Defense Wins Championships: Power Ranking NFL Divisions Based on Defensive Strength
Power Ranking NFL Defenses By Division
For years the adage rang true that “defense wins championships,” but many began to refute that claim with the NFL’s trend toward and offensive league geared on scoring points at a rapid rate. Though outscoring opponents has always been the name of the game, obviously having a defense capable of preventing the opposition from putting points on the point is a vital part of that equation.
Thanks to the Seattle Seahawks’ lopsided triumph in Super Bowl XLVIII over the Denver Broncos, clearly defense still reigns supreme when in its elite form. Peyton Manning’s record-setting offense had no answer for a lockdown defense in the big game, and it just goes to show that winning the Lombardi Trophy is still an accomplishment that requires all phases to achieve.
Many teams have bought into the notion that putting points on the board at a rapid rate trumps defensive prowess in today’s NFL with draft decisions and free agent signings revolving around marquee playmakers more so than the guys who try to subdue those athletes. There are a few exceptions to these claims, but the majority of the league’s divisions still boast more proficiency in the scoring department than in trying to prevent points.
There are a select few divisions, however, where defense is still held in high esteem. It’s nothing like the heyday of the black and blue division in the NFC North, but these groups still have defenses worthy of praise. It may be a lost art among some of the divisions in this upcoming slideshow, but defense is still the key to winning the ultimate prize in the NFL realm.
Now let’s get into power ranking the NFL divisions based on defensive strength.
8. NFC East
When the worst statistical defense in the league resides in the division, it’s hard not to call it the bottom of the barrel. The Dallas Cowboys were that league-worst defense, and the Philadelphia Eagles, though still a playoff team, were not far behind at No. 29. The Washington Redskins ranking No. 19 and New York Giants at No. 8 is clearly more of a reflection on their awful offenses than their defenses actually being solid. This group has a lot of work to do in order to regain respectability this offseason.
7. NFC North
Once considered one of the best defensive groups in the league, offense has really taken over in the NFC Norris. The Minnesota Vikings at No. 31 and Chicago Bears at No. 30 were utterly pathetic on defense all year long, and even the Green Bay Packers as a playoff team were No. 25. It’s really difficult to give this group much respect when their highest ranked defense in the Detroit Lions at No. 16 were one of the most undisciplined teams in the league in terms of ill-timed penalties.
6. AFC West
Though their defenses all ranked consistently poorly (No. 19, No. 22, No. 23 and No. 24) there is still some potential among this group. The Kansas City Chiefs’ defense started out on fire only to fall off down the latter portion of the season, and both the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers were riddled with injuries on that side of the ball. It’s hard to rank this division any lower than this, but it’s just as difficult to give them any additional credit.
5. AFC East
When the two lowest finishing teams in the division record-wise finish the highest in terms of defense it kind of blows up the whole ‘defense still matters’ narrative. The Buffalo Bills at No. 10 overall defensively had the least wins in the division with the New York Jets at No. 11 having the next lowest total, the Miami Dolphins’ No. 21 ranked defense coming in second place and the New England Patriots’ woeful No. 26 ranked defense leading them to another division title. This group really gives credence to the idea that offense is what wins in today’s NFL, but thank goodness they were the exception in 2013 and not the rule.
4. AFC South
It was difficult not to rank this group a little higher based on their potential as the Jacksonville Jaguars are actually pretty decent defensively even though their No. 27 standing indicates otherwise. The Indianapolis Colts at No. 20 were a playoff team, and both the Tennessee Titans at No. 14 and Houston Texans at No. 7 were just mediocre quarterback play away from actually being competitive. The numbers might not lead one to believe that this group plays solid defense, but sometimes that can be deceiving.
3. NFC South
It seems weird to say a division that housed the worst defense in league history just 12 months prior is the second-best the next season, but Rob Ryan worked wonders on the New Orleans Saints. Their No. 4 overall ranking was only second-best in the tough NFC South, however, as the Carolina Panthers boasted the league’s No. 2 defense in 2013. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers struggled to score and win games, but their No. 18 ranked defense wasn’t to blame. The Atlanta Falcons were really disappointing on that side of the ball at No. 27, but the cream of this crop makes up for their shortcomings.
2. AFC North
The battles between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t the knockdown, drag out slugfests they used to be, but these two sides still play decent defense at No. 12 and No. 13 respectively in 2013. The fact that those two teams are the worst in the division in terms of overall defense statistically speaks volumes about the depth of this group. Wins may not have been plentiful for the Cleveland Browns, but their No. 9 ranked defense can’t be blamed for those failures. And the Cincinnati Bengals may have laid an egg in the postseason, but their No. 3 overall defense was awfully impressive all season. This group has a great foundation to build on in 2014.
1. NFC West
When three of the league’s top seven scoring defenses from 2013 (Seattle Seahawks No. 1, San Francisco 49ers No. 3 and Arizona Cardinals No. 7) take up residence in any division it earns serious bragging rights. The St. Louis Rams boasted the league’s second-highest sacker individually in Robert Quinn with 19 and third-best sack total as a team with 53. Though they brought up the rear in the division with the No. 13 ranked defense in the league that only goes to show just how solid the NFC West is as a whole. Look for this quartet of hard-hitting foes to continue to rule the NFL’s defensive hierarchy into the 2014 season.