NFL defense rankings: Tampa Bay Buccaneers climb, Denver Broncos plummet into Week 8
The 2021 NFL season is officially underway and Week 7 delivered some surprising performances across the league. With high-scoring games scattered throughout Week 7, there’s plenty of shakeup among the top defenses in the NFL.
One thing to keep in mind, the state of defensive play is down. Through seven weeks, the NFL is setting all-time highs for league-average completion rate (66%) , passer rating (94.9), passing touchdowns per game (1.7) and the second-highest points per game (23.7). Between that and injuries, we aren’t seeing many top defenses perform consistently.
Let’s dive into our Week 8 NFL defense rankings, with nuggets on each team’s matchup updated throughout the week.Also Read:
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20. Los Angeles Chargers (Last Week: 16)
In the back end of the NFL defense rankings, it essentially comes down to talent and coaching. There are a lot of bad defensive units right now, teams that are getting torched every other week. So, when looking for a group that could turn things around, the Chargers stand out. For one, Los Angeles creates challenges for QBs.
It entered Week 7 with the seventh-best pressure rate (27.8%), ANY/A (5.5) and ranked fifth in Football Outsiders’ Pass DVOA. But when you allow opponents to average 162.5 rushing yards per game, 5.4 yards per carry and allow 14.5 points per second half, that’s a problem. The only hope is Brandon Staley’s system clicking after the bye, with Derwin James, Chris Harris Jr. and Joey Bosa playing up to their elite talent level
19. Green Bay Packers (LW: Unranked)
Already without Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander, the Green Bay Packers played without Preston Smith and Kevin King in Week 7. Despite the mounting injuries, this unit did an excellent job stopping the Washington Football Team on third downs (4-of-11) and in the red zone (0-for-4). Playing better football as of late, Green Bay has earned its spot back in our NFL defense rankings.
With that said, this Thursday Night Football matchup against the Arizona Cardinals should terrify Wisconsin. Green Bay just allowed 95 rushing yards to Taylor Heinicke and 122 yards to Terry McLaurin. Just imagine what Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins will do in primetime.
18. Las Vegas Raiders (LW: 20)
It’s amazing what some money and a coaching change can do. Bringing in Yannick Ngakoue and hiring Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator has done wonders for this unit. Las Vegas brought the heat on Jalen Hurts and he collapsed under the pressure. Considering the Raiders will get two weeks to prepare for the New York Giants, we’d advise Daniel Jones to prepare for a living nightmare.Also Read:
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17. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 17)
Needless to say, the Baltimore Ravens never had an answer for Ja’Marr Chase. The rookie erupted for 201 receiving yards, leading the way as the go-to target in a 416-yard clinic by Joe Burrow. Eventually, this defense just gave up and it showed in the atrocious tackling. If Baltimore thought it was done facing elite LSU wide receivers, Justin Jefferson is waiting for them after the bye.
16. Denver Broncos (4)
The Denver Broncos hired Vic Fangio for his defensive mind and ability to help his players do the little things. We’re not seeing any of that from a unit that is getting progressively worse with each passing week. Cleveland played with a backup quarterback, backup offensive tackles and a third-string running back on Thursday night. Denver’s defense allowed 182 rushing yards and failed in every fundamental aspect of the game.
With opposing quarterbacks posting a 108.3 passer rating and running backs averaging 4.3 yards per carry against Denver in the past four weeks. The Washington Football Team certainly isn’t one of the best offenses in the NFL, but Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin won’t have much trouble against Denver.Also Read:
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15. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 18)
The Indianapolis Colts caught some breaks in Week 7, with the elements favoring defenses and San Francisco playing without Trent Williams. Indianapolis struggled to stop the run early, but they came through against the pass. Two strong performances by the Colts’ pass defense is a good sign, but it came against underwhelming opponents. If this unit contains the Tennessee Titans in Week 8, then we’ll revisit their spot in our rankings.
14. Chicago Bears (12)
The Chicago Bears never stood a chance in Week 5. We’ve seen this defense get burned relentlessly when the opposing quarterback isn’t overwhelmed by pressure. With Robert Quinn sidelined and Khalil Mack erased, Tom Brady did whatever he wanted and the Buccaneers also dominated on the ground. We’ll have higher expectations for Chicago’s defense against the 49ers in Week 8.
13. Cleveland Browns (14)
There are good things to take away from the Cleveland Browns performance in Week 7. Holding an opponent to 14 points, 223 total yards and 4.6 yards per play are elite numbers. But context is everything. Teddy Bridgewater played hurt and he’s not a particularly good starting quarterback to begin with. This defense should do well in Week 8 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but we don’t fully trust it right now.
12. San Francisco 49ers (9)
On a rainy and windy night, the San Francisco 49ers had things a little bit easier with the Colts’ offense dealing with a slippery football. Carson Wentz didn’t do a lot, but he saw a matchup to exploit with Michael Pittman Jr. against every cornerback San Francisco threw his way. We don’t put the 30 points allowed entirely on the 49ers’ defense, but this is one of the worst cornerback situations in the NFC and there are no signs of it getting better.Also Read:
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11. Minnesota Vikings (15)
The pride and joy of Mike Zimmer’s favorite side of the ball, the defensive line, is doing work in the trenches. Everson Griffen, in his age-33 season, entered the bye with a whopping 14 quarterback hurries. When Danielle Hunter isn’t eating up two blockers, he’s pressuring the quarterback. Inside, defensive tackles Michael Pierce, Dalvin Tomlinson and Armon Watts are bullying offensive linemen.
