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The Best NFL Defenses in History

by Jesse Kinney 4 years ago in football
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Look away or risk fatal doom, quarterbacks. These are the ten best NFL defenses of all time.

You know the old saying, "Defense wins championships?" Well, it's true. The offense may be more fun to watch, trick plays and touchdowns are the bees knees, but a great defense is what makes all the difference. Just look at the 2018 Super Bowl as proof. The Super Bowl where both defenses decided to check off "Not Attending" on their invites, the Philadelphia Eagles were able to win due to a key defensive play at an opportune time. There was only one spectacular defensive play all game, and that ended up being the deciding factor.

Of course, it's a lot easier when your defense actually dominates for the entire game. The list below will highlight defenses that were experts in doing just that. NFL offensive coordinators, quarterbacks, and all other offensive personnel look away now, these are the best NFL defenses in history.

I thought we'd start with a team already mentioned, because why not. The 1991 Eagles defense was loaded with talent. It consisted of pro bowlers like Seth Joyner, Eric Allen, Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons, and of course, "The Minister of Defense" himself, Reggie White. This unit was first in the league in sacks (55), forced fumbles (43), and opposing quarterback passing percentage (44.1 percent). All those numbers are pretty tremendous. If it wasn't for Randall Cunningham's injury in week one, this Eagles team might've gone all the way.

With the recent Michael Bennet acquisition, it is clear that Philly is trying to get back to those dominant defensive ways. With Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Malcolm Jenkins back in the fold, the 2018 team will look to give the 1991 team a run for its money and become of the best NFL defenses in history.

Let's face it, if a defensive player won the Super Bowl MVP award, they are probably somewhere on this list. Ray Lewis took home that prestigious honor back in the 2000-01 season, as well as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. Lewis and the vaunted Ravens defense held the Giants to seven points, resulting in one of the most lopsided Super Bowls in recent memory, as the Baltimore came out on top 34-7. Those seven points were even less than the 10.3 points per game they allowed in the regular season (tops in the NFL).

Lewis was joined by Rod Woodson, Peter Boulware, and Michael McCrary as the biggest difference makers on the defensive side of the ball. Their efforts culminated during the Super Bowl, in which they allowed 152 yards and forced the Giants to punt 11 times. A dominating performance of that magnitude in the biggest game of the year will get you a spot on this list. They still remain the only defense to not allow an offensive touchdown in a Super Bowl, which is bonkers.

"Da Bears"....Did I do that right? Of course the 1985 Bears are one of the best NFL defenses in history. When talking about great defensive units, this is the one every other team gets compared to. The "official" number two defense on the top ten defenses of all time by the NFL was scary, like, actually scary. This murderer's row of players included William "The Refrigerator" Perry, Dan Hampton, Mike Singletary, Richard Dent, Gary Fencik, Otis Wilson, and Wilber Marshall.

Richard Dent went on to win the Super Bowl MVP (told you it would be a trend) that year as the Bears shut out the Giants and Rams in the playoffs, and demolished the Patriots in the Super Bowl. The final was 46-10 and cemented this unit as one of the most elite to ever play the game.

One of the more recent teams on this list of the best NFL defenses in history, we head to Seattle. The 2013 Seahawks were aptly nicknamed "The Legion of Boom," as they laid the boom on anyone foolish enough to test them. (That's only the first cool nickname to appear on this list so get excited!) The defense was headlined by an explosive secondary of Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Kam Chancellor, along with a dominant front seven that included Bobby Wagner (another defensive Super Bowl MVP), K.J. Wright, Cliff Avril, Bruce Irvin, Chris Clemons, and Michael Bennett.

That's the defense you make in Madden when you start a season and put the trade difficulty on easy, it just doesn't seem real. They took the highest scoring team in NFL history and put them in their pocket for the entire Super Bowl. Peyton Manning's record 55 passing touchdowns in the regular season amounted to nothing in the end. Manning was intercepted twice, threw a meaningless touchdown late in the game, and missed a snap that led to a safety in the opening seconds.

We have officially arrived at the second cool nickname on the list of the best NFL defenses in history! The "Purple People Eaters" was the name given to the Vikings stout defense for nearly a decade. Any of the years between 1969 and the late 70s could be chosen, but the 1971 team takes this spot. Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page took home the regular season MVP that year (the first defender to ever do that and still the only defensive tackle to do so) and the defense allowed a mere 9.9 points per game.

Have you ever seen The Blind Side? If you have, this is easy to explain. The Blind Side opens with why left tackles are the second highest paid player behind the quarterback on most teams. The reason? Lawrence Taylor. Taylor was a defensive force, the likes of which the NFL had never seen before. He led the Giants formidable defense throughout the 80s and to their first Super Bowl victory in the 1986 season. Phil Simms won the Super Bowl MVP that year, but it was Taylor that was the true heartbeat of the team.

The final cool nickname on the list of best NFL defenses in history goes to the Pittsburgh Steelers and their "Steel Curtain" defense. Led by star players Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, and "Mean" Joe Greene, this defense was monstrous. Terry Bradshaw was injured on and off and was mostly inconsistent in 1976, forcing the defense to carry the team into the playoffs, which they did and then some. Their final stat line read: 22 interceptions, 42 fumble recoveries, and 41 sacks.

The team that gave Jon "Chucky" Gruden his Super Bowl. The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were stacked. Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, and Brian Kelly were the standouts for the Bucs that year. They dismantled the Raiders, Gruden's former team, in the Super Bowl to the tune of 48-21.

There were reports that Gruden might coach Tennessee for this upcoming season, but those were squashed when he signed back on with the Raiders. You can bet he will try his hardest to recreate his 2002 defense in Oakland this season, the same unit that ironically defeated the Raiders 15 years ago.

The 1962 Green Bay Packers are up next as one of the best defensive sides to ever step on the field. This may have been the first great defense in the NFL, as they allowed 10.6 points per game and made locking down opponents into a science. They allowed one touchdown in the NFL championship game (the Super Bowl had not been created yet) and went on to win 16-7. This capped off a season where they went 14-1 and gave Vince Lombardi his second championship in as many years, the start of what would the greatest dynasty in NFL history.

To finish my list of the best NFL defenses in history, we have the most recent one, the 2015 Denver Broncos. Another defensive player winning the Super Bowl MVP earns another spot on this list. Von Miller's Super Bowl was not the only reason for the Broncos being on this list, although it probably could have been if I'm being honest. Miller recorded six tackles, one pass defended, and two and half sacks on Cam Newton, which included two game-changing strips, with one leading directly to a touchdown. The regular season was much of the same for this defense, led by Miller. All hail the king.

Well there you have it, the best NFL defenses in history that would give even the greatest quarterbacks nightmares. Hopefully, there will be more defenses added to this list in the near future, because a smothering, hard-hitting defense is always incredible to watch and gets the fans going.


About the author

Jesse Kinney

Huge sports fan, primarily hockey and football. Also a big TV and movie fan. Recent Marist graduate writing about whatever interests me!

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