Top 15 NFL Defenses of all Time

What is an excellent defense to you? Is it fewer points allowed, impressive records set, tackles, or yards gave up? And what it takes to be listed in the top NFL defenses of all time?

Well, you’re just about to find what exactly is required to be claimed as top NFL defenses in this article.

NFL defense team.
NFL defense team.

It’s not easy to maintain a defensive reputation as offenses attract the most attention in today’s era. However, history is the proof that defense helps win the game. 

As a result, we have dug deep into the first year of the NFL from 1920 to provide you with the top NFL defenses in the league’s history.

Top 15 NFL Defenses of all Time

The top defenses mentioned below are assembled based on Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, and Ranker sources. Further, before jumping into the details, let’s quickly view the names present in the list.

Team Name
SeasonRecord
15. Minnesota Vikings196912-2
14. Denver Broncos197712-2
13. Dallas Cowboys197111-3
12. New York Giants198614-2
11. Dallas Cowboys197712-2
10. Miami Dolphins197214-0
9. Seattle Seahawks201313-3
8. Denver Broncos201512-4
7. Green Bay Packers196213-1
6. Kansas City Chiefs196911-3
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers200212-4
4. Baltimore Ravens200012-4
3. Philadelphia Eagles199110-6
2. Pittsburgh Steelers197610-4
1. Chicago Bears198515-1

15. 1969 Minnesota Vikings

With a record of 12-2, the 1969 Minnesota Vikings held the best record in the league. Further, the team had very reliable defensive players who made sure to intercept every pass made.

As a result, they intercepted 30 passing scores and gave away only eight of them in the regular season.

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Bobby Bryant was the top linebacker for Minnesota, who averaged eight intercepts. Followed by Earsell Mackbee, Paul Krause with five and four intercepts, respectively.

No doubt why Minnesota ranked No. 1 in interceptions, passes, and yards allowed that year. Hence, they were the top defensive team in their division and second in the league.

Their defense presence was full-on displays in the Western Conference and NFL Championship games. However, they couldn’t match the defensive intensity portrayed by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Therefore they miserably lost the Super Bowl IV with a final score of 7-23 in favor of the Chiefs. However, despite the loss, the Vikings’ defense truly impressed the league.

14. 1977 Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos, a fair team in the NFL, suddenly made a massive turn of events in 1977. Since 1960, the team finished first in the West for the first time, making their first playoff appearance.

The Orange Crush Defense, a 3-4 defense adapted by the Broncos in the late 1970s, made them nearly an unbreakable wall.

Likewise, Denver, with this defensive strategy, only gave up 10.6 points per game. As a result, they recorded their season-best at twelve wins and just two losses.

1977 Denver Broncos
1977 Denver Broncos.

Further, Denver faced Steelers in the Division Playoffs and completely shut them down. Similar success followed as they clutch out the AFC Championship with 20-17 as the final score.

However, despite their excellent playoff run, they fell to the Dallas Cowboys, an iron wall in defense in the Super Bowl.

Nonetheless, their defensive strategy made a huge noise after their impressive post and regular season. Henceforth, the Orange Crush Defense deserves the 15th rank amongst the top NFL defenses.

13. 1971 Dallas Cowboys

For the sixth consecutive time, the Dallas Cowboys finished first in the East Division from 1966 to 1971. Nevertheless, in the first five-time, they failed to capture the Super Bowl.

However, the narrative quickly changed as they focused on their defense as much as their offense. With the addition of some new defensive line, Dallas had a solid team.

The Cowboy’s defensive strategy was called the Doomsday Defense, which was the backbone of their franchise. This defense helped them win two out of five Super Bowls till the late 1970s.

Further, Dallas introduced the Doomsday defense in the late 1960s, which had a massive effect in the 1971 season.

As a result, the 1971 Cowboys were experts in breaking up plays and pressuring quarterbacks. Not to mention, they average the highest interception that season.

