Week 3 is in the books. It was a week that will be remembered fondly by Kansas City Chiefs fans for a very long time. As the doubters started to creep in, Patrick Mahomes and his squad rolled into Baltimore and showed the Ravens what for. The Seahawks and the Packers also had impressive wins — as did the Bills, who continue to embrace the Josh Allen experience. It was a week when you felt that the league is really starting to take shape.
This week’s voters were Matt Stagner, Pete Sweeney, Ron Kopp and myself.
The Seahawks and the Packers look head and shoulders above the rest of the NFC right now. But seriously, DK? I would have loved to have seen the reaction of fantasy managers when Diggs knocked the ball out of his hands.
Their win against the Raiders is the type of game that separates the contenders from the pretenders. The Patriots are certainly contenders — but they desperately need to give Cam Newton some receivers.
Whilst the call was horrendous, there’s something quite ironic about the Rams complaining about a pass interference penalty. I would say, “It’s like having 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife” — but that example isn’t irony. It’s just a nuisance.
Week 1 has a funny way of making us all look like idiots.
We spend an entire summer thinking we know exactly what’s going to happen, and then the actual business of playing the games resets everything. Jaguars 27, Colts 20 exists to humble us.
The unknowable nature of a brand-new season makes the Power Rankings an especially volatile place this time of year. Huge leaps and precipitous drops will be commonplace. In time, we’ll see some sense of order … but that time is not now.
Embrace the chaos.
EDITOR’S NOTE:The Steelers were ranked 12th when this list was first published, but the intention was for them to be ranked No. 7. That tweak — which moved the Seahawks, 49ers, Rams, Cowboys and Patriots down a spot from their initial ranking — is now reflected below.
It’s not fair. On a night when Patrick Mahomes averaged a pedestrian 6.6 yards per attempt, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce were held under 100 yards combined and Clyde Edwards-Helaire finished his first NFL game without a catch, the Chiefs still put up 34 points in an easy win over the Texans. Last season, four different teams went the whole year without scoring 34 points once … the Chiefs do it when it feels like they’re barely paying attention. Edwards-Helaire was the story against Houston, piling up 138 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He is yet another piece of an offense that might be functionally impossible to stop.
By the third quarter, Sunday’s opener felt more like a preseason tune-up. That’s how easy and relaxed the Ravens looked in a 38-6 win over the overmatched Browns, Baltimore’s 13th straight regular-season victory. Lamar Jackson finished 9-of-10 for 180 yards on throws of 10 yards or more downfield, according to ESPN. It showed growth in his game from last year’s MVP season, when he completed less than 50 percent of such pass attempts. Is it possible that Jackson could be even better than he was in 2019? A scary thought for defensive coordinators across the league.
Take a bow, Aaron Rodgers. After an offseason in which the Packers drafted his presumed successor and many in the football cognoscenti decided his best football was already in the rearview, Rodgers stepped on the field and dominated the Vikings for four quarters in a blowout win. Rodgers was simply brilliant, torching Minnesota for 364 yards and four touchdowns. His favorite target? Davante Adams, of course, who tied a franchise record with 14 catches, racking up 156 yards and two scores in the process. Even more important, Rodgers got help from Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who each chipped in with big plays and touchdowns. Hell hath no fury like a legendary quarterback scorned.
The offense wasn’t quite ready to roll in Week 1, but teams as complete as this don’t put all their eggs in one basket. The Saints forced Tom Brady and the Bucs into three turnovers (including a Janoris Jenkins pick-six) and a blocked kick, providing cover for Drew Brees and Co. in a relatively easy win at the Superdome. Brees threw for just 160 yards, and New Orleans’ typically prolific offense was held to 271 total yards. After the game, Sean Payton called it “as bad a game as I’ve had as a play caller … it was awful.” These are rich teams’ problems — lamenting all the failures and shortcomings in the afterglow of a double-digit victory.