Minnesota’s ability to win with four defensive linemen means everything for this defense. Through six games, they led the NFL in pressure rate (31.1%) and quarterback hurries (46). But the Achilles’ heel of this defense might be exposed in Week 8. If the Vikings can’t get to Dak Prescott , he will attack these cornerbacks all night.
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10. Los Angeles Rams (12)
Credit to the Detroit Lions. As a massive underdog, they got creative and clearly spent a lot of time in the film room looking for ways to exploit the Rams defensively. Los Angeles certainly can’t be pleased that it allowed Jared Goff to have one of his best games with the Lions. With that said, the Rams’ special teams allowed most of the damage. Looking ahead to Week 8, the Rams belong near the top of NFL defense rankings.
9. New England Patriots (8)
If the New England Patriots could face the Jets every week, this would be the best defense in NFL history. In two meetings with New York, the Patriots have allowed just 4.9 yards per play with a 48% third-down conversion rate, 13 quarterback hits and 19 total points.
But the Jets are now in the Patriots’ rearview mirror. That’s a bit of a problem considering opposing quarterbacks posted a 103.2 passer rating with an 8.4 ypa against New England’s secondary from Week 4-6. Facing Justin Herbert in Week 8, there’s little chance the Patriots’ backup cornerbacks can cover Mike Williams and Keenan Allen.
8. Carolina Panthers (6)
The Carolina Panthers defense did just about everything humanly possible to win in Week 7. Hold an opponent to 4.5 yards per play? Check. Bottle up the rushing attack? Done. Keep an offense out of the end zone until the final minute of the third quarter? Indeed. Carolina deserves a great spot defensively and our latest NFL power rankings will tell you just how bad the Panthers’ offense is this year.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10)
This was a dream matchup for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers . Chicago simply can’t protect Justin Fields and the rookie gets lost when blitzed. It was always going to be a recipe for a Bears’ disaster and we saw that on full display in Week 7 with another multi-sack, multi-takeaway performance from the Bucs. Now that this team is getting healthier, they are steadily moving back up our weekly NFL defense rankings.Also Read:
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6. Dallas Cowboys (5)
There are fair criticisms of the Dallas Cowboys defensively. Allowing 6.3 yards per play, the third-worst mark entering Week 7. The Cowboys also rank in the bottom half of the league in pressure rate (23.8%) and passing touchdown rate (5.2%). With that said, takeaways matter a lot when your offense can turn them into points.
Dallas plays aggressive football, that’s why they are creating takeaways on 20.6% of opponents’ drives. This defense will also get interior pass rusher Neville Gallimore back soon and DeMarcus Lawrence should return in a month. Facing the Vikings on Sunday Night Football in Week 8, we expect the Cowboys to allow 20-plus points with multiple sacks and a takeaway.
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5. Cincinnati Bengals (11)
This is the version of the Cincinnati Bengals we wrote about. While Lamar Jackson typically does a great job avoiding pressure, he never stood a chance against a non-stop Bengals’ attack. Cincinnati sacked Jackson five times, with Sam Hubbard (2.5) and Larry Ogunjobi (1.5) leading the way. Holding Baltimore to 5-of-16 third-down conversions and 17 points, that’s a Week 7 statement from the Bengals.
4. New Orleans Saints (7)
Coming out of the bye week, the New Orleans Saints should feel pretty good about this defense. Edge rusher Marcus Davenport, one of the Saints’ most impactful players, is expected to return from a pec strain within a few weeks. Linebacker Kwon Alexander (elbow) could return relatively soon and defensive lineman David Onyemata will return from suspension in Week 8.
Keep all of that in mind when examining the defensive stats. New Orleans boasts the fifth-highest quarterback knockdown rate (12.7%) and entered the bye week with the second-lowest passer rating (71.3) allowed. With two weeks of preparation, we expect a strong Week 7 performance against the Seattle Seahawks.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (3)
The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is very different when T.J. Watt is healthy. Opponents throw double teams his way and it doesn’t make a difference, the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL wreaks havoc. He is the reason Pittsburgh boasts the second-highest hurry rate (15.9%). With that said, there are some concerns with Pittsburgh.
If a quarterback has time to throw, he’ll find his wide receivers creating separation. Cameron Sutton (112.9 passer rating allowed when targeted) and Joe Haden (12.4 ypc allowed, 115.3 passer rating) aren’t getting the job done. We might not see the weaknesses in the secondary exploited by a hobbled Browns’ offense, but those days are coming.
2. Buffalo Bills (2)
The Buffalo Bills rated as the best defense in the NFL across multiple categories before facing the Tennessee Titans. Then, Derrick Henry happened. While it certainly demonstrated some flaws on this side of the ball, there is still so much to like about Buffalo defensively coming out of the bye. Entering Week 7, Buffalo carried the fifth-highest pressure rate (28.5%) despite using the blitz the fifth least (18.7%) in the NFL.
That’s a testament to a deep pass rush featuring Jerry Hughes ( 18 pressures ), Gregory Rousseau (15 stops, 11 pressures), AJ Epenesa (13 pressures) and Ed Oliver (10 stops). With a strong defensive front, a secondary with Micah Hyde, Tre’Davious White and Jordan Poyer hold opponents to the lowest average net yards [er attempt (3.4) in football. Expect an outstanding showing against the Miami Dolphins in Week 8.
1. Arizona Cardinals (1)
The Arizona Cardinals displayed nothing in Week 7 to suggest they should lose their title as the best defense in the NFL. They held Davis Mills under 100 passing yards in three quarterbacks, put a brick wall around the Texans’ running backs and the pass rush still got pressure without Chandler Jones. We can’t wait to see how this group performs against Aaron Rodgers and Co. on Thursday night. Just know, we’d recommend other defenses for fantasy football.