You pick these up later in the draft, but work the right matchups and catch the rising stars and you get those crucial bonus handful of points that often decide who wins... and who loses
1. Seattle Seahawks
Last year’s dominance may have been a surprise to some, however Seattle will not sneak up on anyone in 2013. Many experts consider their secondary to be the best in the league and the addition of Antoine Winfield will only add more depth to that already stellar unit. How can we safely say that Seattle will again reign supreme? The answer lies in the fact that they have added two very special talents in Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Not only should their sack totals increase, but quarterbacks now have even less time to pass. Yikes!
2. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers’ are returning all of their starters from last year, with the exception of Dashon Goldson. If Eric Reid plays anywhere near what he has shown at the collegiate level, the defense shouldn’t miss a beat. Some would say it’s a coin flip between Seattle and San Francisco for No. 1, however we have to give the edge to the ‘Hawks thanks to their offseason additions.
3. Denver Broncos
Denver returns a vast majority of its starting lineup that ranked 1st in yards allowed at 4.6 per play. They will no doubt miss the productivity of Elvis Dumerville, however Denver hopes Shaun Phillips can replace some of that lost production up the middle. Additions like Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and college stud Sylvester Williams will help fill other voids and Von Miller will again prove he is a defensive MVP candidate… assuming he dodges that leering 4-game suspension.
4. Houston Texans
For the past few seasons, we have watched talented defensive players leave Houston in the offseason. What makes this interesting is that they continue to crank out impressive defensive numbers and 2013 shouldn’t be any different. With defensive leader Brian Cushing returning and the big offseason signing of Ed Reid to harvest the new crop of rookies, Texas has every reason to be up there in the top-tier defenses in the league.
5. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have almost the exact same defensive starters as 2012 with the exception of adding James Harrison. That continuity along with the steady improvement of the Bengals defense over the past few years is the reason we project them to rise into the top 5.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
What a model of consistency defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has shown in his nine-year career in Pittsburgh. Any time you lose a defensive MVP in James Harrison, it is going to hurt you however LeBeau has a way of restocking his cupboard. The unit may not be top 3 this season, but we are still expecting a solid defense from Steel Town.
7. Chicago Bears
With the majority of starters returning in 2013, we expect the Bears to once again land in the top 10. The unit will miss Brian Urlacher’s leadership and ability to come up with big plays however new starters D.J. Williams and James Anderson are more than capable to shoulder the load. The big question mark on defense is will Chicago be able to maintain the torrid pace of turnovers and converting them into touchdowns like they did a year ago.
8. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers jumped from 28th overall defense in 2011 to 10th overall last year thanks in large part by defensive rookie of the year, Luke Kuechly. At the draft Carolina decided to add to their defensive line by grabbing Kawann Short and A.J. Klein with their first 2 picks. The addition of Star Lotuleile will also help the Panthers maintain their rank inside the top 10 overall.
9. Green Bay Packers
Predicting where Green Bay will rank is kind of like predicting Terrell Owens’ behaviour, no one really knows. Since Dom Capers took over as defensive coordinator in 2009, the Packers have been ranked 2nd, 5th, 32nd and 11th in overall defense. When you don’t change your starting line up, you are guaranteed chemistry. With the exception of releasing Woodson, the Pack have managed to do that. With many of last year’s starters returning for 2013, expect the Pack to return to the top 10.
10. St. Louis Rams
There is a lot of optimism surrounding the St. Louis Rams as we head into training camp. The starting lineup is virtually the same, minus Quintin Mikell and Bradley Fletcher. Draft selections Alec Ogletree and T.J. McDonald are expected to start and if Ogletree can add to the sack total that was 52 (tied for league lead) for the Rams last year, this could make for an elite pass rush.
11. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens dropped out of the top 10 in defense last year and it`s going to be a tough road for them to return. Sure, they added Elvis Dumerville, however since the starting lineup at the Super Bowl, there will be only four returning starters on the projected opening day roster. Due to the large amount of player turnover, lack of leadership and new number of starters, it’s hard to put the defending Super Bowl champs in the top 10.
12. Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota addressed their defense at the draft selecting five defensive players, two of which are expected to crack the starting roster. However, if Xavier Rhodes and Gerald Hodges don’t pan out, GM Rick Speilman will be at fault for not addressing his depth via free agency. That being said, Minnesota has retained most of their starters, so the thought here is that they will stay in the middle range this year.
13. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins were one of the busiest teams in the offseason. We’d hate to give them a title of being drastically improved just from what we see on paper, so we will just have to wait and see the on-field results. The fact of the matter is Miami was a middle of the pack team last year that made some offseason defensive additions so that has to make them slightly better than average….right?
14. San Diego Chargers
Even though the Chargers weren’t too busy in the offseason replacing the plethora of bodies they lost, we like the fact that head coach Mike McCoy kept defensive coordinator John Pagano around and added 7-time pro-bowler Dwight Freeney. We have the Chargers at No.14 for now, however if they suffer any key injuries to their starters, their lack of depth could bring them down to the bottom very quickly. With the expectations always being high in San Diego, Mr. Te’o, the stage is yours.
15. Buffalo Bills
The defensive line should be the strength in this unit due to it`s large size (weight and salary). They lose experience in their secondary with the loss of George Wilson and Terrence McKee so it`s a vital for Jairus Byrd to have another pro-bowl year. Buffalo ranks 15th going into the season however there is plenty of room for improvement.
16. New England Patriots
The New England Patriots have finished in the bottom 10 of overall NFL defenses each of the past three years. The Pats weren't very active in free agency when it came to the defensive side of the ball, as Adrian Wilson and Tommy Kelly were the only two players the team added that are expected to start. The draft saw New England invest picks in the defensive line, linebackers and secondary. Look for their bottom 10 slump to end in 2013.
17. Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions defense has finished in that No. 13-23 range for the past three years running. Not in the top 10, nor the bottom 10, but somewhere safely in the middle. It will be more of the same in 2013, though it will fall off a bit due to the departure of both starting defensive ends in Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril.
18. Cleveland Browns
After Cleveland ended up in the top 10 defense in 2010, we thought they had finally turned the corner. Then they descended back down to a disappointing 23rd overall rank. Cleveland`s performance will likely ride on the shoulder pads of Barkevious Minto and Paul Kruger if they want to improve from 23rd. Expect new defensive coordinator Ray Horton to be more aggressive than his predecessor and watch the Browns climb back into the top 20.
19. Arizona Cardinals
With so many new starters on defense, combined with working in a new head coach and coordinator, Arizona is at No. 20 in the power rankings. It will take time for all these changes to mesh and jell. They did land free agent, DE John Abraham however the Cards will need a big year from Peterson and Abraham if they want to stay in the top half of league defenses.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In 2012 Tampa Bay ranked 1st in rush defense and ended up dead last in pass defense. It’s conundrums like the Tampa Bay defense that make predicting fantasy football so much fun…or impossible. Either way, Tampa Bay has found a way to add two pro-bowlers in Revis and Goldson as well as draft future star CB Johnathan Banks. Second-year head coach Greg Schiano won’t allow his defense to play poorly again. Expect the Bucs to improve to middle of the pack in 2013.
21. Kansas City Chiefs
No team had a rougher year last year than the Kansas City Chiefs. What happened off the field with Jovan Belcher was a sheer and utter tragedy. On the field was also tough as the team was in the bottom ten in most defensive categories. The Chiefs were hurt by their secondary in 2012, so they brought in Sean Smith from Miami and Dunta Robinson from Atlanta and drafted Sanders Commings. We expect a better effort from Andy Reid and the Chiefs.
22. New York Jets
Ryan coached his defense knowing that he had Revis there to shut down whatever side of the field he was on. The other 10 defenders could then focus on the rest of the field. Without Revis there in 2013, the defense will be more exposed than normal and its performance will suffer as a result. They also lost their depth through free agency so if the injury bug hits, the Jets may even rank lower. With a draft that only stirred up more drama, it`s looking like another long season for Jets fans.
23. Philadelphia Eagles
When a team completely obliterates it`s secondary, fires it`s head coach and defensive coordinator, and practically starts from scratch, it`s hard to envision them being a dominating force. In fact, it`s hard to imagine them outside the bottom 10. There is no doubt Philadelphia will not tolerate another miserable year and expect the Eagles to improve as the season goes on however it`s still going to be a year of feeling out new teammates in the city of brotherly love.
24. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta was let down by their defense in the NFC championship last year so you`d think they would focus on that in the offseason, right? Not exactly. They added Osi Umenyiora and drafted six of eight defensive players however it will take some time for them to mix in. The Falcons produced only 29 sacks in 2012 and that was WITH Abraham. Look for the Falcons offense to once again carry this team.
25. Dallas Cowboys
Dallas decided to make a change, letting Rob Ryan go and bringing in Monte Kiffin to improve the overall performance. The Cowboys didn't have the salary cap room to bring in much new talent to help Kiffin out. In fact, Jerry Jones decided to use the first three draft picks on the offensive side of the ball. The simple fact that big D lost more defensive starters than they gained makes them fall into the No. 25 spot.
26. New York Giants
In the span of two short seasons, the Giants have managed to go from 7th overall to 31st. Until we see better talent joining this unit, they will remain in the bottom 10. Outside of JPP, there really isn’t much to get excited about on this defense. Luckily for Giants fans, they have a loaded offense to allow them to contend in the NFC East.
27. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts have been sitting No. 20-28 for the past three seasons, so we`ll go with the numbers on this one. Indianapolis has started rebuilding its defense this year after predominantly working on the offense in 2012, but not enough time has passed for them to climb in the standings. Given the loss of some key starters, in particular Dwight Freeney, we project Indy to land right where recent history has had them before.
28. New Orleans Saints
Normally, you would be happy to know that a defense is returning 9 of its 11 starters. But when you are talking about the worst defense in the history of the NFL, that might not necessarily be a good thing. Coach Sean Peyton returns along with new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan which should help, that being said it`s a long road to recovery for this 2012 train wreck.
29. Washington Redskins
With limited cap space, there wasn`t much Washington GM Bruce Allen could do for free agent signings. So similar to the Saints, the `Skins have an unchanged roster that stunk out the room in 2012. Redskins fans will have to wait another year until they can bring in some bigger names on the defensive side of the ball.
30. Tennessee Titans
With a defense resembling something similar to Swiss cheese, the Titans ranked dead last in points allowed in 2012. It seems that more attention, energy and money were poured into the offense than the defense during this offseason. The Titans didn't do enough in the offseason to warrant much of an increase in the rankings. We're projecting another bottom-5 finish.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville has had its ups and downs on defense in the past 5 or 6 years. In 2011 they were ranked in the top 10, while last year they managed to stink up nearly every defensive category. The struggles will continue with 5 new starters trying to find their way into the mix under new head coach Gus Bradley and new defensive coordinator Bob Babich.
32. Oakland Raiders
Oakland has had a tough offseason. The amount of starters on defense from last year that have walked away through free agency or been released is almost shocking. In fact, Lavarr Houston and Tavon Branch are the only returning starters. With the sheer lack of talent and new faces that have to mesh with each other fast, it’s hard to rank any team lower.