Being that this is a Baltimore Ravens blog and community, the vast majority here will maintain that the 2000 Ravens had the greatest defense in NFL history.
I'm not here to argue against you.
If I was to say another team had a better defense, I think most of you would say otherwise and list countless reasons why. But if I say the 2000 Ravens definitely had the best defense in NFL history, well, it could be seen as preaching to the choir.
Plus, I favor discussion more than arguing why I'm right. Those that claim they're always right are generally wrong.
Instead, I'll group the 2000 Ravens unit with eight other defenses and list their accomplishments within their respective seasons. The criteria for this post is simple: 1) The defense had to be consistently dominant, and 2) it had to be part of a Super Bowl winning team.
Various great defenses in league history were eliminated as a result, including the 1973 Los Angeles Rams, the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers, the 1977 Atlanta Falcons and the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles.
(One nit-picky note I'll add about the 1976 Steelers defense, regarded as the best of all time: Yes, they were dominant down the stretch, giving up just 28 points in the final nine games, which included five shutouts. But take a look at the first five games of the season. They gave up 31, 14, 30, 17 and 18 in a 1-4 start. And then they gave up 24 to Oakland in the conference championship. Just sayin'.)
Here's a list of each of these defense's accomplishments, starting in order with the year the team was fielded.
1969 Kansas City Chiefs
Dominating would be an understatement for this group. The Chiefs finished the year No. 1 in points (12.6) and yards (225.9) allowed per game. It helped compensate for a turnover-prone offense by leading the NFL in takeaways with 47 — 32 of which were interceptions.
In the regular season, the Chiefs held opponents to 10 points or less in seven games, which included two shutouts. In the postseason, Kansas City limited opponents to just seven points or less per game. Beginning with the divisional round, the Chiefs beat the Jets 13-6. In the conference championship game, Kansas City beat Oakland 17-7.
Then came Super Bowl IV vs. the Vikings. The Chiefs dominated the Minnesota offense en route to winning the league championship with a 23-7 win. Kansas City picked Vikings quarterbacks Joe Kapp and Gary Cuozo a combined three times in the fourth quarter.
Defensive tackle Buck Buchanan, linebacker Bobby Bell and linebacker Willie Lanier would all become Hall of Famers from that unit.
1973 Miami Dolphins
This defense kept offenses from reaching 10 points seven times during the 1973 season, posting back-to-back shutouts against the Colts and Bills in Weeks 9 and 10. This group had playmakers all over the defense, including linebacker Bob Matheson, defensive end Bill Stanfill, safety Jake Scott and linebacker Nick Buoniconti.
This defense finished the regular season first in points allowed (10.7 per game) and third in yards (234.4). The defense came away with 29 turnovers, 21 of which were picks.
After beating the Bengals 34-16 and the Raiders 27-10 in the playoffs, there was a belief that Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton would be the one to break this great defense. Not quite. The Dolphins stifled Tarkenton and won Super Bowl VIII 24-7. And the game would've been a shutout if it wasn't for a late touchdown rush from Tarkenton in the fourth quarter.
1974 Pittsburgh Steelers
There's a reason our SB Nation friends that follow the Steelers have titled their blog "Behind the Steel Curtain." It's because of those Steel Curtain defenses of the 1970s. Some will say the 1976 team that fell short of the Super Bowl was better (and if you want to go by which team had the greatest defense ever regardless of if they were on a Super Bowl winning team, click here for a great statistical breakdown). But the 1974 Steelers' defense actually got to the promised land and had a dominating performance in it.
The Steelers, which featured Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, L.C. Greenwood and Andy Russell, held teams to an average of 13.5 points per game (second in the NFL) and 219.6 yards per game (first in the NFL). They shut out the Colts and the Eagles and only gave up more than 17 points twice. This Steelers led the NFL with 47 turnovers.
Not to pick on the Vikings once again, but the Steelers dominated them like the previous defensive juggernauts mentioned. Pittsburgh forced five turnovers and limited the Vikings to just 119 total yards (only 17 of which were rushing) in Super Bowl IX. The Steelers needed every turnover as the game was close in the fourth quarter. The Steelers would go on to win 16-6 and capture the first of their six Super Bowl titles.
1985 Chicago Bears
This is the defense most often referenced as the best of all time.
The '85 Bears only lost once in an uncharacteristic 38-24 loss to the Dolphins. But they still finished the regular season with seven games where opponents scored less than 10 points. They held opponents to just 12.4 points per game and only surrendered an average of 258.4 yards per outing — both of which led the NFL.
But the postseason is where legends are made. And this defense — featuring the likes of Richard Dent, Steve McMichael, Dave Duerson, Dan Hampton, Otis Wilson, Mike Singletary — let it be known that this group should be among the best, if not the best.
First, the Bears shut out the Giants 21-0 in the divisional round, only allowing 181 total yards. In the NFC Championship, Chicago blanked the Rams 24-0, only surrendering 130 total yards.
And in the Super Bowl, the Bears blew out the Patriots 46-10, holding New England to just 123 yards. This game fittingly included a Reggie Phillips interception for a touchdown and a safety.
1990 New York Giants
When talking about the greatest defenses in NFL history, the 1990 New York Giants seemed to be overlooked a good bit. But they fielded a strong unit that should be in consideration with the other great defenses of all time.