Stephen Gostkowski overcame an extraordinary case of the yips on Monday night, and the Titans narrowly avoided what would have been one of the more excruciating losses in franchise history. Gostkowski — who had three missed field goals (one of which was blocked) and a failed PAT — was bailed out by the offense, which marched 83 yards over 12 plays in the final minutes to set up a game-winning, chip-shot field-goal attempt that even Gostkowski couldn’t mess up on a cursed night. It could be a hugely important win for the Titans, who now hold the edge on the Broncos in a head-to-head playoff-tiebreaker scenario. It aged everyone roughly 12 years, but Mike Vrabel’s Titans got out of Denver with what they came for.
We got the Josh Allen pu pu platter in Sunday’s win over the Jets. Big plays with his legs (57 yards, TD), a career-best passing day (312 yards, two scores) and — yes — a pair of lost fumbles, both on the opponent’s side of the field. Allen also airmailed a gimme TD to John Brown that would have put New York away in the fourth quarter, but on balance, the day was a successful one for both the Bills and their polarizing third-year quarterback. A trip to Miami is up next on the schedule; getting the Jets and Dolphins back-to-back is pretty much the ideal way to start a football season in 2020.
A hugely promising start to the season for the Steelers, who got a vintage Ben Roethlisberger start in his return from elbow surgery, a 100-yard rushing day from Benny Snell and a smothering performance from the front seven, which limited Giants star Saquon Barkley to 6 yards on 15 carries. Big Ben’s return stands out, however: He shook off some early rust to throw for 229 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover. We wondered last year how far the Steelers could go if they combined their world-beating defense with strong quarterback play. We’re about to find out.
Much was made about “Let Russ Cook” and Brian Schottenheimer’s subsequent decision to air it out on Sunday, and Seahawks fans can only hope Wilson continues to get every chance to unleash his full potential as a passer. How could you not love the fourth-and-5 play call in the third quarter? Wilson, eyes downfield from the snap, dropped a bomb into the hands of DK Metcalf for a touchdown that broke the back of the Falcons’ defense. Give Wilson the opportunity, and he may very well reward you with an NFL MVP performance in 2020.
The Rams flew under the radar for much of the offseason, but that’s changing after an extremely impressive performance against the Cowboys on a national stage. New coordinator Brandon Staley’s defense never let Dak Prescott get comfortable (Aaron Donald was especially dominant in his SoFi Stadium debut), and Sean McVay gave his offense a different look in the first game of the post-Gurley era. Jared Goff kept the Dallas defense off balance with short throws and a quickened pace, completing passes to eight different targets while averaging nearly 9 yards per attempt. Malcolm Brown was the rushing star, with 79 yards and a pair of scores from close range. The Rams are back.
Cowboys fans will spend the week debating Mike McCarthy’s doomed decision to pass on a game-tying field goal in favor of a fourth-and-3 attempt in the fourth quarter. CeeDee Lamb was stopped short of the sticks on the ensuing pass play, and it turned out to be Dallas’ last, best chance in a frustrating 20-17 loss. “You have to trust your players,” McCarthy said after the game. The Cowboys got more bad news later when it was learned that linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is out six-to-eight weeks after suffering a broken collarbone. Vander Esch’s absence will test the limits of an already-thin defense.
The Patriots aren’t the Patriots of their glory years, but that doesn’t mean they won’t matter in the AFC. They improved to 51-12 at home against AFC East opponents in the Bill Belichick era (seriously) after a 21-11 win over the Dolphins in Foxborough. The craziest stat of the day? Cam Newton rushed the ball 15 times in his Pats debut; it was the highest number of carries he’s ever had in a game that didn’t go to overtime. It’s too early to say if this is how Josh McDaniels’ offense will look every week, but a Cam-led ground-and-pound attack makes a lot of sense.