Therefore, it was no surprise when they destroyed the Dolphins in Super Bowl VI after holding them to just 3 points for the entire game.

Moreover, they held the record for not allowing their opponent from scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl for forty-seven years.

12. 1986 New York Giants

After failing several times to hold the Super Bowl trophy, the New York introduced The Big Blue Wrecking Crew as their new defensive schema.

The 3-4 defense instantly showed the result as they finished the season with a 14-2 record. Further, with this defense, the Giants gave up only 14.8 points and 80.2 yards per game.

Similarly, they also recorded 24 interceptions while accumulating 59 sacks. The total effect of this defense was seen in the NFC Championship as the Giants held the Redskins to precisely zero points.

13th best nfl defenses.
The 1986 Giants celebrating after winning the Super Blow XXI. (Source: pimtrest.com)

As a result, they were the favorites to win the Super Bowl XXI versus the Denver Broncos. However, they started at a rough patch for the first half but picked up the intensity in the second half.

Furthermore, they only allowed the Broncos to score one point in the second half until garbage point to finish with 39-20. This victory won the franchise their first Super Bowl.

11. 1977 Dallas Cowboys

The only obstacle for the 1977 Denver Broncos, the #14 on our list, was the 77 Dallas Cowboys.

After showcasing their Doomsday defense in the first Super Bowl victory in the 1971, they adapted a new defensive schema.

Further, the schema can also be recognized as the evolved version of the Doomsday defense. Hence, the Cowboys called it Doomsday defense II, which was in action from 1975 to 1982.

With the newly evolved defensive system, they finished 12-2 to become first in the East. There was no competition for Dallas in the East as they dominated swiftly. 

Moreover, Dallas faced a solid defensive team from the west, Denver, for the Super Bowl XII. So naturally, many fans were thrilled to see such substantial defensive teams play.

The Doomsday Defense II had the upper hand rather than the Orange Crush defense. Thus, the Cowboys dominated the game by forcing eight turnovers.

On top of that, Dallas intercepted every pass except eight of them in the entire game. Only in the third quarter did Denver seek to score some point. 

As a result, the Cowboys secured their second Super Bowl victory with the Doomsday defense II.

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10. 1972 Miami Dolphins

The 72 Miami Dolphins were an absolute freak train. They are the only NFL team to hold perfect regular and post-season in this list.

Further, the 72 Dolphins are the only undefeated and untied team in the NFL history from the opening game to the Super Bowl.

They finished with a perfect 14-0 record and destroyed every team in the postseason. Their defense was one of the top NFL defenses at that time.

No one could have figure out a way to get past it. So, as a result, it was named the No-Name Defense.

In the Division Playoffs against Cleveland Browns, they held them to just 14 points. Similar senior against the Steelers for the AFC Championship, where they won 21-17.

However, they faced a tough second half in the Super Bowl VII as they were completely shut down. Nevertheless, they had scored enough points in the first half that led them to win the game.

Luckily Miami’s defense was so good that they only allowed the Redsikns 7 points in the final quarter. Thus, they finished with a record of 14-7 to claim the trophy.

9. 2013 Seattle Seahawks

For the first time in the franchise history, the 2013 Seahawks finished the regular season with a double-digit win. With a record of 13-3, they were at the top in the NFC West.

They were by far the best statistical team in the NFL that season. Hence, Seattle was No. 1 in points, yards, and takeaways allowed.

As a result, they led the NFL in defensive stats. Further, the Seahawks became the second team in NFL history to lead the league in all three categories since the 1985 Chicago Bears.

Likewise, they also recorded+186 point differential, by far the best in Seattle’s history. Hence, there was no team match for the 2013 Seahawk’s Legion of Boom defense.

The Seahawks QB Russel Wilson holding the Super Bowl XLVIII trophy
The Seahawks QB Russel Wilson holding the Super Bowl XLVIII trophy. (Source: Madison.com)

Undoutabely, they dominated their way to win the Super Bowl XLVII from the Denver Broncos.

