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Ranking the Top 10 Greatest Defenses in NFL History

greatest defenses in nfl

The NFL is one of the biggest leagues in the world in terms of sheer size and magnitude. The amount of revenue it brings is unparalleled by any other league in the sport of American football. To sustain a franchise in on the grandest stage of all, the team should be complete in all aspects of the game. However, in many cases, the defensive aspect of the game gets vastly overlooked. All of the major awards like MVPs go to the offensive players and the players on defence quietly slip under the radar.

Despite this indifference towards them, some defensive outfits have been able to divert attention towards them over the years. They have done so by displaying tremendous dedication and game awareness. According to a plethora of sports analysts, defense is the most important aspect of any championship-winning team.

It is very hard to strike a perfect formula to describe what makes a perfect defense. However, one thing that has been common in all of the iconic defenses in the past, is the grit and determination to stop the opponents. As the saying goes, a good offense can win you games but a good defense will win you tournaments. Today, we take a look at some of the greatest defenses in the history of the NFL.

#10. New York Giants (1986)

Generally, Bill Belichick is associated with the success of the New England Patriots. However, people tend to forget his exploits when he was a young coach with the New York Giants. True to their name, the Giants were absolute beasts in the defense and seldom let opposition offenses get the better of them. Coached by Belichick and led by Lawrence Taylor on the field, that outfit produced performances that were out of the ordinary.

The Giants even led the league in terms of rushing defense and were able to sack the opposition quarterback on 55 occasions. With the defense emanating security and confidence, the offense had little to do in terms of creating impact, and the New York Giants won the Super Bowl XXI.

In the end, Lawrence Taylor was awarded the MVP, and to be honest no one could compare to him during that season. He produced stats that were unimaginable during that era. Moreover, he was also the leader of the side and was able to motivate his teammates. The 86 Giants will forever be remembered as a force to reckon with.

#9. Philadelphia Eagles (1991)

At the start of the 1991 season, the Philadelphia Eagles franchise found themselves in a difficult situation. They had just lost their QB1 in Randall Cunningham. He had suffered a knee injury that would keep him out of action for the rest of the season. It all looked done and dusted for the Eagles. However, their defense had other plans.

Led by the legendary Reggie White, the Eagles defense gave every opponent a run for their money. They were fiercely competitive and never let panic set in. Even in close games, they found a way to deliver wins and keep their team in the hunt for a playoff spot. In the end, however, a tragic loss to the Dallas Cowboys would mean that the Eagles missed out on the playoff berth. But that does not tarnish the legacy that the “Gang Green” created as one of the most solid defences in the league.

The 91 Eagles will be remembered as a team that relied heavily upon their defense to survive and they did not disappoint.

#8. Green Bay Packers (1962)

The new generation of NBA fanatics might not remember what all the Green Bay Packers were able to achieve in 1962. Back then the style of play was very different from the one that we see now. However, that does not take away from the fact that the Packers were able to form one of the most iconic defenses in the league’s storied history that eventually became an inspiration for generations to come.

The 62 Packers was a team that was brilliant in all aspects of the game. In the offensive third, they had Jim Taylor who was a legend in his own right. Moreover, they were led by linebacker Ray Nitschke in defense. Under coach Vince Lombardi, the Packers flourished on both ends of the court, dominating every opposition in the process.

The Green Bay Packers’ defense led the league in takeaways and passing yards that season. It was already evident that their defense was the strongest, these stats just added credibility to the belief. On the back of their defensive unit, the Packers reached the Super Bowl and annihilated the New York Jets. They took home the championship trophy to give a fitting ending to their iconic season.

#7. Denver Broncos (2015)

Despite being the legend that he was, Peyton Manning was not a one-man-machine anymore. That is why the 2015 Broncos had to rely on their defense to deliver the goods when it mattered the most. Apart from that, they also had the added pressure of culminating the storied career of Manning on a high note, and that meant winning the Super Bowl.

One does not need any recollection of just how good Cam Newton was in the 2015 season. He was ripping through defenses with his eye-of-the-needle passes and the rest of the league was left aghast. To stop him, a team had to provide the perfect combination of defensive solidity and game awareness. That is exactly what the Denver Broncos showed in the Super Bowl that season when they subdued the threat of Newton.

Based on their performance under the insane amount of pressure, the Broncos’ defense deserved a spot on our list. Led by Von Miller, that unit produced performances worthy of a Super Bowl victory in every game of the season.

#6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense in the 2002-03 season was a force of nature. They were extremely solid in the way they set themselves up and were quick to adapt to any mistakes that might have occurred. The Bucs defense was led by Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks, who surprisingly did not win the regular-season MVP despite being a crowd favourite.