The Tom Brady era got off to a sputtering start as the Bucs played far too sloppy a game to beat a loaded Saints team in full Super Bowl-or-bust mode. Brady had two turnovers, one on a miscommunication with Mike Evans and the other thrown behind Justin Watson and intercepted by Janoris Jenkins for a score. Brady lamented his “terrible turnovers” afterward, but he wasn’t all bad in his first game away from Bill Belichick. Brady looked comfortable running the offense and accounted for three TDs (two passing, one rushing). Bucs fans may feel let down with a bad case of pick-six deja vu, but they still remain in very capable hands.
So much for Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins not getting enough reps this summer. The league’s hottest new QB/WR combo hooked up an absurd 14 times for 151 yards on 16 targets in a huge season-opening win against the defending conference champion 49ers. Hopkins didn’t reach the end zone, but his 33-yard catch-and-run got Arizona to the one-foot line and set up the go-ahead score with five minutes to play. In other words, Hopkins delivered exactly the kind of game-changing performance the Cardinals were expecting when they traded for the superstar wide receiver in March. It’s great to see a plan come together.
Deshaun Watson can’t do it by himself . Too often, that’s how it feels when watching the Texans on offense. A play breaks down, and the quarterback does his dancing magician act behind the line, eyes always upfield in search of the big play. The genius of Watson is that sometimes, this works … but not on Thursday night. Will Fuller did most of his damage after the game was decided, and Randall Cobb was virtually invisible in his Texans debut. Houston’s defense deserves credit for not allowing Patrick Mahomes to go wild, and new running back David Johnson moved like a veteran with something to prove, but these two teams exist in different worlds. Just like January.
Forget the garbage-time production, which was prodigious and undoubtedly appreciated by fantasy owners. In the real world, this was an embarrassing effort against a division rival that outclassed the Vikings in all phases. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers did whatever he wanted against the young secondary, and Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota offense struggled to get anything going until it was too late. The pass rush was nearly nonexistent with Danielle Hunter sidelined by injury, and huffing and puffing was rampant by the end of a first half where the D was on the field for 22:45 of game time. It’s going to be a long week at Vikings headquarters.
The opener played out like a slow-motion car crash. What started as a pleasant Sunday drive (17-0 lead) turned into a tangled mess of steel for the Eagles (27-17 loss), who have to be wondering — respect to John Madden — “Where’d that truck come from?” That 18-wheeler was the Washington pass rush, which trampled Carson Wentz for eight sacks and forced the quarterback into a host of ill-advised passes. (Wentz threw two picks and easily could have tossed five). Not every team has a front-seven push like Washington, but the Eagles have every reason to worry right now.
Philip Rivers looks like the same guy with the Colts as he did with the Chargers … and that was the problem for Indy in Sunday’s grim 27-20 loss to the supposedly tanking Jaguars. Rivers threw for 363 yards and a score, but he also tossed two interceptions and had another pick wiped away by a penalty. The idea here was that an elite offensive line would help Rivers play a smarter, more efficient brand of football in 2020. Not so far. The Colts lost more than the game: Running back Marlon Mack is done for the season after tearing his Achilles. If Jonathan Taylor is available in your fantasy league, close this window and do what you need to do.
With all due respect to Kyler Murray, Josh Jacobs was the best offensive rookie in football last year, and on Sunday, he took the next step toward true star status with a monster day against the Panthers. Jacobs piled up 139 yards from scrimmage and scored three times in a 34-30 win, outproducing Christian McCaffrey in a game featuring two of the league’s top young running backs. The Raiders’ defense showed it still has much work to do, but credit is in order for the game-clinching fourth-and-1 run stuff by Clelin Ferrell and linebacker Cory Littleton late in the fourth quarter. These were the big plays the Raiders had in mind when they took Ferrell fourth overall last year.
Hey, it wasn’t a masterpiece, but that’s also the kind of game the Chargers have lost approximately 400 times in the past. They were due for some luck, received in the form of a shanked Randy Bullock field-goal attempt in the final minute of a 16-13 win. Tyrod Taylor was unspectacular but steady (this is pretty much the Tyrod Taylor experience in totality) and the defense forced two big turnovers, a welcome change from last year, when Los Angeles was too often on the wrong side of the takeaway battle. Melvin Ingram’s fourth quarter interception on a Joe Burrow shovel pass was a thing of beauty. How many other 250-pound defensive ends can move like that and make that play?
