Entering the 2019 season, there are about eight teams who have a serious chance at being a top-five defense during the season.
The Bills had an enigmatic defense in the 2018 season. While the scoring defense was very average, only the Ravens allowed fewer yards than the Bills. The scoring defense took massive hits from allowing 47 points to Baltimore in the first week of the season as well as conceding 41 points to the Bears (butt allowing only 190 yards). Despite these odd performances, the Bills head into 2019 with high hopes, especially concerning third-year cornerback Tre’Davious White and rookie Ed Oliver. Oliver may not immediately fill the shoes of the retired Kyle Williams, but he should develop into a quality interior lineman. For White, he leads one of the best secondaries in all of football alongside Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde.
Despite a glaring absence of high-level pass rushers, the Ravens sport a secondary which rivals any in the NFL. The Ravens have six quality pieces in the backside, supporting four strong cornerbacks and two highly effective safeties. With the likes of Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, and Jimmy Smith defending the boundaries and Tavon Young covering slot duties, it will be difficult to dissect the Ravens through the air. With Earl Thomas and Tony Jefferson back at safety, the Ravens have immense versatility as Thomas is an elite centerfield-style safety while Jefferson thrives near the line of scrimmage. The great secondary might be for naught if the pass rush cannot get to the quarterback consistently, but the high-octane blitzing of defensive coordinator Wink Martindale might cover up individual weaknesses among the edge rushers in Baltimore.
While the 2018 version of the Jags were not as stingy as the 2017 version, Jacksonville ranked in the top five in yards and points allowed. They also possessed the second best pass defense in the NFL, deflecting praise to the excellent cornerback pair of Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye. Ramsey has a serious stake as the best cornerback in the league while Bouye took a step back after a transcendent 2017 season. However, the secondary is only a small part of the Jacksonville equation. The Jags sport a pair of pass-rushing menaces in Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue. Combining for 46.5 sacks over the last two seasons, that duo make up the engine that drives the Sacksonville moniker. The Jags take a hit with the personal leave of former Pro Bowler Telvin Smith, but Jacksonville has the personnel to replicate their stellar 2017 campaign.
The Titans had the third-best scoring defense during the 2018 season, falling only behind the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens. Whereas the Bears and Ravens have easily identifiable stars leading the defense, the Titans operate by more of a committee. In terms of getting to the quarterback, the Titans add the ageless Cameron Wake into a unit with the likes of Jurrell Casey and sophomore Harold Landry. Moving to the backline, the Titans sport Kevin Byard and Malcolm Butler, two high-level players who were not on the radar of most fans in 2018 even after Byard was an All-Pro in 2017. As a whole, the Titans possess a strong defensive unit with no glaring holes as they look to back beyond the nine-win mark in 2019.
Los Angeles Chargers:
Personnel-wise, the Chargers are as good as it gets in the NFL. The Chargers have a pair of great pass rushers, a trio of exceptional secondary players, and they added two of the best draft prospects in Jerry Tillery and Nasir Adderley. The Chargers had success with their dime-heavy looks throughout the season, prioritizing pass defense while also having enough speedy tacklers to stop the run if necessary. Gus Bradley has proven himself to be a defensive wizard as the Chargers are the third team he has improved in three tries, but with personnel even greater than he had in Seattle or Jacksonville, the Chargers’ defense will be in the running for NFL’s best defense assuming a clean bill of health and an effective sophomore campaign from superstar Derwin James.
The Cowboys were a top ten unit in terms of points allowed and yards allowed in 2018. Moving into 2019, they have one of the youngest and strongest cores in the entire NFL. Headlined by Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, Dallas is loaded with stars on all three lines of the defense. After locking down star pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence to a gigantic contract, the Cowboys will look to lean on their youth on the back end of the defense with the aforementioned linebackers and stud cornerback Byron Jones. The offense will get the majority of the headlines in Dallas, but the Cowboys will have a gnarly defense in 2019 … one that is poised to bring Dallas its first Super Bowl in almost 25 years.
The Eagles’ front line is deeper than the Marinas Trench. They had 12 players record a sack in 2018, led by All-World talent Fletcher Cox with 10.5. Cox is the superstar on the defense, but one cannot overlook the contributions of Brandon Graham, Malcolm Jenkins, Nigel Bradham, and Jordan Hicks. Throw in a healthy secondary, and the Eagles will be on the precipice of a return to greatness come 2019. Similar to Dallas, the offense of the Eagles will garner most of the attention aimed at the team, but this Eagles defense should turn heads and rack up the W’s for Philly.
Generally regarded as the best defense of the 2018 season, the Bears had a phenomenal year. The sustainability of the defense seems slightly flaky due to the loss of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and the reliance on turnovers. The Bears forced multiple turnovers in 12 games including their Wild Card loss to the Eagles. From a year-to-year basis, turnovers can be a fickle manner, so it seems logical that the Bears undergo some form of regression from their league-leading scoring defense and top three yardage defense. The Bears have three genuine superstars in Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and Eddie Jackson, and the onus is on them to deliver another playoff berth for the Windy City.
Predicted Top Five:
5: Los Angeles Chargers
4: Jacksonville Jaguars
3: Chicago Bears
2: Dallas Cowboys
1: Baltimore Ravens