I'm starting my top 5 lists today and because I feel that great defense is not given its due, I'm starting with my top 5 defenses. These are my predictions for what teams will have the best defenses(not what team gives up the least yards) in 2007. I believe that a great defense has to be able to stop the run, rush the passer, limit the opposing offense's points, and create turnovers. Here are my rankings:
1. Baltimore Ravens--This team is stacked on defense at every position. Their backups can start on a lot of NFL teams. Rex Ryan is the 2nd or 3rd best defensive coordinator in the league and he'll have a head coaching job by this time next year. Talk about playmakers, this team has Haloti Ngata(a pure space eater), Kelly Gregg(a do-it-all defensive lineman and a really underrated player), Trevor Pryce(he had his best year last year and he's a very complete player who's stout against the run and can get after the passer pretty well too), Ray Lewis(the best and most complete middle linebacker in the NFL), Terrell Suggs(an extremely versatile player who can play from a 2 point stance or a 3 point stance and does a lot of things very well), Bart Scott(another versatile player that can play different positions in a 3-4 and a 4-3), Ed Reed(the best safety in the NFL), Dawan Landry(a really underrated player), and Chris McAlister(a top 3 or top 4 corner). They did lose Adalius Thomas, but Jarrett Johnson should be a decent replacement and Rex Ryan will figure out a way to scheme around the downgrade and the Ravens defense won't miss a beat. Every single player on the Ravens front 7 is extremely versatile with the exception being Haloti Ngata(who allows the other 6 to maximize their versatility and playmaking capabilities).
2. New England Patriots--The Patriots have the best defensive line in the NFL and they have a pretty good secondary, but the Patriots linebacking corps is very old. The addition of Adalius Thomas will give Bill Belichick more to work with and will improve the linebacking corps, but I don't think that Tedy Bruschi has a lot left in his tank and Mike Vrabel is good, but nowhere near where he used to be. The Colts exposed the Patriots lack of youth and athleticism at the linebacker position in the AFC Championship Game when Dallas Clark kept running post patterns over the middle and burnt the Patriots linebackers to a crisp. The addition of Adalius Thomas will help enormously in that area and I think that it takes the Patriots from having the 4th or 5th best defense to the 2nd best, but they're nowhere near as good as Baltimore is defensively(just like every other defense in the NFL). One thing about the Patriots is that even though they don't have an elite pass rusher, Belichick masks, not only his pass rush, but his coverages better than anyone else in the league and that's why the are able to create a pretty good pass rush without an elite pass rusher.
3. San Diego Chargers--This team is the second most talented defense in the NFL and they've got the best pass rusher in the NFL in Shawne Merriman, the best nose tackle in Jamal Williams, two very good defensive ends in Igor Olshansky and Luis Castillo, and the Chargers also have an excellent pass rusher playing across from Merriman in Shaun Phillips. The only reason that I have the Chargers 3rd instead of 2nd is because of their secondary. As many teams have shown, you can get away without having a great secondary, but when the Chargers play a team like the Colts, they might give up some big plays. However, the Chargers have the 2nd best pass rush in the NFL behind the Ravens.
4. Chicago Bears--This team has a very good defense, but it was the 2nd best defense last year because it plays in a weak NFC North with a bunch of dysfunctional offensive teams and the Bears had the easiest schedule in the NFL last year. The loss of Tank Johnson could be a slight problem, but the health of Tommie Harris is huge. The Bears were also in the middle of the pack when it comes to a pass rush and do not have an elite pass rusher like a Shawne Merriman, Terrell Suggs, Jason Taylor, Dwight Freeney, Julius Peppers, etc. The Bears do have one of the best linebackers in the league in Brian Urlacher(who is a perfect fit for their system) and the Bears defenders do swarm to the ball better than any other team in the NFL, but this defense isn't better than the Ravens, Patriots, and Chargers defensive fronts.
5. Pittsburg Steelers--This defense wasn't a top 5 defense last year because of a lack of a pass rush. As soon as Mike Tomlin comes in, he drafts two excellent pass rushers in Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley and that should raise this defense from it's middle of the pack ranking last year to a top 5 defense. Dick LeBeau is the best defensive coordinator in the league and he will make Timmons and Woodley into monsters and I guarantee that the defensive secondary will be much better this year because of Mike Tomlin. Pittsburg has always had a top 5 defense since Chuck Noll way back in the day and that should return next year.