The Broncos’ aggravating 2019 trait of blowing games in the final minute reared its ugly head again on Monday night, and Vic Fangio played his part. The coach’s decision to pocket his three timeouts during the Titans’ go-ahead field-goal drive in the final minutes of regulation served as an egregious clock-management error that put Drew Lock and the offense in a hopeless situation. In fact, stopping the clock would have had multiple benefits, seeing as how a tired Denver defense probably could have used a breather — or even a simple break to regroup — as Tennessee marched 83 yards on 12 plays. It’s a tough loss, made more frustrating by the fact that Denver had already benefited enormously from a prime-time meltdown by Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski. The Broncos aren’t good enough to turn away charity.
Just when it looked like Mitchell Trubisky was finally about to be run out of town for good, the former No. 2 overall pick came to life and threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter of a stunning comeback win over the Lions. This marked the Bears’ first comeback from a deficit of 17-plus points entering the fourth quarter since 1998, according to NFL Research. Did they get a dollop of good fortune in the form of D’Andre Swift’s hideous drop in the final seconds? Sure, but we’re not going to take away anything from the Bears right now. That was a game that showed some guts.
The Football Team has arrived — and its strength is a relentless pass rush that will be giving quarterbacks hell from now until the end of days. Washington had its way with the Eagles’ beat-up offensive line, punishing Carson Wentz for eight sacks and forcing three turnovers in a 27-17 win. Chase Young, the No. 2 overall pick in April’s draft, was a game-changer, finishing with four tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble as Washington wiped away a 17-point second-quarter deficit. It’s unclear if this team will have enough offense to win consistently, but there’s no doubt it has a defense that will keep it in — and outright win — games.
Give the Falcons this: They put together a beautiful box score on Sunday. Matt Ryan threw for 450 yards and two scores. Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Justin Gage each had nine catches and all went over 100 yards for the day. Todd Gurley began his Falcons career with an even 4.0 yards per rush and TD. But the defense had zero answers for the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson-led passing attack, and too much of Atlanta’s offensive fireworks occurred after the game was already decided. Dan Quinn’s team plays from behind too often — Week 1 felt too much like what we saw last season.
The Browns made a lot of changes this offseason, but the on-field results remain the same. Cleveland failed to be competitive in its opener at Baltimore, outclassed on both sides of the ball in a blowout loss. The defense slowed down the Ravens’ famed running game, but Lamar Jackson had no problems picking apart the Browns’ secondary for three touchdowns. Things were even more distressing on the other side of the ball, where Baker Mayfield finished with an ugly 4.8 yards per attempt (the dreaded Gabbert Zone) and Odell Beckham Jr. finished with 22 yards on 10 targets. So far, the Kevin Stefanski era looks a lot like the Freddie Kitchens era.
Joe Burrow looked like, well, a rookie in his NFL debut. He gave himself a D grade after the 16-13 loss to the Chargers, citing a touchdown-costing overthrow of a wide-open A.J. Green and a shovel pass that turned into a disastrous Melvin Ingram interception in the final quarter. But Burrow also did some nice things, like a 23-yard scoring run on a designed draw and a composed drive down the field in the final minute that was ruined when Randy Bullock shanked a chip-shot field goal that would’ve tied the game. Burrow’s rookie season will be filled with these ups and downs, but you get the feeling he’ll continue to improve as the season progresses. The Bengals have every reason to be optimistic.
You need a foot on fourth down with the game on the line and you use Christian McCaffrey … as a decoy? That was the call from offensive coordinator Joe Brady — the wrong one, as it turned out — after fullback Alex Armah was stuffed for no gain late in a 34-30 loss. Some pages of a playbook should be set on fire. It capped a strange day of usage of the game’s best running back. McCaffrey had just 10 touches with a little more than five minutes to play in the third quarter. His number was called with regularity from that point on … just not when it counted most. It’s a shame, too, because the Panthers’ offense had an otherwise-solid day with Teddy Bridgewater at the controls.