This group had the league's best scoring defense in 1990 (13.2 ppg) and second-best yards per game average (262.9). Lawrence Taylor, Pepper Johnson and Reyna Thompson were devastating to opposing offenses. Six times the Giants held teams to under 10 points, and they didn't give up over 20 until a Week 12 loss to Philadelphia — the first of the season.
In the playoffs, the Giants blew out the Bears 31-3 and edged the 49ers 15-13 before facing the Buffalo Bills, which led the NFL that season with 26.8 points per game. The Giants held them below that mark in a 20-19 win, though it should be noted that Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal that would have given Buffalo the win.
Perhaps the fact that the Giants' defense wasn't as dominant in their Super Bowl win as other great units is why they're often placed a notch below the top.
2000 Baltimore Ravens
This was the season that put the Ravens on the map nationally. It was their fifth season in town and one the city will never forget.
The 2000 Ravens suffocated opponents on offense. They only allowed 10.3 points per game, the best in the NFL. If it wasn't for games against the Jaguars and Jets, the Ravens might've finished with a better average than the second-best 247.9 yards per game.
Members of this group included Ray Lewis, Rod Woodson, Sam Adams, Jamie Sharper, Rob Burnett, Michael McCrary, Chris McAlister, Peter Boulware and Tony Siragusa. The Ravens needed this kind of star-studded cast to carry the below-average offense Baltimore had on the other side of the ball.
The Ravens shut out four teams in the regular season and held opponents to 10 points or less 11 times. The only real aberration from the defense came in Week 2's 39-36 win over Jacksonville.
In the postseason, the Ravens were simply dominant. They beat Denver 21-3, upset the top-seeded Titans 24-10 and upended the Raiders 16-3. In Super Bowl XXXV against the Giants, the Ravens became the only defense to not allow an offensive touchdown. In the 34-7 win, the Giants got their only score from a Ron Dixon kickoff return for a touchdown. The Giants finished that game with only 152 total yards.
2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Shortly after the 2000 Ravens season, the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers arrived to put their names in the conversation. They shut out two teams and held teams to 10 points or less nine times.
This group featured a lot of big names on defense, including Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, Warren Sapp, Shelton Quarles and Ronde Barber. They led the NFL in limiting offenses to just 12.3 points per game and also led the league in yards per game at 252.8.
They were tough to deal with in the postseason, holding the 49ers to six points and the Eagles to 10 in consecutive wins. In the Super Bowl, the Buccaneers thrashed the Raiders 48-21, with six of Oakland's 21 points coming off a blocked punt returned for a touchdown.
The Raiders led the NFL with an average of 389.8 yards per game but were held to 269 against Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers also returned three interceptions for touchdowns in the Super Bowl XXXVII win.
2008 Pittsburgh Steelers
I know what you're thinking. Another Steelers appearance on a Ravens blog? Hey, you gotta give credit where credit's due. Like a lot of the aforementioned teams, the 2008 Steelers led the NFL in points (13.9) and yards (237.2) per game.
During the regular season, the Steelers held teams to 10 points or less eight times and had just one blip in a 31-14 loss to Tennessee — and it was really a 24-point surrendering with the Titans' final seven points coming off an interception.
The defense, which included James Harrison, James Farrior, Troy Polamalu, Larry Foote and LaMarr Woodley, concluded the regular season with a 31-0 shutout win over the Browns.
OK, here's where the 2008 Steelers probably excuse themselves from the greatest-ever conversation. Not including the safety Arizona scored in Super Bowl, the Steelers' defense gave up an average of 19.7 points per game in the playoffs.
But in one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played (from a neutral perspective, Ravens fans), one of the key moments came from the Steelers' defense, when Harrison returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown at the end of the first half. Pittsburgh went on to beat Arizona 27-23.
2013 Seattle Seahawks
This team is what has spawned this conversation. Of the great defenses that went on to win Super Bowls, the Seahawks had probably the most dominating Super Bowl performance. We'll get to that momentarily.
In a pass-happy era, the Seahawks held opponents to 14.4 points and an average of 273.6 yards each game — both of which led the league but don't necessarily compare to their counterparts. They also let the league in turnovers with 39 and possessed one of the best secondaries in recent memory with Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.
Seattle also had a strong pass rush featuring Michael Bennett (8.5 sacks), Cliff Abril (8 sacks), Clinton McDonald (5.5 sacks), Bobby Wagner (5 sacks) and Chris Clemons (4.5 sacks). Seven times the Seahawks held teams to 10 points or less, which included a shutout over the hapless Giants in Week 15.
In the postseason, the Seahawks defeated the Saints 23-15 and the 49ers 23-17, with the now famous tipped pass from Sherman to Malcolm Smith etched into our brains. But it was the Super Bowl XLVIII win that placed this Seahawks team among the best.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning set NFL single-season records with passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55) in 2013. Yet the Seahawks made arguably the greatest quarterback in league history look like Tim Tebow over a three-hour span. The Seahawks may have given up 306 total yards to Denver, but this was a team that averaged 457.3 per game in the regular season.
Manning was harassed all game and threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Smith. The Seahawks defense forced three fumbles and recovered two. Seattle went on to win 43-8 in one of the most dominating Super Bowl performances in NFL history.
OK, I'll leave it up to you to decide. I am going to attach a poll below, though I'm pretty sure I already know what the results will be. But this should be a fun conversation for the community to have.