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2022 NFL defense rankings: NFL Week 4 preview for top defenses

Matt Johnson
NFL defense rankings
Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Who has the best NFL defense in 2022? Our weekly NFL defense rankings examine every unit across the league on a weekly basis to determine the best defenses in the NFL.

While it’s important not to overreact too much to Week 1, the first game of the 2022 season provided plenty of useful information to evaluate as we go forward. Some teams with high expectations (Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles) fell short, but others delivered with promising signs for the future.

Bookmark this page throughout the 2022 NFL season for weekly analysis and previews of matchups for the top-20 teams. For fantasy purposes, our Week 2 fantasy defense rankings can be found at the bottom.

Related: The Most Expensive Rookie Cards, Including Tom Brady And More

Let’s dive into our NFL defense rankings coming out of Week 3 before previewing Week 4 matchups.

Stats courtesy Football Outsiders, Pro Football Reference, ESPN and Pro Football Focus.

Dropped from NFL defense rankings: New England Patriots (20), Minnesota Vikings (18)

20. Houston Texans (19)

NFL defense rankings
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Texans run defense played up to expectations on Sunday, sacking Justin Fields five times and picking him off twice on 2022 drop-back attempts. It proved to be a game to remember for rookie Jalen Pitre, who recorded both interceptions along with two tackles for loss and a sack. With all of that out of the way, opponents can run at will against a unit responsible for 607 rushing yards allowed entering Week 4.

It’s a prime opportunity for the Los Angeles Chargers to spark their ground game, following a sluggish September. There will still be ample opportunities for Justin Herbert to throw, but Houston’s secondary should keep him under 300 yards.

19. Indianapolis Colts (UR)

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Many expected Patrick Mahomes to hang 300-plus yards and three touchdowns against a vanilla Gus Bradly defense. Instead, the Indianapolis Colts defense did a nice job holding the NFL MVP candidate to one touchdown with a 78.5 passer rating. It’s a step in the right direction, especially with Shaquille Leonard returning.

Entering Week 4, Indianapolis boasts the best run defense in the NFL with opponents averaging just 2.6 yards per rush against the Colts’ front seven. That’s all before Shaq Leonard slides back into the starting lineup, making this a very unfavorable matchup for Indianapolis. Consider the Colts D/ST a quality Week 4 streaming play and it should deliver a performance worthy of a climb in the NFL defense rankings.

18. Baltimore Ravens (11)

Syndication: The Providence Journal
Kris Craig / USA TODAY NETWORK

Sunday did very little to address our concern with the Baltimore Ravens. They sacked Mac Jones three times and snagged three interceptions, but that says a lot more about the state of the New England Patriots offense. What’s alarming is DeVante Parker torching the Ravens’ secondary (156 yards) and New England had no trouble on the ground (145 yards, three touchdowns).

The Buffalo Bills’ offense should eviscerate this group. It’s going to be the end result of two key problems for Baltimore. First, the Ravens lack a consistent pass rush and that will be even more apparent vs Josh Allen. Combine that with an injury-plagued secondary that gives up a lot of big plays, this is a terrible matchup on paper for Baltimore.

17. Cincinnati Bengals (18)

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Tua Tagovailoa injury could have impacted Cincinnati’s defensive performance to open Week 4. He went down in the first half with Teddy Bridgewater leading Miami to just three points in the final two quarters. Even then, the Bengals defense did what it needed to in a 27-15 victory over Miami. That included safety Vonn Bell matching his career interception total with two. Meanwhile, the Bengals held Miami’s rushing attack to 3.9 yards per attempt.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers (9)

nfl defensive rankings: pittsburgh stelers
Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

As we mentioned last week, making a fair evaluation of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense without T.J. Watt is going to take time. Thursday’s loss to the Cleveland Browns didn’t change the dynamics too much here. Pittsburgh’s defense opened up Week 3 by yielding 22 first downs and 376 total yards of offense. That included 171 yards on the ground. Cleveland only converted 37.5% of its third-down attempts, but its success on the ground and in the red zone stood out. Fortunately, things should be a little easier in Week 4 against the New York Jets.