Just a horrendous setback for the Lions, who melted down in the fourth quarter and allowed a Bears team led by Mitchell Trubisky to steal a win in the opener at Ford Field. According to Next Gen Stats, Detroit’s win probability was at 98.3 percent late in the final stanza, but the Lions — man, the Lions — they’re just one of those teams that always finds a way. Allowing Trubisky to throw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter was bad; D’Andre Swift’s egregious drop as he backpedaled into the end zone in the final seconds was supernatural in its ghoulishness. These are the rare types of stomach-punch losses that can submarine an entire season.
Tank this. The Jaguars welcomed a supposed AFC contender into their building on Sunday and stunned a world of doubters. The 27-20 win over the Colts featured opportunistic play by the defense (two key interceptions) and beautifully efficient play by Gardner Minshew, who finished the day 19 of 20 for 173 yards and three scores. Minshew spread the ball around to 10 different Jaguars receivers and played under control, while his counterpart, Philip Rivers, forced the action. Could Minshew actually play himself into a long-term future with Jacksonville as the starter? String together a few more games like this and he just might.
Oh, Danny Boy. Daniel Jones was thisclose to finishing off the best drive of his young career on Monday night, an 18-play, 87-yard march that took the Giants all the way to the Steelers’ 4-yard line. But the 19th play went sideways, as Jones was hit in his wind up and intercepted in the end zone. Jones wishes he had a play back, Saquon Barkley wishes he had the whole damn game back. The star running back finished with 6 yards on 15 carries against Pittsburgh’s swarming front seven. That’s a tough game to sit with for a week.
Moral victories mean squat in the NFL, but I’ll say this: The Dolphins were trailing by three points with 10 minutes to play in Sunday’s opener at Foxborough. That’s progress from a year ago at this time, when we exited September thinking the Dolphins might be the worst team in NFL history. Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t given much of a chance against New England’s tough secondary, and the calls for rookie Tua Tagovailoa will only grow louder if the 16th-year veteran continues to stack interceptions. With DeVante Parker nursing a hamstring injury, this offense will need a spark. Adding Tua to the mix in some capacity could provide it.
Outclassed and outcoached. That’s the succinct way to describe the season opener, a 27-17 loss to the Bills that wasn’t nearly that close in reality. Josh Allen piled up nearly 400 yards with his arm and legs, while his counterpart, Sam Darnold, showed no evidence of greater comfort in his second year in Adam Gase’s system. Darnold has the deck stacked against him on multiple levels, but that doesn’t excuse the errant passes and poor decision-making that we saw for most of the afternoon in Orchard Park. Darnold now gets the 49ers in Week 2, and it looks like he won’t have Le’Veon Bell, who could miss multiple weeks with a hamstring injury. (UPDATE: The Jets are placing Bell on injured reserve, per NFL Network’s Kim Jones, which means they will be without him for at least three weeks.) The Jets feel like a bad news factory right now.
Pete Prisco says K.C. will go back-to-back, while the Packers and Steelers make his top five
Sep 8, 2020
8:58 am ET1 min read
Mike Meredith / CBS Sports
The last team to repeat as Super Bowl Champions was the 2003-2004 New England Patriots, and only seven teams have ever done so, most of those coming before free agency.
Yet as we ready for what should be one of the strangest seasons in NFL history, I think it’s going to happen again, as improbable as that might seem. The Kansas City Chiefs will win a second-consecutive Super Bowl and Patrick Mahomes will be even better as their quarterback this time around.
It’s a challenge to repeat, we know that, but it’s a lot easier when you have the game’s best player in Mahomes playing the game’s most-important position. It helps that almost the entire roster is back and Andy Reid is the perfect coach to navigate the challenge of being the hunted in every game.
