NFL Defense Rankings: Predicting the Top NFL Defenses in 2023

Nick Bosa 49ers

The offense wins games but the defense wins championships.

You hear that saying all the time regarding the NFL because it is the truth.

Since 2013, defenses that ranked top 10 in points allowed per game during the season have won the Super Bowl seven out of 10 times.

Last year the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl but did not rank in the top 10 in PPG allowed.

However, their opponent in the Super Bowl did, as the Philadelphia Eagles ranked seventh in points per game allowed last year.

Despite the NFL moving towards a much more offensive league and more rules getting implemented to favor the offense, seven teams allowed less than 20 PPG last season.

In this article, we will predict the top 10 defenses of the 2023 regular season and explain in detail why each team will finish in the top 10.

Predicting The Top 10 NFL Defenses In 2023

Having a top-flight defense that can pressure the QB and take the ball away from opposing teams is critical to a team’s success in the NFL.

Last season, the Eagles were seventh in ppg allowed and takeaways and first in passing yards allowed per game and sacks per game.

They made it to the Super Bowl.

Nick Bosa won Defensive Player of the Year last year and helped the 49ers make it to the NFC Championship Game and have a top defense in 2022.

Some defenses that did not crack our top 10 list but have the potential to be top 10 defenses are the Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Cleveland Browns, and Denver Broncos.

Now, we will get into predicting the top 10 defenses of 2023.

10. Washington Commanders

NFL Defense Rankings: Predicting the Top NFL Defenses in 2023

  • Key Defensive Additions/Re-signings: Daron Payne (DT), Danny Johnson (DB), Cody Martin (LB)
  • Key Defensive Departures: Cole Holcomb (LB), Bobby McCain (S)
  • Key NFL Draft Additions: Emmanuel Forbes (CB), Jartavius Martin (S)

The Washington Commanders turned it up defensively in the second half of last year.

Through the first eight games of 2022, opponents averaged a 99.2 QB rating with a 14-2 TD/INT ratio.

Teams posted a 7.4 YPA through the air against Washington’s defense.

However, in the final 10 weeks of the season, the average QB rating dropped to 83.3 with a 12-7 TD/INT ratio.

Teams posted a 6.5 YPA in the final 10 weeks last year.

This shows this defensive unit is capable of big things.

Washington can overwhelm anyone in the trenches and it boasted the best third-down defense (31.9%) in the NFL last season.

All of this happened with Chase Young struggling in his first season after returning from an ACL tear.

There is still some concern at inside linebacker and in the secondary.

Emmanuel Forbes should be an upgrade for a defense that ranked 23rd in DVOA against number two receivers.

If Young is closer to the player we saw in his rookie season, the Commanders could have a possible top-five defense.

9. Miami Dolphins

NFL Defense Rankings: Predicting the Top NFL Defenses in 2023

  • Key Defensive Additions/Re-signings: Jalen Ramsey (CB), David Long (LB), Luke Riley (LB)
  • Key Defensive Departures: Trey Flowers (EDGE), Melvin Ingram (EDGE), Byron Jones (CB), John Jenkins (DL), Elandon Roberts (LB), Eric Rowe (S)
  • Key NFL Draft Additions: Cam Smith (CB)

If evaluating defenses simply from 2022, the Miami Dolphins do not have a top-10 unit.

They ranked 24th in scoring defense (24.1 PPG allowed), third-down conversion rate (41.6%), 23rd in red-zone scoring rate (59.3%), and 13th in yards per play (5.3) last year.

However, this is a prediction for the 2023 NFL season.

The Dolphins added All-Pro CB Jalen Ramsey.

He will be a perfect fit for new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

Also, LB David Long Jr was one of the best run-stoppers in the NFL last year and is also an effective blitzer.

Miami also has Bradley Chubb, Christian Wilkins, and Jaelean Phillips in their front seven.

Xavien Howard and Jevon Holland are in the secondary with Ramsey, forming an excellent DB group.

Miami has the talent and coaching to be one of the top defenses in the NFL in 2023.

8. Buffalo Bills

NFL Defense Rankings: Predicting the Top NFL Defenses in 2023

  • Key Defensive Additions/Re-signings: Jordan Poyer (S), Leonard Floyd (LB)
  • Key Defensive Departures: Tremaine Edmunds (LB), Jaquan Johnson (S)
  • Key NFL Draft Additions: Dorian Williams (LB)

At their best, the Buffalo Bills have one of the best defenses in the league.

From weeks 1-10 last season, Buffalo held opponents to 210.2 pass YPG with a 75.7 average QB rating, a 9-13 TD-INT line, and 27 sacks.

In that same stretch, this unit ranked fourth in Defensive DVOA.

Unfortunately for Buffalo, things changed after Von Miller’s ACL tear and there’s concern he will open the season on the PUP list.

Buffalo’s pass defense then allowed a 92.4 QB rating with a 12-1 TD-INT ratio from Weeks 11-16 and it fell to ninth in DVOA in its final five games, including the playoffs.

Miller’s potential absence and the loss of linebacker Tremaine Edmunds are concerns heading into the season.

