No matter how much you might like offense, the old axiom that “defense wins championships” has not changed in the NFL regardless of how much offenses have evolved over the years. And who can’t appreciate some of the great defensive MVPs over the years from Larry Brown, to Derrick Brooks, Ray Lewis, Michael Strahan, and more recently Richard Sherman and Von Miller. The NFL should return some tough, hard-nosed defenses in 2016, with some names in this top 10 list you might recognize, but others that might surprise you.
Top 10 Defenses Of 2016
10. Green Bay Packers
While this team may still have some question marks surrounding its overall defensive units, they made forward strides last year with the defense at times helping a struggling offense stay in the game. They moved their best pass-rushing linebacker Clay Matthews back to outside linebacker where he excels the most, and added Blake Martinez to fill in the void at inside linebacker, and beefed up the defensive front with the draft of Kenny Clark. Demarius Randall and Jimmy Rollins had solid years as rookies and they should only continue to get better.
9. New York Jets
Despite losing some linebackers and going through contract renegotiations with Muahammad Wilkerson, the Jets’ defense still looks solid here. The question is can they still keep getting big takeaways, and will this unit be able to take advantage of potential losses the Patriots might suffer in the absence of Tom Brady? If the answer is yes, then the Jets could be a team to watch out for.
8. Chicago Bears
A team that was known for exceptional defenses back in the 80s as well as the mid 2000’s, the Bears look to return to that identity in 2016. They added free agent Danny Trevathan from Denver to go with Lamar Houston and Jerell Freeman, and Akiem Hicks now up front. While the Packers are still favored to win the NFC North, this unit could make some noise.
7. Seattle Seahawks
They won’t automatically revert back to the “Legion Of Boom” of 2012 and 2013, but the Seattle Seahawks’ reputation still preceeds them as a team that can play defense. Last year they ran into difficulty with Kam Chancellor’s holdout which won’t be an issue this time around, and they brought back Brandon Browner, although how good he will be after not looking great in New Orleans last year could be a question. They lost Bruce Irvin at linebacker, but all told this defense looks like a top 10 pick.
6. Cincinnati Bengals
This group has proven they can still be top 10 even in the years following Mike Zimmer’s departure. When Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlop are in, they are tough to hold up against. The secondary lost Reggie Nelson, and has Vontaze Burfict on the suspended list for the first few weeks, but don’t expect that to crater this team.
5. Oakland Raiders
Many might consider making the Raiders number 5 pushing it, and maybe it is. But with the acquisitions they keep getting, you simply cannot ignore them. With Khalil Mack’s big rookie debut, 2 former Seahawk Superbowl linebackers in Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith in town, and now Reggie Nelson Oakland is ready to show they can play defense. They may not finish the season as a top 5 team, but they are looking to do something special under Del Rio this year.
4. Arizona Cardinals
This unit was fantastic last year getting the job done up front with Calais Campbell leading the way, and the linebacking corp returns Alex Okafor and adds pass rusher Chandler Jones, a unit that should put them back in the top 5 in the NFL. Defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu and Deone Buchanon also return, adding to the always dangerous speed corner Patrick Peterson. A team that won the NFC West last year, there is good reason to like the Arizona Cardinals on both offense and defense this year.
3. Carolina Panthers
Some pundits or ranking sites will have the Panthers at number 1 or number 2. I’ll move them down a notch because while this defense is still one of the tops in the league, their secondary looks to be a little more vulnerable this year without Josh Norman, Peanut Tillman, and Roman Harper. But one cannot argue that Kuechly and Davis still hold the lead as the NFL’s best linebacker tandem out there. And with minimal losses up on that front four, this unit returns very strong.
2. Houston Texans
The Houston Texans have become the new defensive show in town this year, with GM Rick Smith trying to stock up for a run at “The Game” being hosted at his city. JJ Watt looks to no longer be the lone guy on that defense with Jadaveon Clowney looking healthy this year, and linebackers Whitney Mercilus and John Simon alongside Brian Cushing. The Texans look ready to shock some people this year.
1. Denver Broncos
Hard to pick against the defending champions when they return a unit that looks about as intact as ever, with Vaughn Miller and DeMarcus Ware still coming off the edge and a ruthless linebacking core behind them. The secondary is still solid too with Talib, Harris, and Roby holding down the corner positions, and TJ Ward running free on the field. Ultimately, where Denver ends up in January may depend on what happens with Seimien or Lynch at quarterback, but it’s hard to pick against a defense that returned nearly everyone except Danny Trevathan.