The Buccaneers adopted a different approach when it came to defending prolific oppositions. They removed their concentration from blocking pathways and focused on disrupting plays. This led to an increased number of interceptions that could be converted into attacks. This approach helped immensely in the Super Bowl victory where they were able to negotiate the threat of Rich Gannon and the Oakland Raiders with relative ease.

The Bucs title charge was very dependent on their defensive unit taking charge, and they did not disappoint. Even in the seasons going forward, the Buccaneers’ defense was a source of concern for opposition coaches.

#5. Pittsburgh Steelers (2008)

Irrespective of the attacking prowess shown by the Steelers during the 2008-09 season, they had to look towards their defense at crucial junctures. The only difference between other teams and the Steelers that season was the efficacy of their defensive unit, and that ultimately led to a Super Bowl victory. The unit was the perfect amalgamation of defensive prowess and game awareness. Moreover, they were able to convert that into wins.

Led by the iconic Dick LeBeau, the Steelers kept on with their crusade for the championship title as they destroyed every team in their way. Even in the Super Bowl, the team was heavily reliant on defense. It was a 99-yard touchdown that became the difference between the two sides at the end of the game. And even that move had started from an interception.

There is no doubt about the fact that the Steelers’ defense is one of the best in the league’s history and would take some beating in the years to come. Moreover, the super Bowl win adds some gravitas to a legendary lineup.

#4. Pittsburgh Steelers (1976)

Yet another Steelers outfit that had a great defensive unit, the Steelers squad of the 1976-77 season was one of the best in terms of defensive stalwarts. They had players like Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, and Joe Greene who were all legends in their own right. When you put all of them together in a team, it forms a unit that is hard to defeat. It proved such as the Steelers’ defense dominated the league all through the ’70s.

Known as the “Steel Curtain”, this iconic lineup had great players for every position who never looked overawed. They were able to navigate through tough games by relying upon each other and producing performances that were hard to replicate by any other team in the league. One of the most astonishing facts about that season is that the Steelers only allowed just 9.8 points per game that season on average.

Such was the brilliance of that unit that many of the players went on to receive Hall of Fame inductions in the latter stages of their career. Players like Jack Lambert are still inspirations to many of the current crops of linebackers who want to emulate their achievements on the field.

#3. Seattle Seahwaks (2013)

One of the more recent inclusions in our list, the Seahawks defense was unpenetrable on their day. Filled to the brim with players who could produce flashes of individual brilliance, that unit is still considered one of the best in the business. Led by the near-perfect combination of Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, “The legion of boom” was the name given to this incredible defensive outfit.

During the regular season, the Seattle Seahawks produced numbers that were hard to compete with, they led the league in total yards and passing yards, establishing a dominance that would culminate with a Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos. Even in that game, the defense dominated the opposition as they won 43-8, one of the most lopsided scorelines in Super Bowl history.

That game proves that the Seahawks deserve their spot on our list. Moreover, the fact that it happened not many years ago also plays a part in their performances being fresh in people’s minds.

#2. Baltimore Ravens (2000)

When your team is considered as the worst offensive outfit to ever win the Super Bowl, it says something about the quality of your defence. That is exactly what happened with the Baltimore Ravens in the 2000-01 season when they were completely reliant on their Hall of Fame defense to fetch them wins.

The Ravens were so good in defense that it was practically impossible to create a score gap during games. The Ravens hold the record for the least number of points conceded in NFL history with a meagre 165. They also held the record for the fewest rushing yards with only 970 to their name. No wonder Ray Lewis won the DPOY that year.

It can be said with complete conviction that the Baltimore Ravens have etched themselves in the history books as one of the finest defensive outfits to ever grace the game. They were even able to shut out the opposition on four occasions during the season. That is even more proof of the sheer brilliance and determination that the team possessed.

#1. Chicago Bears (1985)

There can be no debate about just how good the Chicago Bears were in the ’80s. At times, they were simply unplayable, and it was all thanks to their defense. No other team has ever come close to replicating the kind of impact the Bears had over the league. Some analysts admit that the Chicago Bears defense of 1985, changed the way the game was played. Both in terms of offense and defense.

“The monsters of Midway” could never be taken for granted during their prime. That unit was the epitome of heart and precision in tackles. Led by the legendary trio of Dan Hampton, Richard Dent, and Mike Singletary, the Bears were an all-dominating side in the league for many seasons. The only reason we talk about the 1985 one is that they won the Super Bowl and were all in their prime.

They finished the regular season with an unprecedented record of 15-1 and powered through the postseason. Even in the Super Bowl game, they dismantled the Patriots by bettering them in every aspect of the game, especially in defense. They were successful in stifling the threat of the Patriots’ offense and that is what delivered them a chance to lift the Lombardi trophy.


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