Top-10 defenses heading into 2019 NFL season

By Michael Dixon
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

While we’re living in an offense heavy era of NFL football, the fact that 16 total points were scored in the Super Bowl tells us there’s still a place for defense.

The NFL has a number of defenses with great potential.

In 2017, both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings rode their defenses to one game short of the Super Bowl. It’s also hard to overlook talent laden defenses like either of the two that play in Los Angeles, or the one led by perhaps the greatest coach that any sport has ever seen.

As we look at the present NFL landscape, these defenses figure to be the best in 2019.

10. Jacksonville Jaguars

An undeniably frustrating 2018 leaves us with two potential scenarios going forward for Jacksonville. The defense will either continue to regress and be exposed as a one-year wonder, or Jalen Ramsey and Co. will take 2018 as a challenge and come back even meaner. We’re giving them the benefit of the doubt. Remember, this defense was minutes away from carrying Blake Bortles to a Super Bowl. Now, rookie Josh Allen is on board. The Jags defense doesn’t carry the reputation that it did 365 days ago. Still, it’s one of the 10 best in the league.

9. San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers already looked formidable when they traded for Dee Ford, putting him on the same defensive line as DeForest Buckner. Then, San Francisco upped the ante and drafted Nick Bosa. While Richard Sherman is an anchor, the secondary has some depth issues. That keeps us from moving the 49ers closer to the top-five. That said, this defensive front will do a lot to mask the flaws in the defensive backfield. Offensive lines around the NFL are going to have a heck of a time figuring out how to contain that trio this season.

8. Minnesota Vikings

Things didn’t go especially well for the Vikings in 2018, and the defense definitely carries some blame for that. However, this was an elite defense in 2017. More importantly than that, when we look at who’ll take the field for the Vikings in 2019, there are a lot of very good players. Additionally, there are not many true weak spots. Minnesota is really the NFC’s version of Jacksonville. What happened in 2018 knocks the Vikings down a rung. Still, they’re a top-10 defense heading into 2019.

7. Los Angeles Rams

The Rams upgraded their defense nicely in the offseason. Eric Weddle should provide stability to a secondary that had some hiccups in 2018. A full season of Dante Fowler will also help. The attention that Aaron Donald draws on the inside will give edge players like Fowler favorable matchups. It will also give newcomer Clay Matthews a chance to roam freely and make plays. Remember, this is a team that allowed fewer than 20 points a game en route to a Super Bowl appearance last year. Improving on that output is nothing to sneeze at.

6. Houston Texans

Everything revolves heavily around the defensive front for Houston. The Texans get a sizable edge over the 49ers for two key reasons, though. Starting with J.J. Watt, Houston’s pass rush is a lot more proven. Additionally, while the secondary isn’t a strength, it doesn’t need to be protected, either. If the pass rush can’t get home, the defensive backs can hold their own. The Texans do have a number of injury prone players, which keeps them out of our top five. This group is just too talented to go any lower.

5. Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys were fifth in the NFL in yards allowed per carry in 2018. Where they were vulnerable was in the passing game. Now, Robert Quinn is on board. He will force opposing offensive lines to take their chances going one-on-one against either him Demarcus Lawrence. Naturally, that will increase sacks. Moreover, the pressure those two generate will help force turnovers. As it happens, those were two areas of weakness a season ago. Despite that, the defense was formidable. Those aren’t weaknesses anymore. In fact, they might well be strengths. That makes this unit more than just formidable.

4. New England Patriots

The 2019 Patriots are going to be similar to the team that allowed only three points to the high powered Rams in the Super Bowl. In fact, with guys like Michael Bennett, Jamie Collins and Chase Winovich on the team, it might be better. New England has also done more than anyone to contain Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Beyond the players, when push comes to shove, there is nobody we’d rather have drawing up a defensive game plan than Bill Belichick. On Paper, the Pats don’t seem like a top-five defense. On the field is another story.

3. Baltimore Ravens

Most defenses have a weakness that can be exploited. Looking at the Ravens, nothing jumps out. This defense is solid against both the run and pass. It could be better at sacking the quarterback, but Baltimore is incredible at keeping opposing offenses off schedule. This defense is loaded with a lot of good players. Losing Pro Bowlers like Weddle and C.J. Mosley will be felt. That definitely keeps the Ravens from cracking our top-two. Nothing below that is justifiable.

2. Los Angeles Chargers

Most of these defenses become a lot less intimidating to opposing if the right (or wrong) player were to get hurt or under perform. That’s not as much of a risk with the Chargers, though. Make no mistake, the defense would take a hit if a star like Melvin Ingram, Derwin James, Joey Bosa, or Desmond King were to get hurt. But as good as they are, this defense is deep enough to still be a top-10 unit without at least two of them. It’s a fantastic collection of talent at pretty much every level.

1. Chicago Bears

While Khalil Mack draws much of the attention, this defense is exceptional all around. In 2018, opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 72.9 against the Bears. The next-best team allowed a passer rating of 80.6. In the running game, no team allowed fewer rushing yards than Chicago, either. Throughout their history, when the Bears have been good, it’s been on the back of a dominant defense. This unit is no different. We can’t put this group on par with the Super Bowl winning 1985 unit. That said, it’s the best defense that the NFL has to offer today.