Seattle’s defense was so brutal that they only allowed Denver to score once in the third quarter. In addition, the Seahawks had built a 28 score lead.

Therefore, it was one of the most extensive shutdowns in Super Bowl history. Further, they finished the game with a 43-8 record leading Seattle to win their first title. 

Likewise, it was the first time in the history of the Super Bowl that a winning team scored 40+ points while keeping their opponent to under 10.

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8. 2015 Denver Broncos

Failing to prove them on the big stage numerous times, the 2015 Denver Broncos reignited themselves. As a result, they were recognized as one of the top NFL defenses of all time.

The Bronco’s ranked No. 1 in all defensive categories: total yards, passing yards, average yards, sacks, and interceptions.

Further, Denver entirely relied upon their defense that season as their offense was very lackluster. Hence, their impressive defensive display was called the No-Fly Zone.

They finished the regular season with 12-4 as the first seed in the West. Likewise, they continued the quest by dominating every opponent by forcing several turnovers.

Thus, they faced the Carolina Panthers, who were the top offensive team that season. Furthermore, they had finished the season with a near-perfect record of 15-1.

Fans were super excited to see the league’s top offense and defense go at it in the Super Bowl 50.

The Broncos shut down the Panther in the first quarter, whereas they took an early lead. Therefore, they never trailed through the entire game and won the Super Bowl 50.

7. 1962 Green Bay Packers

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Green Bay Packers had made a massive name in the league. As a result, they had already won seven NFL World Championship by 1962.

Hence, we can say they were a solid team. However, the 62 Packers were something else compared to the previous seasons.

The 62 Green Bay had a strong defense that was feared by many at that time. They had Hall of Famer defenders such as Willie Davis, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, and many more.

Further, the Packers were experts in shutting the opponent as they allowed just 10.8 points per game. Similarly, they averaged nine interceptions in the regular season.

Therefore, when Green Bay faced the New York Giants, the 1962 NFL Championship Game was won in the first half.

To elaborate, with their rock-solid defense, the Pacers shut down the Giants in the first half. Only in the 3rd quarter did the Giants manage to score some points.

Thus, Green Bay secured their eighth NFL World Championship alongside being one of the top NFL defenses of all time.

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6. 1969 Kansas City Chiefs

The 69 Kansas City Chiefs were just built differently. As a result, the Chiefs led the league in the lowest passing yard, rushing yard, and total yards.

Not to mention, they also became just the fourth defensive team in the history of competitive football to achieve this feat.

With a record of 11-3, Kansas stood second in the AFL Western division. But, regardless of their stand, the Chiefs were feared by every team in the western division.

In the regular season, the 69 Kansas City held five opponents to a single-digit point. In addition, they only gave up an average of two touchdowns a game.

Further, two out of three losses in the regular season came from the Oakland Raiders. Hence, when they faced the Raiders in the AFL Championship, they got serious.

The Chiefs held the Raiders to just seven points which came in the first quarter. Except that Oakland was utterly shut down.

Kansas displayed the same intensity during the Super Bowl IV, where they thoroughly exploited the Minnesota Vikings’ defense.

Thus, they won the Super Bowl with 23-7, where the Chiefs forced three interceptions.

5. 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Heading into the top five NFL defenses of all time, the fifth spot is occupied by the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

They were an underdog when it came to having a decent regular season. However, the Buccaneers made sure they made a name for themselves in the 2002 season. 

As one of the best defenses showcased by them, Tampa finished the season with 12-4. Further, the Buccaneers had one of the most successful postseasons in the league’s history.

The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers one of the top NFL defenses of all time.
The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. (Source: bucsnation.com)

As a result, they outscored all their opponents by 69 points in the playoffs. Similarly, they averaged 11 sacks and nine interceptions to qualify for the Super Bowl XXXVII.

