Idiots Guide: 10 Greatest Defenses in NFL History

‘Defense wins championships’ is a turn of phrase that has pervaded organized sports for time and memorial, in large measure because it happens to be true. When it comes to defense and it’s application, there is perhaps no other sport beyond football that quite encapsulates it’s raw power, and demonstrates it’s effectiveness. Football is a sport made of the kind of physicality that demands the imposition of a man’s will over another’s, with a purity that transcends all other sports. With NFL defense as a background, Idiot’s Guide presents a list of the top 10 greatest NFL defenses of all-time. A large part of the qualifying weight was the Super Bowl victory at seasons end, however there were a couple who made this list regardless of coming up short of the brass ring, their defense was that good. Please enjoy this historical walk through the NFL, as we recap some of the smartest, best bone crunching, and stingy defenses whose dramatic exploits have stood the test of time.

(Chicago Bears Hall of Fame Middle Linebacker Mike Singletary)

singletary stare

The Top 10 NFL Defenses of All-Time…

#10.   1986   New York Giants   /  (14-2)   Super Bowl XXI Champions

New York Giants  v. San Francisco 49ers   1987 Playoff

Truth be told, my name is Ralphael, and I’m a New York Giants homer. (Group:”Hi Ralphael”) The good news is that I am proud to say that the 1986 New York Giants defense earned their spot on this list regardless of my personal affections. Although, with a defense loaded with all-pros and future Hall of Fame players, it’s not a surprising revelation, is it? Their defensive line consisted of the likes of DE George Martin, NT Jim Burt, and DE Leonard Marshall. The linebacking core?  How about LB Carl Banks, Hall of Fame LB Harry Carson, and consensus NFL MVP AND Hall of Fame LB Lawrence Taylor. The 1986 Giants playoff run was a testament to their defensive dominance. They smothered the formidable San Francisco 49ers 49–3. Then they strangled the life out of their hated division rival Washington Redskins, 17-0 in the NFC Championship Game. They followed that up with a   Super Bowl XXI win against Hall of Fame QB John Elway and his vaunted Denver Broncos. The 1986 New York Football Giants were one for the ages. True Story.

#9.  1969 Minnesota Vikings   /   (12-2)   1969 NFL Champions 

1969 Vikings

The vaunted Purple People Eaters defense was nothing if not endearing, and memorable. You can start with the fact that all four starting players on the defensive line: Carl Eller, Gary Larsen, Alan Page and Jim Marshall were unanimous Pro Bowl selections in 1969. This was a defensive unit that  led the NFL in team defense on three separate occasions. However, 1969 was their ‘Coup De Grâce’. A season where the defense allowed a measly 9 1/2 points per game. Not satisfied? Teams literally couldn’t run on them, at all. They held their opponents to the fewest rushing yards in one season (14 game season)…ever. These guys were no joke.

#8.   2013 Seattle Seahawks   /  (13–3)   Super Bowl XLVIII Champions 

2013 Seattle Seahawks

The Legion of Boom played defense exactly as the name suggests. They were physical, intimidating, dominant. The 2013 Seahawks led the NFL in fewest points, and yards allowed. They also created the most turnovers. To top off an historically amazing year, they hamstrung Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, and his then record setting Denver Bronco offense in Super Bowl XLVIII. The ‘Boom’ flat out embarrassed them. Questions? DB Richard Sherman is always available to answer them for you.

#7.   1962 Green Bay Packers   /  (13–1)   1962 NFL Champions

1962 Green Bay Packers

It’s virtually impossible to think about the 1960’s Green Bay Packers without at the same time thinking about their legendary ball coach Vince Lombardi. Never has an NFL team and a team defense so perfectly embodied a coach’s mentality and ethos on the plaint field. It also doesn’t hurt to have no less than 5 future Hall of Fame players on said defense, but I digress. Stats you ask? The 1962 Green Bay Packers defense held opposing quarterbacks to a mind-boggling  43.5 passer rating…for the season. Their 267 point differential, and  19.1 points allowed per game are both best returns for 1960’s NFL teams. They did lose one game in 1962, but it wasn’t the NFL Championship, they won that game. True Story.

#6.   1991 Philadelphia Eagles   /  (10-6)   (Failed to Qualify for Playoffs)

NFL Historical Imagery

The 1991 Philadelphia Eagles are perhaps the best defensive team to miss the NFL playoff season, ever. This intimidating and talented group led the NFL in passing defense, rushing defense, handing out physical punishment, and lots of hurt feelings. An unfortunate heartbreaking, late season loss to the Dallas Cowboys disqualified this group from playoff contention. Their defensive line was stacked with the likes of Hall of Fame DE Reggie White, and DT Jerome Brown. What could have been? What could have been, indeed.

#5.   1972 Miami Dolphins  /  ( 14–0)   Super Bowl VII Champions

Super Bowl VII - Washington Redskins v Miami Dolphins

They called the record setting 1972 Miami Dolphins the ‘No-Name Defense’ which was fitting for a defense that virtually gave up no points, and definitely ended the 1972 season with no losses. This Dolphins defense led the NFL in least points allowed, and least yards allowed. What can you say about a team defense that was the anchor to a magical, unprecedented, and only wire to wire, perfect NFL season (14 Games) in the Super Bowl era. You say they were one of the very best units to ever play in the National Football League, and you’d be right.

#4.   2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers  /  (12–4)   Super Bowl XXXVII Champions

2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In addition to dominating opponents, the 2002 Buccaneers were always a threat to take interceptions to the house. They did so three times in their n Super Bowl XXXVII win over the Oakland Raiders. This was a defense that was initially constructed by Tony Dungy, and then rose to it’s maximum potential under new head coach  Jon Gruden. The 2002 Buccaneers set a record as the first team to be #1 in total defense, points allowed, and interceptions. A feat not accomplished since the awesome Chicago Bears of 1985. Opposing quarterbacks were held to a paltry 48.4 passer rating for the 2002 regular season. This was certainly a defense for the ages.

#3.   1976 Pittsburgh Steelers   /  (10-4)   Lost AFC Championship to Raiders

1976 Pittsburgh Steelers

Facing an unbelievable number of injuries on offense, the 1976 Steel Curtain picked up the slack. The defense pitched five shutouts and at one point did not give up a touchdown for 22 straight quarters. If the team had not lost to Oakland in the AFC Championship Game, this defense may have topped the list. ‘All Hail’ the Steelers Steel Curtain.

#2.   2000 Baltimore Ravens   /   (12–4)   Super Bowl XXXV Champions

6510016 Ray Lewis Ravens

The 2000 Baltimore Ravens may be the worst team offensively to ever win a Super Bowl. Why did they win? Because they allowed an average of 9.4 points in 16 regular season games and four playoff games. Because they had a number of future Hall of Famers on the defense including the incomparable Middle Linebacker Ray Lewis. This group went on to spear head a victory in Super Bowl XXXV over my New York Giants.

#1.   1985 Chicago Bears   /  (15-1)  Super Bowl XX Champions 

1985 Chicago Bears

The success of this team is almost mythical. The 1985 Chicago Bears led the league in yards, points, first downs and turnovers en route to a 15-1 regular season. In the playoffs the stingiest of stingy defenses shut out both the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Rams and did not allow a touchdown for 11 playoff  quarters. This was a defense that had multiple 1st ballot hall of Famers on it’s roster and the results were legendary for the 1985 season. They finished things off with a 46-10 dismantling (123 total yards allowed, 7 sacks, 6 takeaways) of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.  The 1985 Chicago Bears are the best defense in NFL history!