NFL Power Rankings: Elite Defenses That Will Carry Teams to Playoffs

Tim Keeney@@t_keenContributor IOctober 23, 2012

SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 14: Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks intercepts the ball aganist Deion Branch #84 of the New England Patriots during a game at CenturyLink Field on October 14, 2012 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks beat the Patriots 24-23.  (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Defense wins championships. 

Sure, having a Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or other future Hall of Famer under center doesn't exactly hurt, but if every game turns into a shootout, you are going to have a tough time making a deep run in the playoffs, albeit teams have proven it to be possible.  

That being said, in my newest NFL power rankings, I'll take a closer look at the teams riding elite defenses to the playoffs. 

Note: These teams are in italics. 


1. Houston Texans (6-1)

That's better.

The Texans got torn up by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in their first game without Brian Cushing, but proved against the Ravens that they are still a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

I wouldn't get used to the 43 points on offense. The Texans have plenty of weapons on that side of the ball, but they can sometimes get stagnant. What you should get used to, however, is the 13 points allowed against a high-powered offense.

Houston made Joe Flacco look like Joe Sixpack while showcasing its third-ranked defense in terms of yards. The Cushing loss hurts, but having J.J. Watt makes everyone else's job easier. 


2. Atlanta Falcons (6-0)

Yes, the Falcons are the only undefeated team left in the NFL and yes, Matt Ryan—up until last week's horrendous game against the Raiders—is playing at an MVP level.

But when it comes down to it, I would take the Texans to beat the Falcons should they meet up on a neutral field. 


3. Chicago Bears (5-1)

Another week, another absolutely ridiculous defensive performance from the Chicago Bears. 

They held a normally high-octane Detroit Lions offense to seven points (which came in the final minute), they forced four turnovers (three of which came in the red zone) and they held Calvin Johnson to just three catches for 34 yards.

Of course, the offense, which continued to look stagnant, scored just 13 points and the offensive line let Jay Cutler get sacked five times. That will continue to be a problem, but this defense is full of playmakers and might just break some records for takeaways and defensive touchdowns.

Monday night wasn't necessarily pretty for the Bears, but a win is a win and they continue to do whatever it takes to rack up victories. 


4. Green Bay Packers (4-3)

The record doesn't scream "Top 5" and the loss of Charles Woodson for six weeks isn't ideal for what is an underrated defense, but it's hard to shrug off huge road wins against the Houston Texans and an improving St. Louis Rams squad. 

As long as Aaron Rodgers is playing like, well, Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are going to make a run at the Super Bowl. That is if they can get out of the suddenly elite NFC North. 


5. New York Giants (5-2)

It's not always pretty for New York (see Week 5 against Cleveland), but then they go and absolutely dominate the San Francisco 49ers on the road and remind us of their immense talent. 

The secondary still scares me a little bit, and this week's home win against the Washington Redskins wasn't the most impressive showing in the world, but it's becoming hard to bet against Eli Manning.


6. San Francisco 49ers (4-2)


San Francisco at No. 6 simply goes to show you how stacked it is at the top of the NFL. 

After falling to the Giants last week, Jim Harbaugh's squad came back with a crucial win over the divisional-rival Seattle Seahawks, giving them their first big statement win since Week 1. 

Alex Smith is starting to look like Alex Smith circa 2007, and that has to be concerning, but the Niners' defense that didn't allow Seattle to do anything in the second half will carry them a long way. 

San Francisco is second in the NFL in points allowed per game, first in yards allowed, ninth against the run and first against the pass. They could stand to force some more turnovers (14th in takeaways), but it's still incredibly difficult to move the ball against this team.


7. Minnesota Vikings (5-2)

Christian Ponder is still steadily improving, Percy Harvin is one of the most valuable weapons in the NFL and Adrian Peterson is, well, Adrian Peterson.

And the offense isn't' even the best part about this team. 

The Vikes rank sixth in the NFL in points per game allowed, eighth in yards allowed and fifth in points per play allowed.

First-round pick Harrison Smith is turning this secondary into one of the best in the league, while the run defense is just as stout. The Vikings' surprise return to grace this year is going to make for an incredibly tight playoff race in the NFC. 


8. Seattle Seahawks (4-3)

Call me crazy, but I'm not going to downgrade the Seahawks much for a six-point road loss against an elite 49ers team.

Russell Wilson's stat line from Thursday night was ugly, but if he wasn't plagued by multiple integral drops by his receivers, it would have been another impressive win for the rookie.


What makes this team so dangerous, of course, is its defense.

Seattle is third in the NFL in points allowed per game, sixth in yards allowed per play, sixth in yards allowed per rush and fourth in yards allowed per pass. The secondary foursome of Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas has to be the most feared in the league. 


9. New England Patriots (4-3)

If anyone has this team figured out, I'd love to hear an explanation. The Pats have an elite passing game and are pretty solid on both sides of the run.

Yet, for whatever reason, they could barely beat the New York Jets on Sunday and continue to put forth very inconsistent results.

This could be the New York Giants of 2012-13. 


10. Baltimore Ravens (5-2)

After getting embarrassed by the Houston Texans, the Ravens are still 5-2 and leading an AFC North division that is full of inconsistent teams.

So there's that.

But the Ravens defense is bad, meaning Joe Flacco and that solid offense will likely have to win a lot of shootouts. Sometimes that will work, but sometimes it will result in disasters like Sunday. 


11. Denver Broncos (3-3)

Guess what? Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning again.

Throw in some talented receiving weapons, a veteran running back, a front seven full of playmakers and a generous remaining schedule, and there's no question that the Broncos will roll to an AFC West title. 


12. Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)

There's so much talent on this team, but with Michael Vick playing the way he is under center, they are never going to put it all together.


