NFL: The 20 Best Defenses in Football History Part I (Fewest Points Against, Single Season)

The 2000 Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens Are the Best Defense of the 16-Game Era

The 2000 Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens Had the Best Defense of the Current, 16-Game Era

OK. This is slightly tricky. Not as easy as the highest-scoring offenses in NFL history. That’s pretty straight up. Scoring a whole helluva lot of points is mostly a modern facet of football, but there are a few old-time teams that made the cut, too.

Defense is different. I needed to draw a line somewhere, and that line was the 1961 season. For the most part, before the 14-game schedule (and especially before the 16-game schedule) the NFL was a low-scoring, hit-the-ground, smash-mouth, sporadic-passing league.

There has been an explosion in offense the past 30 years, as evinced by post after post here at Sports List of the Day.

Consider this, then, a modern, relevant, contemporary list of the best single-season defenses in football history – in terms of giving up the fewest points per game. Three lists, actually: 16-game era, 14-game era and both.

The 2000 Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens had the stingiest defense of the current (16-game era) era – the only team to give up fewer than 11 points a game.

And how about those Chicago Bears? No wonder that franchise is so synonymous with defense. They appear five (!) times. No other team shows up more than twice (Ravens, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers).

As for the 14-game era, six teams held their opponents to an incredible under-10 points a game. Now wouldn’t you like to have any one of them on your fantasy team? The 1977 Atlanta Falcons gave up the fewest points per game during the modern era (which I am calling here 1961-present). The birds yielded just 9.21 points per game.

Only the top four 16-game defenses made the combined list.

Oh, what the heck. Tomorrow we’ll check out the best defenses pre-1961 in Part II.

BEST DEFENSES: 16-GAME SCHEDULE (1978-present)

  TEAM SEASON POINTS AGAINST PER GAME PA G W L T
1. Baltimore Ravens* 2000 10.31 165 16 12 4 0
2. Chicago Bears* 1986 11.69 187 16 14 2 0
3. Tennessee Titans 2000 11.94 191 16 13 3 0
4. Pittsburgh Steelers* 1978 12.19 195 16 14 2 0
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers* 2002 12.25 196 16 12 4 0
6. Chicago Bears* 1985 12.38 198 16 15 1 0
6. Denver Broncos 1978 12.38 198 16 10 6 0
8. Baltimore Ravens 2006 12.56 201 16 13 3 0
9. Chicago Bears 2005 12.63 202 16 11 5 0
9. New Orleans Saints 1992 12.63 202 16 12 4 0
11. Chicago Bears 2001 12.69 203 16 13 3 0
12. Cleveland Browns 1994 12.75 204 16 11 5 0
13. New York Giants 1993 12.81 205 16 11 5 0
14. Dallas Cowboys 1978 13.00 208 16 12 4 0
14. Philadelphia Eagles 2001 13.00 208 16 11 5 0
16. Green Bay Packers* 1996 13.13 210 16 13 3 0
17. New Orleans Saints 1991 13.19 211 16 11 5 0
17. New York Giants* 1990 13.19 211 16 13 3 0
19. Pittsburgh Steelers 2001 13.25 212 16 13 3 0
20. Chicago Bears 1988 13.44 215 16 12 4 0

BEST DEFENSES: 14-GAME SCHEDULE (1961-1977)

  TEAM SEASON POINTS AGAINST PER GAME PA G W L T
1. Atlanta Falcons 1977 9.21 129 14 7 7 0
2. Minnesota Vikings 1969 9.50 133 14 12 2 0
3. Los Angeles Rams 1975 9.64 135 14 12 2 0
4. Pittsburgh Steelers 1976 9.86 138 14 10 4 0
5. Minnesota Vikings 1971 9.93 139 14 11 3 0
6. Baltimore Colts 1971 10.00 140 14 10 4 0
7. Minnesota Vikings 1970 10.21 143 14 12 2 0
8. Chicago Bears+ 1963 10.29 144 14 11 1 2
8. Baltimore Colts 1968 10.29 144 14 13 1 0
10. Los Angeles Rams 1977 10.43 146 14 10 4 0
11. Denver Broncos 1977 10.57 148 14 12 2 0
11. Green Bay Packers+ 1962 10.57 148 14 13 1 0
13. Miami Dolphins* 1973 10.71 150 14 12 2 0
14. Pittsburgh Steelers* 1975 11.57 162 14 12 2 0
15. Green Bay Packers* 1966 11.64 163 14 12 2 0
16. Minnesota Vikings 1973 12.00 168 14 12 2 0
17. Miami Dolphins* 1972 12.21 171 14 14 0 0
18. Miami Dolphins 1971 12.43 174 14 10 3 1
19. Pittsburgh Steelers 1972 12.50 175 14 11 3 0
19. Oakland Raiders 1973 12.50 175 14 9 4 1

BEST DEFENSES: 16- and 14-GAME SCHEDULES (1961-present)

  TEAM SEASON POINTS AGAINST PER GAME PA G W L T
1. Atlanta Falcons 1977 9.21 129 14 7 7 0
2. Minnesota Vikings 1969 9.50 133 14 12 2 0
3. Los Angeles Rams 1975 9.64 135 14 12 2 0
4. Pittsburgh Steelers 1976 9.86 138 14 10 4 0
5. Minnesota Vikings 1971 9.93 139 14 11 3 0
6. Baltimore Colts 1971 10.00 140 14 10 4 0
7. Minnesota Vikings 1970 10.21 143 14 12 2 0
8. Chicago Bears+ 1963 10.29 144 14 11 1 2
8. Baltimore Colts 1968 10.29 144 14 13 1 0
10. Baltimore Ravens* 2000 10.31 165 16 12 4 0
11. Los Angeles Rams 1977 10.43 146 14 10 4 0
12. Denver Broncos 1977 10.57 148 14 12 2 0
12. Green Bay Packers+ 1962 10.57 148 14 13 1 0
14. Miami Dolphins* 1973 10.71 150 14 12 2 0
15. Pittsburgh Steelers* 1975 11.57 162 14 12 2 0
16. Green Bay Packers* 1966 11.64 163 14 12 2 0
17. Chicago Bears 1986 11.69 187 16 14 2 0
18. Tennessee Titans 2000 11.94 191 16 13 3 0
19. Minnesota Vikings 1973 12.00 168 14 12 2 0
20. Pittsburgh Steelers*
1978 12.19 195 16 14 2 0

* Won Super Bowl

+ Won NFL Championship (pre-Super Bowl era)

Thanks to my source – the play index at pro-football-reference.com.

Photo: Karl Merton Ferron via baltimoresun.com

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Posted on October 6, 2013, in NFL Football and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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