Picking the Packers has been something I’ve done for a long time, and one of these days I will be right. There is this idea that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is on the decline. No way. Watch what he does this season.
Green Bay was a bad defensive showing in its blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers away from getting to the Super Bowl last season. Some will say its13-3 record was deceiving, but you are what you are in the NFL.
The Packers were 13-3. Period.
They won’t get to that mark this season, but they will be close. And come playoff time, Rodgers will really show that he’s still among the elite.
Who’ll win Super Bowl LV? What about MVP? Will Brinson and the Pick Six Podcast Superfriends break down their bold 2020 predictions; listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness.
So as we ready for the season to begin, the Chiefs open in the top spot in my Power Rankings, with the Packers No. 2.
I can hear the groans already.
So be it. Just print and save this batch of rankings because come January, they might just give you a good laugh.
Losing Derwin James hurts the defense, but it will still be a top unit. Tyrod Taylor will just have to manage the game and sprinkle in some big plays in the passing game to get this team to the playoffs.
New coach Joe Judge does have talent on offense in Daniel Jones and Saquan Barkley. But is the line good enough? What about the receivers? The defense has issues at corner.
New coach Joe Judge does have talent on offense in Daniel Jones and Saquan Barkley. But is the line good enough? What about the receivers? The defense has issues at corner.
New coach Joe Judge does have talent on offense in Daniel Jones and Saquan Barkley. But is the line good enough? What about the receivers? The defense has issues at corner.
Teams that top the NFL defense rankings each season always challenge for the Super Bowl. And that’s even with the league implementing plenty of rule changes to increase scoring and boost offenses.
We saw it this past season in Super Bowl LIV. The San Francisco 49ers defense carried them to an NFC title, but it was the Kansas City Chiefs defense that came through in the fourth quarter to help complete the Super Bowl comeback.
The teams with the best defenses in the NFL give their organization a chance to compete for a championship. So, let’s take a look at the best defenses in the NFL entering the 2020 season.
16. Tennessee Titans
Not enough is being made about how good Tennessee’s defense is going to be under head coach Mike Vrabel in 2020. This unit yielded the 12th-fewest points in the NFL last season and just added three-time Pro Bowler Jadeveon Clowney to the mix.
More than that, the young talent on this unit should show out come Week 1. Harold Landry had a breakout sophomore campaign with eight sacks. Last year’s first-round pick, defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, is at 100% after missing seven games as a rookie. Add in veterans Malcolm Butler and Kevin Byard in the secondary, and there’s no reason to believe Tennessee’s defense won’t take the next step in 2020.
15. Dallas Cowboys
Holdovers Demarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch were already enough to make this Cowboys defense formidable heading into the 2020 season. After all, Dallas still found a way to rank in the top-11 in scoring defense last season.
With that said, the addition of Pro Bowl defensive end Everson Griffen and stud defensive tackle Dontari Poe changes the dynamics here. Griffen will team up with Lawrence as one of the top edge pass-rush duos in the NFL. If Dallas can get anything from free-agent signing Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory stays on the field, this unit could surprise when it’s all said and done.
Philadelphia made two key additions to its defense this offseason that have helped it make our Top 15 2020 NFL defense rankings.
Additions include, Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay gives the Eagles a No. 1 cornerback who can quiet No. 1 receivers and give the front seven more time to hit the quarterback.
Signing Javon Hargrave was a sneaky offseason addition, strengthening a defensive line that already had Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. We also can’t forget the acquisition of Nickell Robey-Coleman, a reliable slot corner to boost the secondary. The Eagles will be better this season and their defense will be a big part of that.
13. Green Bay Packers
There’s no denying Green Bay’s defense was demolished by the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. The front office failed to address the issue during the offseason, but that final game shouldn’t take away the overall impression for how this defense performed in 2019.