15. Kansas City Chiefs (16)

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Defensively, the Kansas City Chiefs played relatively well on Sunday. Of the 20 points allowed, one touchdown came on a drive that started at Kansas City’s 3-yard line. It summarized Sunday’s loss for this team. Kansas City held Indianapolis to 3.8 yards per play, shutting down Jonathan Taylor and doing an effective job against Matt Ryan until the game-winning drive. Based on this performance on the road, there’s no reason to move the Chiefs down in the Week 4 NFL defense rankings.

Looking at Sunday’s Chiefs vs Buccaneers matchup, Kansas City’s defense can exploit some things. The left side of Tampa Bay’s offensive line is its Achilles heel and you can bet Chris Jones spends most of the night on that side. We also aren’t seeing the best version of Tom Brady right now and that could be enough for this game to sneak under the under.

14. Jacksonville Jaguars (UR)

Syndication: Florida Times-Union
Bob Self/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s time to pay attention to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Entering Sunday, Jacksonville held opponents to a 71.8 quarterback rating, ranked fourth in knockdown rate (14.1%) and allowed the fourth-lowest scoring rate (17.4%) in the NFL. Week 3 proved this isn’t a fluke. The Los Angeles Chargers managed only 10 points with a 33.3% third-down conversion rate and two turnovers.

Related: NFL offense rankings

If this continues against the Philadelphia Eagles, a top-10 spot in the NFL defense rankings awaits. We’re excited to watch the Jaguars’ defensive line vs the Eagles’ offensive line, but Philadelphia holds a few advantages. Jacksonville would be wise to blitz Jalen Hurts, especially since it might be the only way to slow down this explosive offense.

13. Cleveland Browns (11)

Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal
Jeff Lange / USA TODAY NETWORK

It certainly wasn’t a bad performance for the Cleveland Browns defense on Thursday Night Football. Holding the Steelers to 17 points and allowing just 1-of-9 conversions on third down, that’s a recipe for winning consistently. It’s even more impressive when you consider this happened despite a myriad of injuries. However, the Steelers’ offense is one of the worst in the NFL and Cleveland is now without Anthony Walker Jr. moving forward.

Don’t count on a dominant performance from Cleveland’s defense. The Atlanta Falcons offense is underrated, with dangerous playmakers at running back, wide receiver and tight end. Cleveland will also not have Myles Garrett in this matchup and Jadeveon Clowney (ankle) is injured. There could be a lot more scoring on Sunday than anticipated.

12. Carolina Panthers (14)

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers’ defense kept games close in the first two games only to see the offense squander opportunities. So, this unit took care of things on its own. Look past the 426 total yards allowed, the New Orleans Saints accounted for 90 yards and a touchdown in garbage time. Instead, focus on the three takeaways (two interceptions, fumble return touchdown), a 50% red-zone conversation rate and six quarterback hits.

The Panthers have earned their place in the NFL defense rankings and they could climb higher with a strong showing against Kyler Murray. With Marquise Brown banged up, it makes things even easier for Jaycee Horn. With an effective pass rush and a strong secondary, Carolina should be able to hold the Arizona Cardinals under 24 points.

11. Miami Dolphins (10)

Syndication: Palm Beach Post
JIM RASSOL/THE PALM BEACH POST / USA TODAY NETWORK

Xavien Howard’s injury impacted Miami’s defense to open Week 4. He was hobbled before going down for the game in the third quarter. The end results with the Dolphins’ first loss of the season. Their secondary allowed Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase to catch a combined 11-of-15 targets for 205 yards in the loss. The good news? Cincinnati averaged a mere 2.2 yards per rush attempt. If there’s one area for concern it’s Xavien Howard leaving the game with an injury.