Moreover, it was almost a very effortless journey for Tampa Bay to their first Super Bowl victory. They outscored their opponents by 27 points which were the seventh highest in the league.

Overall, the 2002 Buccaneers displayed a very dominant defensive performance that will always be remembered as one of the top NFL defenses in the league.

4. 2000 Baltimore Ravens

Another historic team when it came to neutralizing opponents was the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. They were so exuberating on both sides of the floor.

However, they excelled in defensive strategies in comparison to their offense. With a 12-4, they held most of the regular season’s opponents below 10 points.

Further, the Ravens’ defense was almost impossible to crack as they limited their opponent to just 2.7 yards per carry.

As a result, no team could have beaten them twice because they adapted to new formations.

In addition, they gave up 11 touchdowns while picking off 23 passes in the entire 16 games. Hence, it was self-evident that they were the favorites to win that season.

Baltimore, in four playoff games, only allowed 23 points. Likewise, the defensive dominance was so impressive that they collated 12 takeaways while giving up 16.

In a simpler term, they never allowed their opponents to take the lead, even for a quarter. Therefore, the Ravens’ defense shut down every playoff team to become the Super Bowl XXXV champions.

3. 1991 Philadelphia Eagles

The only great defensive team to not qualify for the playoffs are the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles.

The Eagle’s defense was rock solid as they allowed 3.9 yards per play. Further, the 3.9 yards was the highest that season in the entire league.

Similarly, they just allowed 3.0 yards per carry, making them almost invincible. However, with the ACL injury, they lost their starting quarterback Randall Cunningham in the opening weak.

This caused instability in their offense while led them to be one of the worst offensive teams that season.

In addition, despite excellent performance in the defense, the Eagles couldn’t seek to score points.

However, Philadelphia’s defense is still recognized as one of the top NFL defenses of all time.

2. 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers

“Pure Dominance” is the word that comes to mind when you hear about the 76 Pittsburg Steelers.

After a terrible 1-4 start, the Steelers picked up their slack and went on a 9-0 run. They absolutely shut down their opponents in five out of nine games. 

Similarly, they successfully held their opponents to less than six-point in eight out of nine games. Only the Houston Oilers scored 16 points during the Steelers’ 9-0 run.

1976 Pittsburgh Steelers one of the top NFL defenses of all time.
Players from the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers. (Source: behindthesteelcurtain.com)

Pittsburgh only allowed 9.9 points per game which was the best in the franchise history. However, they lost two of their best rushers due to injuries, which cost them the AFC Championship. 

Despite the loss, many Steelers fans and analysts consider them one of the best teams in the franchise history.

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1. 1985 Chicago Bears

There is still a debate surrounding the top NFL defenses spot between the 1976 Pittsburg Steelers and the 1985 Chicago Bears.

However, Chicago steals the spot from Pittsburg due to the 85 Bears having significant achievement compared to the 76 Steelers.

The Bears’ defense was ranked top in the league with a near-perfect record of 15-1. There were so dominant that they just allowed 12.4 points per game in the regular season.

Similarly, they allowed 4,135 yards and 54 takeaways to become the only team with such defensive stats until the 2013 Seattle Seahawks.

Likewise, the actual charisma of their defense was seen in the divisional playoffs and NFC championship.

The Bears utterly shut out the Giants in the divisional playoffs and the Rams in the NFC championship.

As a result, they become the only team in NFL history to record a consecutive playoff shutdown.

On top of that, they won the Super Bowl XX by a margin of 36-points which was the highest point deficient until 1989.

Undoutabley, the 1985 Chicago Bears are the most fabulous NFL defensive team of all time.

Conclusion

The defense might not be the coolest thing, but it is a crucial part of the NFL. Almost every team that has focused on their defensive strategies and defensive players has had enormous success.

Despite offense being the glory of the game, football defense has always made the team great in the NFL since the very beginning.

As a result, these fifteen teams will forever be remembered for their level of dominance in the defensive end.

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