Adding Leonard Floyd keeps Buffalo in the top 10 NFL defense rankings.

Floyd is a nice complementary piece and will help Buffalo until Miller gets healthy.

Buffalo still has the talent to be a formidable defense and will take another step forward when Von Miller gets healthier.

7. Baltimore Ravens

NFL Defense Rankings: Predicting the Top NFL Defenses in 2023

  • Key Defensive Additions/Re-signings: Trayvon Mullen (CB)
  • Key Defensive Departures: Calais Campbell (DE), Kyle Fuller (CB), Marcus Peters (CB), Justin Houston (EDGE), Steven Means (EDGE), Jason Pierre-Paul (EDGE)
  • Key NFL Draft Additions: Trenton Simpson (LB), Tavius Robinson (EDGE)

The Baltimore Ravens had one of the best NFL defenses in the second half of last year.

During that stretch, they ranked fifth in yards per play, third in DVOA, and second in EPA per play.

They held opponents to averaging just 192.5 passing yards per game with a 4-3 TD/INT ratio and 3.8 yards per carry in the last six weeks of the 2022 NFL season.

If this carries over into 2023, Baltimore climbs up the NFL defense rankings quickly.

However, opponents averaged 253.8 pass YPG in the first 12 contests with a 90.5 QB rating and the Ravens’ defense ranked 18th in opponents’ second-half scoring during the regular season.

Another season in Mike Macdonald’s scheme should help and Baltimore’s secondary is very good.

Roquan Smith will be more accustomed to the defense as well.

Baltimore always has a very good defense and they have the talent to once again be one of the best defenses in the NFL in 2023.

6. New England Patriots

NFL Defense Rankings: Predicting the Top NFL Defenses in 2023

  • Key Defensive Additions/Re-signings: Jonathan Jones (CB), Jabrill Peppers (S)
  • Key Defensive Departures: Carl Davis (DL), Devin McCourty (S)
  • Key NFL Draft Additions: Christian Gonzalez (CB), Keion White (DE), Marte Mapu (LB/S)

The New England Patriots consistently have one of the best defenses in the NFL.

New England allowed the fourth-fewest yards per play (5.0), the ninth-fewest offensive touchdowns per game allowed (2.1), and ranked third in Football Outsiders Total DVOA (-12.4).

However, they needed a cornerback with size and athleticism who could match up with some of the best wide receivers in the league.

Christian Gonzalez is a perfect fit.

While there is an adjustment period for rookie cornerbacks, he landed in the perfect system.

Gonzalez complements New England’s secondary perfectly.

New England has talent on defense and they have the best defensive-minded coach in NFL history.

The Patriots will have one of the best defenses in the NFL in 2023 once again.

Predicting The Top Five NFL Defenses In 2023

Now, we will predict the top five defenses of the 2023 season.

These are the top defenses in the league.

The Pittsburgh Steelers kick off the top-five list.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers

NFL Defense Rankings: Predicting the Top NFL Defenses in 2023

  • Key Defensive Additions/Re-signings: Larry Ogunjobi (DT), Patrick Peterson (CB), Cole Holcomb (LB), Elandon Roberts (LB)
  • Key Defensive Departures: Cameron Sutton (CB), Terrell Edmunds (S), Karl Joseph (S), Tyson Alualu (DL), Devin Bush (LB), Myles Jack (LB)
  • Key NFL Draft Additions: Joey Porter Jr (CB), Keeanu Benton (DL), Nick Herbig (LB)

The Steelers’ defense struggled last year mostly due to injuries to T.J. Watt, Ahkelio Witherspoon, and Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Watt, Witherspoon, and Fitzpatrick all missed multiple games, with Watt and Witherspoon both landing on injured reserve.

As a result, a previously top-10 defense finished 20th in yards per play allowed (5.5 first-half opposition scoring (11.7), and 16th in third-down conversion rate (39.35%).

Entering the 2023 NFL season, not only are the Steelers’ defense healthy, they added talent.

Patrick Peterson provides length, consistency, and experience the secondary lacked on the outside last year.

To go along with Peterson, Pittsburgh drafted CB Joey Porter Jr with the 32nd pick in the NFL Draft.

The Steelers also drafted Keeanu Benton (DL) and Nick Herbig (LB).

They signed defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko and linebacker Cole Holcomb.

While it looks like the Steelers lost a lot of pieces on defense, they signed or drafted replacements that will be a better fit.

Health will be crucial, especially for T.J. Watt to remain on the field.

it’s not unreasonable to think a defense that allowed a 76.3 QB rating with 21 sacks in its final seven games will be an elite unit in 2023.

4. Dallas Cowboys

NFL Defense Rankings: Predicting the Top NFL Defenses in 2023

  • Key Defensive Additions/Re-signings: Donovan Wilson (S), Stephon Gillmore (CB), Leighton Vander Esch (LB)
  • Key Defensive Departures: Carlos Watkins (DL), Anthony Barr (LB), Anthony Brown (CB)
  • Key NFL Draft Additions: Mazi Smith (DT), DeMarvion Overshown (LB)

The Dallas Cowboys have one of the best defenses in the league.