The duo of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith combined for 60 quarterback hits and 25.5 sacks last season. Meanwhile, 2019 first-round pick Rashan Gary is poised for a bigger year and nose tackle Kenny Clark is an unstoppable interior force. In the secondary, Jaire Alexander has the talent to be an All-Pro cornerback, Kevin King is a solid No. 2 corner and Darnell Savage should improve in his second season. This is a talented, young group that will be fun to watch.
12. Minnesota Vikings
The blockbuster trade for Yannick Ngakoue changes the entire dynamic of Minnesota’s defense. Disgruntled in Jacksonville, Ngakoue is an upgrade over Everson Griffen and should help provide one of the game’s best pass rushes with holdover Pro Bowler Danielle Hunter.
At linebacker, both Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks have shown themselves to be elite. The only question here is at corner in front of the elite safety tandem of Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris. Minnesota moved on from Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander during the offseason. Can youngsters Holton Hill, Mike Hughes, Jeff Gladney and Kris Boyd step up?
11. Denver Broncos
Denver’s defense failed to play to its normal standard during the 2019 season. It was particularly surprising given Vic Fangio is one of the NFL’s brightest defensive minds and this team carries plenty of talent on that side of the ball. We’re expecting a turnaround in 2020.
The Broncos took advantage of Tennessee’s cap situation, acquiring Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey for a seventh-round pick. Denver also landed A.J. Bouye, who should flourish in the new surroundings. Add in star safety Justin Simmons, future Hall of Famer Von Miller and emerging edge rusher Bradley Chubb, too. If the Broncos make the playoffs this season, a resurgent defense will be the driving force behind it.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Everyone wants to talk about the Buccaneers’ offense and it’s understandable with the All-Pro supporting cast of weapons surrounding Tom Brady and a loaded backfield. However, Tampa Bay’s defense is being slept on and might be one of the most underrated units in the NFL — one we’re putting in the top 10 in our early 2020 NFL defense rankings.
A young secondary really came together in the second half of the 2019 season. As detailed by Pro Football Focus, Tampa Bay’s secondary posted the third-highest coverage grade (88.1) and forced the most incompletions (44) from Weeks 10-17 last season. The Buccaneers just added Antoine Winfield Jr. to their secondary and have an outstanding defensive line. Credit to defensive coordinator Todd Bowles for turning this unit around into a real force.
9. Seattle Seahawks
The addition of All-Pro safety Jamal Adams changes the entire dynamics in Seattle. Here’s a unit that surprisingly gave up the 11th-most points in the NFL last season. Adams will be just as much of a force stopping the run as playing coverage.
He’s joined by fellow recent acquisition Quinton Dunbar and a Pro Bowl-caliber corner in that of Shaquill Griffin in building one of the best secondaries in the NFL. While Seattle will have issues getting to the quarterback, it’s pass defense is among the best in the game. Period.
8. Chicago Bears
There’s no question Chicago boasts one of the league’s top defenses, a group capable of potentially winning the Super Bowl. Even after losing defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, one of many NFL players who opted out this season, this is a defense that can dominate on Sundays.
Expect Chicago’s front seven to cause a lot of problems for opposing quarterbacks. Khalil Mack is a yearly candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, Robert Quinn can be a force off the edge and Akiem Hick will be healthy this season. On top of that, the Bears boast a secondary with Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson. It might not be the elite defensive unit we saw in 2018, but this remains one of the NFL’s best defenses.
7. New England Patriots
Bill Belichick’s defense this past season was beyond insane. It allowed the fewest points (225), first downs (261) and total yards (4,414) in the NFL. Frankly, this defense played at a Super Bowl-caliber level and its the offense that kept it from reaching the top. Unfortunately, we aren’t going to see the Patriots replicate that defensive success in 2020.
The losses of Kyle Van Noy and Danny Shelton will hurt the front seven. The likes of starters Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. New England will struggle to create as much pressure on opposing quarterbacks and its linebacker corps takes a significant hit. Even with those losses, though, the secondary will shut down plenty of passing attacks. Stephon Gilmore will be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate once more and the NFL’s deepest secondary keeps this unit as an elite defense.
6. Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers went into the offseason knowing they would rely on their defense to win. An offense with Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert at quarterback will need a defense capable of generating turnovers and shutting down the passing game.
We don’t expect that to be an issue for Los Angeles. This is the best secondary in the NFL with shutdown corner Casey Hayward and All-Pro defensive backs Chris Harris Jr. Even with the serious injury to Derwin James, these Chargers still have Desmond King in the back end. It will be difficult for opposing receivers to get open. Now add in the recently extended Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram creating havoc off the edge and Linval Joseph collapsing the pocket inside, it’s a nightmare for quarterbacks. If rookie Kenneth Murray lives up to his first-round billing, this could even become a top-three defense this year.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh’s defense nearly carried it to the playoffs in 2019 despite the team playing most of the season with a No. 3 quarterback and an inconsistent rushing attack. Proof that if you’re towards the top of seasonal NFL defense rankings, you’ve got a chance regardless. And there’s plenty of credit to go around for this unit’s emergence, but Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt are the crucial ingredients to this group’s dominance.
Watt is a monster off the edge, racking up an absurd 36 quarterback hits, 14.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles in 2019. Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick is the playmaker capable of incredible pick-sixes and the trade to acquire him will go down as one of the best moves in this team’s recent history. Don’t look past the likes of Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward, who help make one of the NFL’s best defensive lines. If Devin Bush takes the next step, this defense gets even scarier.
4. New Orleans Saints
New Orleans finished last season ranked 13th in points allowed. It was a disappointing performance under defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. Most had this unit pegged as a top-10 bunch heading into the season. There’s a reason for this. We’re talking about talent on top of talent.
Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan remains one of the most-underrated players in the game. He’s joined by a high-upside edge rusher in Marcus Davenport, who needs to trun in a completely healthy 2020 season to live up to his billing as a first-round pick. Meanwhile, this secondary is loaded. It’s led by stud corner Marshon Lattimore and just added veteran Malcolm Jenkins to the mix. Expect New Orleans defense to take a major step forward this season.
3. Buffalo Bills
Tre’Davious White is quickly emerging as one of the league’s elite cornerbacks. He’s also now being paid like it. Behind him, the outstanding safety duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer will help cover for any of Josh Norman’s mistakes and take away the run. In the front seven, Buffalo added defensive end Mario Addison and edge rusher A.J. Epenesa, making this defense even stronger.
We’re particularly excited about Ed Oliver. While he didn’t always play like a top-10 pick in 2019, the pure talent and athleticism are off the charts. If he takes a big step forward this year, he will likely make the Pro Bowl and this defense gets even better. Buffalo’s defense will carry it to an AFC East crown in 2020, the rest will be up to Josh Allen and this offense.
2. Baltimore Ravens
We already loved Baltimore’s defense before the offseason. A big move to land Marcus Peters as the secondary started shutting down air space all year long. It turns out, that wasn’t enough for general manager Eric DeCosta.
The Ravens made two huge additions this past offseason with Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe. Instantly, a productive pass-rush unit turned into a ferocious defensive line. Oh, they also drafted Patrick Queen to address their remaining need at linebacker. From the defensive line to the secondary, Baltimore’s defense is loaded. Even after releasing Earl Thomas, this unit still makes Baltimore a legit Super Bowl contender.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Yes, trading away All-Pro DeForest Buckner is a hit for this defense. If we’ve learned anything from the 49ers, they know how to identify and develop talent. Javon Kinlaw can develop into a star and this defense already has the force that is Nick Bosa.
We’ll also need to keep an eye on Kwon Alexander and Dee Ford’s health this season. If they can stay on the field, this group will keep playing at an elite level. Even if the front seven isn’t as dominant, Richard Sherman will shut down No. 1 receivers. When it’s all over, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will use this defense’s dominance to prove he is ready to become a head coach.
At this point we can’t look beyond the 49ers to top the NFL defense rankings for the 2020 season.