10. Los Angeles Rams (11)

NFL: Los Angeles Rams At Arizona Cardinals
Michael Chow/The Republic

Another step in the right direction for the Los Angeles Rams defense. While we’ve seen Kyler Murray enjoy some success against this unit, the best versions of the Rams’ defense know how to stop him. It was evident in Week 3 as Los Angeles surrendered just nine points before Arizona used garbage time to pad its numbers.

While the San Francisco 49ers have given the Rams some problems in a past, it could be a much different story in Week 4 with the 49ers’ offensive line in a bad state. We’re counting on the Rams’ pass rush to create havoc in this one, betting on three sacks and a possible interception or fumble lost for Jimmy Garoppolo.

9. Los Angeles Chargers (4)

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Los Angeles Chargers
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Chargers could be in trouble. Dropping in the NFL defense rankings goes beyond allowing 38 points and over 400 yards to the Jaguars’ offense. Los Angeles is now staring down the possibility of a lengthy absence for Joey Bosa, significantly depleting a top-heavy defense.

A Week 4 draw against the Houston Texans should be a cupcake matchup, but there are red flags that better opponents will exploit. Losing Bosa creates some of the same issues we saw in 2021, with more big plays allowed.

8. New Orleans Saints (5)

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints defense certainly isn’t the reason they lost in Week 3. Carolina averaged fewer yards per play (5.0) than the Saints’ offense and converted just 28% of its third-down conversions. New Orleans held Baker Mayfield to 170 passing yards on 25 attempts and only surrendered one offensive touchdown across 13 drives to Carolina. We trust this unit against quarterbacks, it’s allowed just 180 passing yards per game in the last two weeks. If there’s one area of concern, partially responsible for a slight dip in the NFL defense rankings, the Saints allowed a 100-yard rusher for the second time in three games.

7. Denver Broncos (9)

NFL: Denver Broncos Training Camp
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

This is beginning to look like the version of the Denver Broncos everyone believed could be its peak form. Opponents are averaging 170 passing yards per game against the Broncos secondary, posting a pedestrian 86.4 quarterback rating. Even more noteworthy, Denver is holding the opposition to a 26.5% third-down conversion rate through three games.

Facing a struggling Las Vegas Raiders offense in Week 4, we have every reason to believe the Broncos will strengthen their status as one of the best NFL defenses. The key will be pressuring Derek Carr and the Broncos’ pass rush is delivering through its first three games.

Related: Week 4 NFL schedule

6. Green Bay Packers (7)

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers defense deserves all the credit for taking down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s more than fair to point out Tom Brady played without his left tackle and three top receivers. As we’ve seen throughout NFL history, though, he’s the best quarterback in NFL history for a reason. Green Bay snuffed out the Buccaneers’ rushing attack, left Brady under constant duress and it was all done without Jaire Alexander.

Back near the top of our NFL defense rankings, the Packers are a nightmare matchup for the Patriots. Green Bay will be able to generate consistent pressure, collapsing the pocket around the quarterback. Without the weapons to make an impact vs this secondary, New England’s offense is in for a long Sunday.

NFL defensive rankings: Top 5 defenses in 2022

5. Dallas Cowboys (7)

nfl defense rankings: dallas cowboys
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys pressured Daniel Jones 24 times on Monday Night Football, the second-highest total in the last two years. In addition, Dallas held the New York Giants to a 27.2% third-down conversion rate, recorded five sacks and held every Giants’ pass-catcher under 50 yards. It all bodes well for a Week 4 matchup against Washington.

Look at what the Philadelphia Eagles just did to the Commanders’ offensive line. Washington allowed 20 pressures, eight quarterback hurries and nine sacks in Week 3. They now have to deal with DeMarcus Lawrence (Three sacks, three QB hits) against Samuel Cosmi (Four sacks allowed) and Micah Parsons attacking from a variety of angles. Expect Dallas to look like one of the best NFL defenses again.