13. Washington Redskins (3-4)

They have fallen to last in the NFC East, but I'm not about to give up on Robert Griffin III.

The rookie isn't just an obvious Rookie of the Year candidate, but he's making a case for MVP as he continues to lead a Redskins offense that is one of the most dangerous in the league.

Defensively, the 'Skins are incredibly challenged, but I don't think anyone wants to play this team right now.


14. Miami Dolphins (3-3)

So how many teams are going to want to sign up for Hard Knocks now? The Dolphins weren't supposed to be this good, but Ryan Tannehill is proving to be extremely talented and Joe Philbin's squad is ranked second in the NFL against the run. 

In a crowded AFC East, the Dolphins are suddenly a threat to make the playoffs. 


15. San Diego Chargers (3-3)

It's hard to figure out this team. Is this the team that outscored the Broncos 24-0 in the first half of last Monday night's game? Or is it the team that got outscored 35-0 in the second half?

As long as Philip Rivers continues to turn the ball over like it's a hot potato, I'm inclined to think we're dealing with the latter here. 


16. Dallas Cowboys (3-3)

It's odd to me how teams from the same division start to resemble each other after a while. Much like the Giants at times and like the Eagles pretty much all of the time, the Cowboys are incredibly inconsistent despite having tons of talent. 

The Cowboys got back to .500 with a road win against Carolina on Sunday, but it was far from a dominant performance. 


17. St. Louis Rams (3-4)

The potential for this team is sky high.

Sam Bradford could still use another weapon or two, and the run game is up-and-down, but Jeff Fisher's defense is young, talented and physical. 


18. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3)

Everyone was ready to write the Steelers off after an ugly loss against the Tennessee Titans, but a road win against the Bengals has the momentum back on Pittsburgh's side. 

Still, the running game is inconsistent—although it was terrific on Sunday night—and the defense is aging. 


19. New York Jets (3-4)

The Jets deserve a lot of credit.

They were thought to be done for after losing Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes—the former being a much more serious loss—for the season, especially with Mark Sanchez making a run for worst quarterback in the league.

But they've responded in an encouraging way, thrashing a solid Colts team and almost pulling off a road upset over the New England Patriots. 

It's still hard to see this as a playoff team, but the Jets are making good strides in a down year.


20. Detroit Lions (2-4)

I wouldn't necessarily call the Lions "bad," but I wouldn't call them good, either. 

Detroit held Chicago's offense in check on Monday night, and continues to improve on that side of the ball, but the offense once again looked like a completely different unit from last year. 


21. Cincinnati Bengals (3-4)

Does anyone want to win the AFC North?

The Bengals were looking like a playoff team early in the year, but in the past two weeks they have lost against the lowly Browns and at home against a declining Steelers team. 


22. New Orleans Saints (2-4)

The defense is still terrible, but the Saints have won two in a row. As long as Drew Brees continues to throw for 300+ yards and four touchdowns—in one freaking half—they will always be in contention to win games. 


23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4)

Another game, another close loss for the Buccaneers. 

Tampa Bay dropped a winnable game at home against the Saints because of a couple of inches and a push, but its four losses have now come by a combined 22 points. Overall, the Bucs still have a +12 point differential. 

Playoffs might be out of the question at this point, but this team is better than you think. 


24. Indianapolis Colts (3-3)

The defense is still missing a few pieces, but Andrew Luck has the Colts looking like they will be back in the playoffs sooner rather than later. 



25. Arizona Cardinals (4-3)

Well, it was fun while it lasted. 

The Cardinals' defense is still a solid unit, but John Skelton behind a shaky—at best—offensive line won't win you a lot of games, as evidenced by three straight losses. 


26. Tennessee Titans (3-4)

Sure, it was against Buffalo, but Chris Johnson's 195-yard effort was his second straight productive game and third in four games. 

If CJ gets back to, say, 1.2 or 1.3K, this Titans offense, which features one of the best WR trios in the league and good-enough QB play whether it be from Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker, is going to be tough to stop as the season progresses.

The defense, well, that's another story. 


27. Buffalo Bills (3-4)

I called this arguably the worst 3-3 team in the league last year, and now they are in solid contention with the Titans for worst 3-4 team.

The Bills have bright spots, but the horrendous defense and poor passing game will be hard to get past. 


28. Oakland Raiders (2-4)

Oakland got a win, but I wouldn't go bragging about it if I were a Raider fan.

The Jaguars lost their only real offensive weapon, Maurice Jones-Drew, after two plays and quarterback Blaine Gabbert also went down with an injury. Yet the Raiders, who were at home, needed 10 points in the final seven minutes to force the game into overtime before eventually grabbing the win. 

The Raiders have a lot of interesting pieces on both sides of the ball, but they still have a ways to go. 


29. Carolina Panthers (1-5)

Guess what? The Panthers lost another game and Cam Newton sounded like a 14-year-old girl during the post-game conference.

So, to sum up, nothing new here.

Carolina has some really talented players, but at this point, it is far from putting everything together. 



30. Cleveland Browns (1-6)

The Browns are 1-6 but the Brandon Weeden-to-Josh Gordon connection has looked incredibly impressive over the past three weeks and the defense has plenty of bright spots.

Additionally, while Trent Richardson hasn't had much room to work, he is a future Pro Bowler. 



31. Kansas City Chiefs (1-5)

The quarterback situation is a mess right now for the Chiefs. Until that gets fixed, Jamaal Charles' unique skill set will continue to go to waste. 


32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4)

The Jags sport the worst offense in the league and a very average defense. That's not a good combination.

Oh yeah, and Maurice Jones-Drew is hurt. Hello, No. 1 pick. 



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