2021 NFL defense rankings: Anthony Brown dooms Cowboys, Colts face huge test vs. Tom Brady

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The 2021 NFL season is officially underway and Week 11 delivered a mixed bag of defensive performances across the league. With plenty of high-scoring games, a ton of turnovers and some standout performances, there is a lot of shakeup in our 2021 NFL defense rankings.

Let’s dive into our Week 12 defense rankings, with nuggets on each team’s upcoming matchup updated throughout the week.

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

20. Chicago Bears (LW: Unranked)
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The Chicago Bears did what you’d expect from a defense facing the hapless Detroit Lions. Holding an opponent under 250 total yards is going to win you games more times than not. With that said, Chicago faced the Lamar Jackson -less Baltimore Ravens and Detroit lost D’Andre Swift early. To earn a higher spot in our NFL defense rankings, we need to see something against Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins.

19. Miami Dolphins (LW: 20)
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We’re finally seeing the version of the Miami Dolphins defense everyone expected. In the last four games, including three victories, Miami has generated 11 sacks with an average 78.0 passer rating allowed and a 5-4 TD-INT ratio. The run defense, giving up 4.5 yards per rush, is a problem but it’s nice to see Brian Flores’ defense stepping up.

18. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: Unranked)
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Chris Jones is a quality player at defensive end. But when shifted to his natural position on the inside, we’re talking about one of the best players in football. Jones recorded 3.5 sacks and an unbelievable 17.5% pressure rate against one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Moving him back to defensive tackle is one of the big reasons why Kansas City’s opponents are averaging just 216.3 passing yards and 87.2 rushing yards per game against Kansas City in the last six weeks. Back in our NFL defense rankings, the Chiefs are rolling.

17. Minnesota Vikings (LW: 17)
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Aaron Rodgers owns another NFC North team. While the reigning NFL MVP didn’t come away with a win, he still racked up 385 yards through the air with four touchdowns and an eye-popping 148.4 passer rating. Given how this secondary fared against Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Deebo Samuel should be very excited about his Week 12 matchup.

16. Cleveland Browns (LW: 15)
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It’s time to give up on this becoming one of the best defenses in the NFL. Talent isn’t the problem, the Cleveland Browns invested plenty of money and draft capital on this side of the ball. We’d give this unit more credit for erasing the Lions’ passing attack (77 yards on 23 attempts, 2 INTs). But it doesn’t mean as much when Detroit dominates on the ground (168 yards, 7.3 ypr). This is a solid defense, it’s just not going to reach preseason expectations. Also Read:
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15. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 19)
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Less than a week after holding the Los Angeles Rams under 300 total yards and generating two takeaways, Sunday was even easier for the San Francisco 49ers . The Jacksonville Jaguars averaged just 4.5 yards per play, a number that was elevated by garbage time. With four takeaways and only 20 total points allowed in the last two weeks, but a matchup against Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook will be a better indicator of this defense’s legitimacy.

14. Denver Broncos (LW: 12)
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Passing against the Denver Broncos isn’t easy. Entering the bye, Denver’s secondary allowed just 201.5 passing yards per game with a 59.7% completion rate and an 81.7 passer rating. But if you want to run through Denver, (588 rushing yards allowed in last four games), feel free. Matchups are everything for this defense, so a Week 12 clash with the Los Angeles Chargers (fifth-highest rate of passing plays) is favorable for the Broncos.

13. New Orleans Saints (LW: 11)
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At some point, there is nothing the New Orleans Saints can do. The offense’s inability to move the football means Saints’ defenders spent most of the game on the field. New Orleans forced multiple Josh Allen turnovers on Thanksgiving and it didn’t make a difference. Facing Dak Prescott , Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup in Week 13, it’s going to be a long Thursday night for New Orleans.

12. New York Giants (LW: 10)
New York Giants linebacker Azeez Ojulari (51) and defensive end Leonard Williams (99) react after Williams bats down the ball thrown by Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (not pictured) in the second half at MetLife Stadium. The Giants defeat the Raiders, 23-16, on Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in East Rutherford. Nyg Vs Lvr

The New York Giants defense got off to a slow start, surrendering an average 109.4 passer rating with only 10 sacks and a 14-5 TD-INT ratio in the first six games. Since that rough stretch, Patrick Graham’s message and scheme are being executed to near perfection. Unfortunately, the team’s offense let it down Week 11 — turning the ball over three times. Even then, New York’s defense forced a Tom Brady interception in the Giants’ 30-10 loss. It also held the Bucs to 3.5 yards per rush on the ground. The Giants’ struggles have nothing to do with their defense.

11. Philadelphia Eagles (LW: 18)
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Darius Slay is living in the end zone right now, making huge plays every Sunday. The Philadelphia Eagles did struggle on the ground, but they were happy to let New Orleans do that facing such a huge deficit. What matters, this secondary forced two Trevor Siemian interceptions and held him to 214 yards on 40 attempts. We’d be shocked if the Eagles D/ST didn’t record a takeaway in Week 12 against Daniel Jones.

