Projecting the Top Five Defensive Teams in 2020

“Offense sells tickets but defense wins championships.” 

After much analysis on who the best offensive teams will be in 2020, the Last Word On Pro Football staff now shifts its focus to the defensive side of the football. Historically, the best defensive teams in the NFL have been the best teams to bet on the spread. Last year, the top five defensive teams in the NFL went for a combined 52-31 ATS, a winning rating of 62 percent, and a profit of +16.32 units.

One of the best metrics to use to judge the quality of defense in each NFL team is the Defensive Efficiency statistic. Basically, defensive efficiency is based on a percentage of each team’s average yards per game that are needed to score six points. For example, the New England Patriots allowed 14.4 points per game and allowed 275.6 yards per game. New England was the number-one team in the NFL in defensive efficiency last year, with a 41.6 percent rating. Meaning, it took their opponent an average of 41.6 percent of the average yards that the Patriots have allowed per game, to score six points against them. Here’s the list of the projected top-five best defensive efficient teams in the NFL for the 2020 season. 

Projecting the Top Five Defensive Teams in 2020

5. New Orleans Saints 

The Saints have upgraded what was an underachieving defense last season. Malcolm Jenkins brings a big boost to a defense that could have been a lot better than their numbers reflected. Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams were a great pair of safeties for the Saints last year, and they will be even better this season, not to mention with a full year of Janoris Jenkins added to the secondary. The Saints defensive line has upgraded substantially with the addition of third-round draft pick linebacker Zack Baun. Baun will be added to a defensive line that was already a tough unit to play against, but with the additions to the secondary and the boost that Baun brings, the Saints are undoubtedly going to be one of the best defensive teams in the NFL in 2020.

As mentioned, the Saints defense was a lot better than what their numbers indicated last season. New Orleans finished the season tied the Los Angeles Chargers for 13th in defensive efficiency at 27.8 percent.  The Saints allowed 21.6 points and 313.1 yards per game a year ago. For the 2020 campaign, if their defensive line and secondary can stay healthy, the Saints can get that points per game number down to below 20.

4. San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers had one of the most improved secondary units in the NFL last season. Although they’ll likely be top-five in 2020, regression should be expected from their defense. The Niners traded defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for an additional first-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft. With the pick, the 49ers replaced Buckner with top defensive prospect Javon Kinlaw, who won’t be up to the level of Buckner right away, but he will undoubtedly find his role on the team as the season goes on. This Niners team was one of the deepest teams in the league last year with a plethora of talent on the defensive side of the football. While the defense should take a step back, the key pieces returning will keep the team at the very top when it comes to defensive capabilities.

Placing top five in the NFL last year, the team’s defensive unit fell off at the very tail end of the season. San Francisco allowed 19.5 points and 284.8 yards per contest, for a defensive efficiency rating of 30.8 percent. The Niners will be a more focused team down the stretch and won’t let themselves allow as many points as they did in the final few games of the season.

3. New England Patriots

There is no doubt that the New England Patriots were one of the best defensive teams in NFL history last year. With that in mind, there is almost no plausible way that the Patriots will live up to their 2019 performance. Though key contributors such as Kyle Van Noy, Danny Shelton and Elandon Roberts have departed, this team is still well equipped with the likes of the Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty and Stephon Gilmore. At the end of the day, regression or not, a Bill Belichik team will always be defense first.

The Patriots were the best team defensive team in the NFL last season, allowing just 14.4 points per game and 275.6 yards per game; those are historic numbers for a team with a 41.6 percent defensive efficiency rating, allowing on average just two offensive scores per game. Based on these all-time numbers and the slight regression expected, the Patriots shouldn’t be quite as good as last year.

2. Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills are on a collision course with success, but that momentum swings in the balance between a serviceable offense and one of the best defensive units in football. Mario Addison is a key addition along with the acquisition of A.J. Epenesa via the draft. The Bills will likely improve their defensive line, as they replaced veterans with talented youth upfront. As for their secondary, the Bills adding Josh Norman to an already-electric unit led by Tre’Davious White. If Buffalo is able to protect the ball and capitalize on key opportunities this season, their improved offense will make their defense even better when it comes to defensive statistics. 

The Bills were the second-best defensive team in the league last year with a 36.4 percent defensive efficiency rating. The Bills surrendered just 16.5 points per game and only 301.9 yards per outing. At 16.5 points per game, the Bills were one of only two teams in the NFL to allow an average fewer than three scores per game. Another year of growth and experience will possibly catapult this team to the later rounds of the NFL playoffs, as they will undoubtedly be a top-five defensive unit. 

1. Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens were the third-best defensive team in the NFL last season and finished fourth in defensive DVOA. This is a team with a serious amount of depth and talent both upfront and in their secondary. Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, and Earl Thomas are all going to have huge roles, rotating in and out of different defensive packages. The defensive line is bolstered by the additions of Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe, as well as retaining and franchise tagging Matt Judon. Not to mention they will have a full season with cornerback Marcus Peters. While the Patriots and 49ers should slightly regress, Baltimore is the most likely to improve defensively in the upcoming campaign. 

The Ravens finished the 2019 season allowing just 18.2 points per game and just 300.5 yards per game, for a defensive efficiency rating of 32.9 percent. In 2020, this team is going to be more calculated in their deployment and not overplay their defense as they did last season. Taking their top guys off the field in the fourth quarter to let their younger, less-experienced players in when blowouts occur will be crucial. Baltimore ran out of gas in the 2019 regular season, which was reflected in how they performed in the playoffs. That said, however, expect them to be an elite defensive team in 2020.


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