The 2021 Los Angeles Rams won Super Bowl LVI thanks to a defense led by Aaron Donald, the best player in the NFL today and one of the greatest defensive linemen in the history of the game. But as good as Donald and the Rams' pass rush was (record-tying seven sacks in Super Bowl win), it doesn't come close to making the list of the best defenses in league history.
There are great NFL defenses that have spanned several seasons, including the Doomsday Defense and the Steel Curtain, and there have been defenses that have gone above and beyond for single games.
However, in determining the top defenses of all time, it is best to go by individual seasons. In compiling this ranking, one must factor in both statistics and postseason play. With those areas in mind, here are the 10 best defenses in NFL history.
10. 1986 New York Giants
This defense was overshadowed by the 1985 Bears, but the Big Blue Wrecking Crew featured the greatest defensive player in history in Lawrence Taylor. The game-wrecker also known as "L.T." racked up 20.5 sacks and became the second defensive player in league history to be named MVP (Alan Page, 1971). Meanwhile, the Giants gave up only 80.2 rushing yards and 14.8 points per game. In the playoffs, New York surrendered a total of 23 points on its way to winning Super Bowl XXI.
9. 1991 Philadelphia Eagles
Having lost quarterback Randall Cunningham to a knee injury for the season in Week 1, the 1991 Eagles’ defense banded together and led the league in both passing and rushing yards allowed. A loss to the Dallas Cowboys late in the season prevented this team from making the playoffs. Tragically, defensive tackle Jerome Brown died in a car accident in the offseason and the defense was never the same.
8. 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers
Dick LeBeau’s finest defense led the league in yards and points at just 13.9 per game. A 99-yard interception returned for a touchdown by James Harrison (right before halftime) in Super Bowl XLIII proved to be the difference in the Steelers’ victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
7. 1972 Miami Dolphins
The No-Name Defense led the league in points and yards allowed. This unit was the foundation of the only perfect season of the Super Bowl era.
6. 1962 Green Bay Packers
Vince Lombardi’s greatest defense featured five eventual Hall of Famers and held opposing quarterbacks to a 43.5 passer rating. The 267-point differential (19.1 per game) between the Packers and their opponents is the best of any team of the 1960s.
5. 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In addition to dominating opponents, the 2002 Buccaneers were always a threat to take interceptions to the house. They did so three times in their Super Bowl win over the Oakland Raiders.
4. 2013 Seattle Seahawks
The Legion of Boom and the rest of the 2013 Seahawks defense led the league in points, yards and turnovers. And, of course, this defense completely shut down Peyton Manning — who was having the best season of his career — and Denver’s record-setting offense in Super Bowl XLVIII.
3. 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers
Facing an unbelievable number of injuries on offense, the 1976 Steel Curtain picked up the slack. The defense pitched five shutouts and at one point did not give up a touchdown for 22 straight quarters. If the team had not lost to Oakland in the AFC Championship Game, this defense may have topped the list.
2. 2000 Baltimore Ravens
The 2000 Ravens may be the worst team offensively to ever win a Super Bowl. Why did they win? Because they allowed an average of 9.4 points in 16 regular season games and four playoff games.
1. 1985 Chicago Bears
The success of this team is almost mythical. The ’85 Bears led the league in yards, points, first downs and turnovers en route to a 15-1 regular season. In the playoffs they shut out both the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Rams and did not allow a touchdown for 11 quarters. They finished things off with a 46-10 dismantling (123 total yards allowed, 7 sacks, 6 takeaways) of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.