4. Buffalo Bills (1)

Syndication: Democrat and Chronicle
JAMIE GERMANO / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Buffalo Bills’ defense isn’t truly responsible for the loss on Sunday. Miami averaged just 5.4 yards per play. Even more impressive, especially in the heat, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle only combined for 135 receiving yards on an afternoon when the Bills played without Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, Tre’Davious White, Ed Oliver, Jordan Phillips and Dane Jackson. With that said, Buffalo drops in our NFL defense rankings.

Buffalo will likely be without Phillips and Christian Benford on Sunday. However, the Bills’ pass rush should be able to exploit the Ravens’ backup offensive tackles. While it should lead to a few sacks, Jackson is playing at an MVP level right now and that should lead to 27-plus points.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2)

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need just one play to recapture their momentum and it happened on the Aaron Jones fumble. A potential 21-3 deficit provided this defense with new life and they locked down the Packers’ offense the rest of the way. This remains one of the best NFL defenses in 2022 and it will cause a few problems for Mahomes in Week 4.

This is a clash of strength vs strength. Tampa Bay’s pass rush is one of the best in the NFL, but the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive line rates as the second-best in the NFL. Another element to watch is how much blitzing Todd Bowles deploys vs Patrick Mahomes. If the Buccaneers deliver another strong performance, they’ll grab the No. 1 spot in the NFL defense rankings.

2. San Francisco 49ers (2)

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers defense swarms opponents and takes just about everything away from them. Through three games, San Francisco allows just 148.3 pass yards per contest with eight sacks and three interceptions. Running the ball also isn’t a great option, demonstrated by the 2.8 yards per rush surrendered. It’s neck-and-neck for the 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles in our NFL defense rankings.

Looking at the Rams vs 49ers matchup, San Francisco holds an advantage. Joseph Noteboom (12 pressures, three sacks allowed) is likely going to struggle against Nick Bosa. However, Cooper Kupp should be able to exploit San Francisco in the slot. Expect a low-scoring game.

1. Philadelphia Eagles (7)

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Commanders
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles have the best defense in the NFL right now. In the last two weeks, opponents are averaging just 3.8 yards per play with a 34.5% third-down conversion rate against Jonathan Gannon’s group. It’s certainly a collective effort. After Darius Slay stole the show in Week 2, the Eagles’ pass rush set the tone in Week 3 with 17 quarterback hits and nine sacks. Add that to the effort against Minnesota and Philadelphia’s defense is now responsible for 24 quarterback hits and 11 sacks in the last two games.

One challenge for Philadelphia in Week 4 will be how quickly Trevor Lawrence gets rid of the football. He enters Sunday with the fourth-fastest average time to throw (2.45 seconds). It puts more pressure on the Eagles’ cornerbacks to not allow the Jaguars’ wideouts to get off the line and create separation early. This is going to be a fantastic matchup.

Related: NFL TV ratings

Week 4 NFL defense rankings

  1. Philadelphia Eagles D/ST vs Jacksonville Jaguars
  2. Green Bay Packers D/ST vs New England Patriots
  3. Dallas Cowboys D/ST vs Washington Commanders
  4. Los Angeles Chargers D/ST vs Houston Texans
  5. Miami Dolphins D/ST vs Cincinnati Bengals
  6. Carolina Panthers D/ST vs Arizona Cardinals
  7. San Francisco 49ers D/ST vs Los Angeles Rams
  8. Pittsburgh Steelers D/ST vs New York Jets
  9. Cleveland Browns D/ST vs Atlanta Falcons
  10. Denver Broncos D/ST vs Las Vegas Raiders
  11. Indianapolis Colts D/ST vs Tennessee Titans
  12. Arizona Cardinals D/ST vs Carolina Panthers

All and feedback on the NFL defense rankings can be sent to @MattJ_Sports on Twitter