2021 NFL defense rankings: Packers return to elite status, Rams in trouble
The 2021 NFL season is officially underway and Week 12 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 13 defense rankings, with nuggets on each team’s upcoming matchup updated throughout the week.
20. Chicago Bears (LW: 20)
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. Cincinnati Bengals (LW: Unranked)
A pulse from the Cincinnati Bengals defense. Cincinnati’s group made it a miserable Sunday for Ben Roethlsiberger, holding him to a 28.3 QBR with two interceptions and three sacks. In the past two games, the Bengals have allowed just 301 combined passing yards, a positive sign for this secondary. If we see something similar against the Los Angeles Chargers, Cincinnati will move up higher in the Week 14 NFL defense rankings.
18. Tennessee Titans (LW: 11)
You’ll notice a theme with some of the teams in our NFL defense rankings. The Tennessee Titans, like a few others on our list, have become abhorrent at moving the football and protecting it. That’s part of the problem for Tennessee. But injuries also played a role in the 394 total yards allowed to New England on Sunday. Things will look better against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but it doesn’t change the fact this team can’t be trusted against legitimate competition.
17. Kanas City Chiefs (LW: (17)
It’s a tale of two partial season for the Kansas City Chiefs defense. Through the first seven games, Kansas City allowed 275.7 passing yards per game with an average 104.0 passer rating and only managed eight sacks. During the Chiefs’ four-game win streak, this same defense held opposing quarterbacks to 212.5 pass yards per game with a 79.9 passer rating and 11 sacks.
We should see the better version of this pass defense in Week 13 against the Denver Broncos. Teddy Bridgewater attempts nearly 50% of his throws within nine yards of the line of scrimmage. But don’t expect Kansas City to blitz heavily, given Bridgewater boasts a 132.3 passer rating when blitzed this season (PFF).
16. Miami Dolphins (LW: 19)
Chalk it up to the Miami Dolphins schedule if you’d like, but this is one of the best NFL defenses in November. During Miami’s four-game win streak, opponents averaged just 205.2 passing yards per contest with a 3-7 TD-INT ratio, 16 sacks taken and a sub-70 passer rating. Talent and coaching are finally working and the timing of it all is terrifying for Daniel Jones, who faces Miami in Week 13.
15. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 15)
Credit to the San Francisco 49ers, who contained Justin Jefferson (83 receiving yards) far better than other opponents in recent weeks. The 49ers might have escaped further damage in this game because of Dalvin Cook’s injury, but this defense still held Minnesota under 350 total yards (6.2 yards per play). San Francisco’s clock-killing offense is certainly helping, but there are plenty of positives to like on the other side of the ball.
14. Los Angeles Rams (LW: 9)
There’s an increasing level of concern for the Los Angeles Rams defensively. The yardage totals allowed in recent weeks were low, but quarterbacks were extremely effective passing against this secondary. Aaron Rodgers piled on Sunday, attacking any receiver who wasn’t near Jalen Ramsey. Keep this in mind, opposing quarterbacks have a 7-2 TD-INT ratio with a 102.1 passer rating in the last four weeks vs. Los Angeles. If Aaron Donald and Von Miller aren’t immediately getting to the quarterback, this secondary gets exposed.
13. New Orleans Saints (LW: 11)
The Saints’ defense did more than enough to win Thursday night against the Cowboys. This unit forced a Dak Prescott interception and yielded only 20 points. Unfortunately, Taysom Hill threw four interceptions, including a pick-six in the 27-17 loss. Now losers of five consecutive games, New Orleans’ defense has to be frustrated over the performance of its offense.
12. Denver Broncos (LW: 14)
Another outstanding performance by the Denver Broncos, this time against Justin Herbert and an offense with plenty of playmakers. Over the last two games, Denver’s defense is allowing averages of just 218.2 passing yards per game with a 60.7% completion rate and an 8=6 TD-INT ratio. That bodes well for a Week 13 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs, who still aren’t quite right offensively.
