaron Donald’s ability to take over a game is insane. The dramatic 28-3 comeback on Sunday was a direct result of the two-time Defensive Player of the Year wrecking Buffalo’s offense. Los Angeles boasts two elite defensive players (Donald, Jalen Ramsey) with some intriguing pieces around them, but it falls just short of boasting at top-10 defense.
10. Washington Football Team (LW: 14)
Washington’s pass rush is simply ridiculous. Opposing quarterbacks know they can attack this secondary and when wide receivers get immediate separation, big plays happen. In those moments when the weapons are covered, the split seconds of hesitation allows Washington to eat. This defense ranks second in sacks (15) and the pressure is helping it allow the eighth-lowest quarterback rating (88.3). If this secondary comes together, watch out.
9. Buffalo Bills (LW: 4)
Coming into the season, Buffalo boasted a top-three defense in the NFL. They got linebacker Tremaine Edmunds back on Sunday and it still wasn’t enough to prevent blowing a 28-3 lead in the second half. The Bills have the talent and the defensive-minded coach to be elite, but the results aren’t there right now. If things turn around, they will climb up the rankings and might be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
8. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 12)
Indianapolis is putting everyone on notice. This defense caught more touchdown passes from Sam Darnold in Week 3 (two) than he threw to his team. If you add up the return yards on the Colts’ three interceptions (91). they led the Jets in receiving yards. Indianapolis’ defense has allowed the lowest quarterback rating (64) in the NFL this season and the second-lowest yards per attempt (6.1). It might be the result of an easy schedule, but the stats can’t be denied.
7. Chicago Bears (LW: 6)
On the one hand, Chicago is catching a few breaks this season. After playing the Detroit Lions without Kenny Golladay and the New York Giants without Saquon Barkley, the Bears’ defense didn’t face Julio Jones on Sunday. Chicago allowed 26 points in three quarters, but it locked things down with the game on the line. At a time when so many defenses are struggling, the Bears can at least trust their guys.
6. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 11)
Even with multiple defensive starters missing, some of whom won’t return this year, San Francisco’s defense put on a show. It did come against the New York Giants, one of the worst teams in the NFL, but backups holding another team to nine points remains impressive. Expect San Francisco’s defense to crush whatever remaining confidence Carson Wentz has left in their Week 4 matchup.
5. Los Angeles Chargers (LW: 5)
Los Angeles allowed 21 points to a team without Christian McCaffrey, which seems a bit alarming. However, two of those scores came right after turnovers by the Chargers’ offense. While this defense ran into a bit of trouble on Sunday, that is also a credit to Carolina’s offensive mastermind Joe Brady. We’re excited to see what this defense can do against the Buccaneers in Week 4, especially if Chris Godwin (hamstring) is sidelined.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 8)
It’s past time to recognize Tampa Bay’s defense as one of the best in the NFL. Through the first three games, the Buccaneers are allowing just 20.3 points per game, while allowing the second-lowest yards per carry (2.9) and the seventh-lowest quarterback rating (83). Oh, Tampa Bay can also get after the quarterback (12 sacks). There’s a ton of talent on this roster and Todd Bowles might deserve another shot as head coach next season.
3. New England Patriots (LW: 10)
It turns out, New England’s struggles on defense might have just been the result of racing an MVP-caliber quarterback playing at an absurd level. The Patriots shut down Las Vegas’ passing attack on Sunday, paving the way to another victory. A battle against Patrick Mahomes and Co. will be another huge test for New England in Week 4. Admittedly, a slide down the rankings next week might be looming.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 2)
Defense runs deep through the history of this organization; it is a staple of Pittsburgh’s success. Through the first three weeks this season, the Steelers’ defense has recorded an incredible 15 sacks. It’s the second-most in their first three games in franchise history and marks the first time since 2016 (Minnesota Vikings) that a team has recorded 15-plus sacks through Week 3. Looking ahead to Week 4, Pittsburgh’s league-best run defense (2.7 ypc) should contain Derrick Henry.
1. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 1)
Yes, Baltimore retains the No. 1 spot after giving up 30-plus points to the Chiefs. We’ve seen bad nights from every defense this season, so we’ll give some wiggle room to a group with the most talent and a great defensive coordinator. Don’t be surprised if the Ravens respond to their rough showing in Week 3 by shutting out Washington with five-plus sacks and three-plus turnovers in Week 4.