Led by edge rusher Micah Parsons and cornerback Trevon Diggs, executing Dan Quinn’s scheme, Dallas led the NFL in pressure rate (25.5 percent), ranked third in sacks (54), and allowed the sixth-fewest points per game (19.7) in the regular season.

They could be even better in 2023.

Stephon Gilmore is the No. 2 cornerback the Cowboys have really needed over the last few years.

While he may not be an All-Pro talent anymore, Gilmore held opponents to an 82.6 QB rating and a 56.2 percent completion rate when targeted in coverage last season.

He’ll make Diggs better and allow the Cowboys’ pass rush to create more havoc.

Also, Dallas drafted Mazi Smith (323 pounds) at nose tackle to free up Parsons and Randy Gregory and improve the Cowboys’ run defense (129.9 YPG, 4.4 YPC).

Dallas’ defense will be one of the best in the NFL in 2023.

3. New York Jets

NFL Defense Rankings: Predicting the Top NFL Defenses in 2023

  • Key Defensive Additions/Re-signings: Quincy Williams (LB), Chuck Clark (S), Solomon Thomas (DL)
  • Key Defensive Departures: Vinny Curry (EDGE), Sheldon Rankins (DL), Nathan Sheperd (DL), Kwon Alexander (LB), Lamarcus Joyner (S)
  • Key NFL Draft Additions: Will McDonald IV (EDGE)

The New York Jets defense experienced a dramatic one-year turnaround.

In 2021, Robert Saleh’s unit ranked 32nd in Football Outsiders Total DVOA (14.4%), allowed the most points (29.6 PPG), and surrendered the second-highest average passer rating (103.2).

One year later, the Jets ranked fifth in Total DVOA (-10.1%), gave up the second-fewest points (18.6 PPG), and allowed the second-lowest average passer rating (80.5) to opponents.

This could be attributed to Sauce Gardner.

Gardner earned first-team All-Pro honors, playing at a level not really seen before from a rookie defender.

To go along with Gardner, Quinnen Williams became a DPOY candidate and free-agent signee, D.J. Reed. Jr was the perfect No. 3 corner.

New York drafted Will McDonald IV to add to its defense.

Another reason the Jets will take another step forward defensively is the acquisition of Aaron Rodgers.

The Jets will be able to control the ball more on offense and take the pressure off the defense.

New York has the talent to be the best defense in the NFL in 2023.

2. Philadelphia Eagles

NFL Defense Rankings: Predicting the Top NFL Defenses in 2023

  • Key Defensive Additions/Re-signings: Fletcher Cox (DT), James Bradberry (CB), Brandon Graham (DE), Darius Slay (CB), Greedy Williams (CB), Terrell Edmunds (S)
  • Key Defensive Departures: Javon Hargrave (DL), Robert Quinn (EDGE), Linval Joseph (DL), Ndamukong Suh (DL), T.J. Edwards (LB), Kyzir White (LB), Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (S), Marcus Epps (S)
  • Key NFL Draft Additions: Jalen Carter (DT), Nolan Smith (LB), Sydney Brown (S)

Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Sean Desai has all the weapons at his deposal.

In replacing Jonathan Gannon, Desai takes over an Eagles’ defense that was just the fourth in NFL history to record 70 sacks in a season and the first to have four players with double-digit sacks.

While Javon Hargrave is gone, Philadelphia brings in Jalen Carter and edge rusher Nolan Smith.

Losing Hargrave does not hurt the team as much after they drafted Carter and Smith.

The Eagles have a couple of top-20 cornerbacks (Darius Slay and James Bradberry) and an outstanding pass rush.

In a pass-heavy league, that’s critical.

Philadelphia is stacked on defense and could challenge to be the best defense in the league in 2023.

1. San Francisco 49ers

NFL Defense Rankings: Predicting the Top NFL Defenses in 2023

  • Key Defensive Additions/Re-signings: Javon Hargrave (DT), Tashaun Gipson (S)
  • Key Defensive Departures: Jimmie Ward (S), Emmanuel Mosley (CB), Azeez Al-Shaair (LB), Samson Ebukam (EDGE), Jordan Willis (EDGE), Charles Omenihu (EDGE), Maurice Hurst (DL), Hassan Ridgeway (DL)
  • Key NFL Draft Additions: Ji’Ayir Brown (S)

The San Francisco 49ers have the best run defense in the NFL.

In 2022, San Francisco allowed just 77.7 rushing yards per game and a 3.4 yards per carry average to opponents.

Losing DeMeco Ryans hurts, but new 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks did a very good job with the Panthers’ defense last season.

It’s also important to note that Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead either played through injuries (Bosa) or missed significant time (Armstead) last season.

San Francisco ranked fifth in pass-rush win rate (46%) and sixth in run-stop win rate (32%) last season.

The 49ers allowed the third-fewest points per game (4.0) in the fourth quarter and allowed the fewest red-zone scoring attempts (2.5) per game in the NFL.

The 49ers added Javon Hargrave (17% pass-rush win rate) and addressed the need at safety with Ji’Ayir Brown.

With tremendous talent and coaching, the 49ers will have the best defense in the NFL in 2023.

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