11. Cleveland Browns (LW: 15)
Four takeaways, just 3.9 yards per play allowed and six pass deflections. The Cleveland Browns defense did just about everything possible to win on Sunday Night Football and it wasn’t enough. Some criticism can be raised from the defensive penalties, but defensive clinics like this deserve victories. Sadly, that’s not possible given the state of Cleveland’s offense.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 8)
It’s time to get concerned about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. Injuries have taken a toll on the secondary and that was on display once again Sunday. Carson Wentz racked up 306 passing yards and three touchdowns, with his brand of erratic play also resulting in two interceptions. Considering the Bucs’ path to the Super Bowl will include matchups against Kyler Murray , Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers , the road to repeating looks bleaker than before.
9. Philadelphia Eagles (LW: 10)
Sunday’s loss certainly doesn’t fall on the shoulders of this defense. The Philadelphia Eagles held New York under 270 total yards, allowing just 4.6 yards per play an absurdly low 25% conversion rate on third downs. Ultimately, the difference is the Eagles couldn’t generate any takeaways and their offense coughed it up fur times. It also plays a role in why New York is one spot higher in our NFL defense rankings.
8. New York Giants (LW: 12)
After running into some trouble vs. Tom Brady, things returned to normal for the New York Giants on Sunday. A defense that looked outstanding heading into the bye week returned to form. New York forced more Jalen Hurts incompletions (17) than completed passes (14). More impressively, Giants’ defenders (3 INTs) were tied with the Eagles’ leader in receptions (Kenneth Gainwell, 3). Don’t expect many points when New York faces Miami next Sunday. Both teams belong near the top of Week 13 NFL defense rankings.
7. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 5)
Credit to the Indianapolis Colts, they did an excellent job against Tom Brady . Holding an NFL MVP candidate to 226 yards and a 1-1 TD-INT ratio speaks volumes about the Colts’ secondary, especially since they dropped a potential interception. With that said, Indianapolis had no answer for Leonard Fournette (131 total yards, 4 TDs) and Rob Gronkowski (123 yards). Needless to say, things will be much easier next Sunday. The Colts D/ST is an elite option Week 13 against the Houston Texans.Also Read:
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6. Carolina Panthers (LW: 4)
Don’t let the 33 points allowed to the Miami Dolphins fool you, the blowout loss isn’t the fault of the Carolina Panthers’ defense. The best defenses in the NFL are allowing around 5 yards per play this season. Carolina held Miami’s offense to 4.4 yards per play, recorded two sacks a takeaway and allowed just 315 total yards. Ultimately, Carolina fell victim to the same issue as New Orleans. When your quarterback keeps giving the football away, it becomes impossible to keep games close.
Best defenses in NFL
5. Green Bay Packers (LW: 8)
Rashan Gary makes a huge difference for the Green Bay Packers . With the star pass rusher back, life was made easier for the entire front seven. Kenny Clark picked up a sack, Preston Smith was disruptive and Gary recorded four pressures and a sack. With the returns of Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander drawing closer, Green Bay’s defense could get even better in December. For now, the team enjoys a well-deserved bye week.Also Read:
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4. Buffalo Bills (LW: 4)
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.
3. Dallas Cowboys (LW: 2)
Dallas’ defense just continues to force turnovers at an incredibly high clip. That included intercepting Taysom Hill four times in Week 13. This unit has now forced multiple turnovers in all but three games this season. Meanwhile, Trevon Diggs picked off his wopping ninth pass of the season against New Orleans to help the Cowboys snap a funk that had seen them lose three of four.
2. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 2)
The Arizona Cardinals defense is the reason why this team won without Kyler Murray . During his three-game absence, opposing quarterbacks averaged just 217.7 passing yards per game against Arizona’s secondary and the pass rush generated nine sacks. But earning this spot in our NFL defense rankings is about a lot more than a small sample.
Entering Week 12, Arizona allowed the sixth-fewest first downs per game (19.3), the third-lowest conversion rate on third downs (32.56%) and the second-fewest points per game in the second half (7.5). The Cardinals are an elite fantasy option in Week 13 facing Chicago and belong near the top of fantasy D/ST rankings.
1. New England Patriots (LW: 1)
The New England Patriots aren’t perfect, but nothing from Week 12 suggested this isn’t the best defense in the NFL. Ryan Tannehill completed just 11-of-21 passes for 93 yards, living under duress. But it’s worth noting that New England was decimated on the ground, giving up 270 yards in just four quarters of action. That’s something to monitor, but it’s not a concern in Week 13 considering Buffalo is one of the most pass-heavy offenses in football.