NFL’s Top Defenses Since 1980 Statistically Ranked By Greatness

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Nov 9, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; A NFL football with the Armed Services logo during the NFL game between the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Steelers 20-13. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Attention football fanatics and analytical geniuses, this article is for you.

The current NFL has thrived and become the biggest American sports league because of the high-scoring affairs that are associated with the game. What about the defenses though? Water cooler discussions are typically about the greatest quarterback of all-time or any other offensive position that contributes to points being scored. What I have done is analyzed every season since 1980, and evaluated the best defenses in that time frame.

After I broke down the best defenses for every individual season (1980-2014), I then ranked them accordingly based on the criteria below. From there, I included the top-20 teams based on points from my algorithm. If two teams from separate seasons are tied based on their allotted points, a tiebreaker will be issued. Whichever team conceded the least points per game would win the tiebreaker, and if there was still a tie, then the team with the most All-Pro selections would get the nod.

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I tried to use the most scientific and analytical processes possible in order to come up with the following rankings. Key statistical categories such as forced turnovers per game, yards per carry, and net yards per pass attempt allowed were all considered when compiling the following results.

My goal was to simply determine which defense is the definitive greatest defense in the NFL since 1980. Obviously conversations will be continued for many years to come, widening the debate, but these results are strictly based on statistical analysis and are completely unbiased. I didn’t put an emphasis on winning a Super Bowl or playoff success in general because I don’t feel that that necessarily reflects on how good a team’s defense is.

There have been situations, such as the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, who have had a tremendous defense, which helped lead their team to Lombardi trophy. But not every team is the same in that manner. The statistics, such as points allowed per game, can quantify a defense’s success much better.

Below is the point system in which I used to determine my results. Again, I’d like to stress that my findings were solely based on statistics and success.

Point Breakdown:

AP Defensive Player of the Year (1971-Present): 10 Points

Fewest Points Per Game: 30 Points

Fewest Pass Touchdowns Allowed Per Game: 20 Points

Fewest Rush Touchdowns Allowed Per Game: 20 Points

Fewest Net Rush Yards Allowed Per Game: 15 Points

Fewest Net Pass Yards Allowed Per Game: 15 Points

Most Turnovers Forced Per Game: 10 Points

*In the event of a tie, the team with the most AP All-Pro defensive selections on their team in a particular season will be awarded the top defense for that specific season. For example, if the Seahawks and Bills were tied for the 2014 season, Seattle would win based on their three All-Pro selections, versus Buffalo’s two.

Icons: In addition to the total number of points awarded to each defense are three impactful players from each individual team. If there are defenses within the same time frame that has a duplicate player, that player’s name will be listed with both year’s teams.

Please feel free to comment and voice your opinion on this great debate.

Where does your favorite team’s defense stack up in terms of greatness?

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