10. Tennessee Titans (LW: 11)
Tennessee Titans linebacker Harold Landry (58) heads to the field for warm ups before facing the Saints at Nissan Stadium Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021 in Nashville, Tenn. Titans Saints 367

At the start of the season, the Tennessee Titans offense dominated and its defense couldn’t sniff the top-20 of our weekly NFL defense rankings. Fast forward to Week 12, things are very different. Tennessee held the Houston Texans to 190 total yards on 62 plays with a 35.3% third-down conversion rate. But it’s all being wasted by an offense that often can’t even sniff the red zone without a defensive takeaway. With all that said, we wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots found success against this secondary. Also Read:
NFL injury report: Latest updates on CeeDee Lamb, Aaron Jones for Week 12

9. Los Angeles Rams (LW: 8)
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams claim a top-10 spot in NFL defense rankings because of Jalen Ramsey, Aaron Donald and Von Miller. Three future Hall of Famers allows Raheem Morris to pressure opposing quarterbacks and to take away a top receiver. But there’s a big problem. With Ramsey playing in the slot, Darious Williams (105.8 passer rating allowed in coverage) and Robert Rochell (88.8 passer rating allowed) are cooked in coverage every game. If Ramsey doesn’t line up against Davante Adams, he’ll have a monster performance.

8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 9)
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense took care of business Monday night against the lowly New York Giants, forcing two Daniel Jones interceptions and three turnovers altogether. They also got to the quarterback for nine hits and two sacks. With reinforcements coming back in the form of Sean Murphy-Bunting, this unit might be elite once again.

7. Green Bay Packers (LW: 4)
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Cracks, created by injuries, were on display in the Green Bay Packers defense in Week 12. Without Za’Darius Smith and Rashan Gary, the Packers at times struggled to put consistent pressure on Kirk Cousins . But Justin Jefferson is the real thorn in Green Bay’s side, with the second-year wide receiver showing why he is one of the best in the NFL. This can be a great defense, but key injuries are preventing it from reaching that level. Expect Cooper Kupp to have a big game in Week 12.

6. Dallas Cowboys (LW: 2)
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Plenty of blame for the Dallas Cowboys loss will fall on Anthony Brown. It’s certainly deserved since he committed defensive pass interference four times on Thanksgiving. But this entire defense is responsible for the 509 total yards allowed against a Raiders’ offense that scored 43 total points in its past three games. One thing is clear, the Cowboys desperately need DeMarcus Lawrence to return in Week 13. If he does, the Cowboys will feast on Trevor Siemian and will be a top-five option in Week 13 NFL defense rankings for fantasy football.

5. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 13)
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This is everything we wanted to see. Against one of the best offenses in the NFL, needing to pressure Josh Allen and contain All-Pro wide receiver, the Indianapolis Colts got the job done. This game showed why sacks aren’t always the most important stat. It was the pressure and quarterback hits that did Allen in, forcing him into multiple interceptions. If we see this same type of all-around effort in Week 12, the Colts are beating Tampa Bay.

4. Carolina Panthers (LW: 3)
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It was a rough Sunday for many of the best NFL defense and that very much includes the Carolina Panthers. While the defensive front recorded three sacks, Washington rushed for 190 yards, Terry McLaurin exploded for 103 yards on five grabs and Taylor Heinicke enjoyed a three-touchdown day. Given everything that transpired Sunday, we’ll spare Carolina from a dramatic slide down the 2021 NFL defense rankings.

Week 12 NFL defense rankings: Best defenses in NFL

3. Buffalo Bills (LW: 4)
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of performance, the Buffalo Bills deserved to move up our defensive rankings. But the Tre’Davious White injury could be a devastating blow. Buffalo’s top cornerback allowed just a 62.4 passer rating when targeted this year, per Pro Football Focus . In his absence, the Bills will be depending on Levi Wallace to cover No. 1 receivers and Taron Johnson must thrive in a starting role. That is a new concern to pair with uncertainty about how the defensive front will fare against physical, run-heavy offenses. The latter will be tested in Week 13 against the Patriots.

2. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 6)
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re wondering how the Arizona Cardinals keep winning games without Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, watch this defense. Chandler Jones and Markus Golden combined for seven pressures and two sacks, making Russell Wilson uncomfortable. Pair that with the secondary shutting down DK Metcalf (31 yards on eight targets), this is just another example of the kind of football Arizona is playing this year.

1. New England Patriots (LW: 2)
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It’s all coming together for the New England Patriots . Bill Belichick devoted the offseason to improve on this side of the ball and the results speak for themselves. Before Thursday’s game against Atlanta, this unit was in domination mode — holding opposing quarterbacks to 13 touchdowns against

Just take a look at what this unit has accomplished over its last five games. New England is holding opposing quarterbacks to 169.6 passing yards per game, with 12 interceptions, 15 sacks and an absurdly low 56.5% completion rate. Set to face a short-handed Titans’ offense in Week 12, the Patriots might earn the top spot in our NFL defense rankings.

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