The Seattle Seahawks don't have quite the same defensive swagger they did when they won the Super Bowl, but they should still be a very strong NFL pick this year.
When you're at the top, there's nowhere else to go but down. The Seattle Seahawks had the best defense in the NFL in 2013 and 2014, according to the stat gurus at Football Outsiders, but Seattle fell all the way to No. 4 last year. Some of that was injuries, some was losing players to free agency, and the rest you can blame on the Denver Broncos, who loaded up on defense after getting thumped by the Seahawks at Super Bowl XLVIII.
Things are looking up for 2016. The Seahawks are the top Super Bowl contenders from the NFC, available at +850 on the NFL odds board at Bovada. And while their defense might not match up to Denver's, it should still be the best unit in their conference. Here's our list of Top 5 NFC defenses heading into the new season.
1. Seattle Seahawks
The Legion of Boom is still largely intact with CB Richard Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor; the question is with their supporting cast, which should improve this year with the return to health of CBs Jeremy Lane and Tharold Simon. Believe it or not, Seattle's base 4-3 package could be even stronger than the secondary, with second-rounder Jarran Reed coming in at tackle from the Alabama Crimson Tide.
2. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings were the most profitable NFL pick of the litter last year at 13-3 ATS. Much of that improvement was on defense, where they moved from No. 23 to No. 14 on the efficiency charts. They got better as the season wore on, especially CB Xavier Rhodes, who allowed just one touchdown catch over the last eight games. It bodes well for 2016, although former Pro Bowl LB Chad Greenway could be out of gas at age 33.
3. Arizona Cardinals
They're on the cusp of greatness in Glendale. The Cardinals defense improved from No. 7 to No. 3 in efficiency last year, and this year's secondary could be the best in the conference with CB Patrick Peterson and safety/CB Tyrann Mathieu locking down opponents. But what about that 3-4 package? Maybe incoming Pro Bowl LB Chandler Jones (formerly with New England) will help tie the room together.
4. Green Bay Packers
The Packers have good reason to be hopeful for 2016 after jumping from No. 16 to No. 9 in defensive efficiency. But they did lose CB Casey Hayward to the San Diego Chargers in free agency, and six-time Pro Bowl LB Clay Matthews wasn't at his best last year. Safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett should keep Green Bay in Super Bowl contention.
5. Los Angeles Rams
It's a big step down from the Packers to the rest of the NFC. The Rams were No. 7 on the efficiency charts last year, and they return to L.A. with a fearsome front seven, even though LB James Laurinaitis escaped to New Orleans via free agency. However, Los Angeles is going to need some help downfield. Getting CB E.J. Gaines back from a foot injury should help, but the Rams need to replace safety Rodney McLeod (now with Philadelphia), and they might lose safety T.J. McDonald, too, after his DUI arrest this past May.