Despite losing last season's Super Bowl, 49ers coordinator Robert Saleh leads the best defense in the NFL. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL has implemented plenty of rule changes in recent years to increase scoring and boost offenses. Despite the changes, it’s a defense that helps determine the Super Bowl champion each year.

We saw it this past season in Super Bowl LIV. San Francisco's defense carried the 49ers to an NFC title, but it was the Kansas City Chiefs defense that came through in the fourth quarter to help complete the Super Bowl comeback.

The teams with the best defenses in the NFL give their organization a chance to compete for a championship. So, let’s take a look at the five best defenses entering the 2020 NFL season.

5. Los Angeles Chargers

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Chargers went into the offseason knowing they would rely on their defense to win. An offense with Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert at quarterback will need a defense capable of generating turnovers and shutting down the passing game.

We don’t expect that to be an issue for Los Angeles. This is the best secondary in the NFL with shutdown corner Casey Hayward and All-Pro defensive backs Chris Harris Jr., Derwin James and Desmond King. It will be difficult for opposing receivers to get open. Now add in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram creating havoc off the edge and Linval Joseph collapsing the pocket inside, it’s a nightmare for quarterbacks. If rookie Kenneth Murray lives up to his first-round billing, this could even become a top-three defense this year.

4. New England Patriots

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Bill Belichick’s defense this past season was beyond insane. It allowed the fewest points (225), first downs (261) and total yards (4,414) in the NFL. Frankly, this defense played at a Super Bowl-caliber level, and its offense kept it from reaching the top. Unfortunately, we aren’t going to see the Patriots replicate that defensive success in 2020.

The losses of Kyle Van Noy and Danny Shelton will hurt the front seven. New England will struggle to create as much pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and its linebacker corps takes a significant hit. Even with those losses, however, the secondary will shut down plenty of passing attacks. Stephon Gilmore will be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate once more, and the NFL’s deepest secondary keeps this unit as an elite defense.

3. Buffalo Bills

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Tre’Davious White is quickly emerging as one of the league’s elite cornerbacks. Behind him, the outstanding safety duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer will help cover for any of Josh Norman’s mistakes and take away the run. In the front seven, Buffalo added defensive end Mario Addison and edge rusher A.J. Epenesa, making this defense even stronger.

We’re particularly excited about Ed Oliver. While he didn’t always play like a top-10 pick in 2019, his pure talent and athleticism are off the charts. If he takes a big step forward this year, he will likely make the Pro Bowl and this defense gets even better. Buffalo’s defense will carry it to an AFC East crown in 2020; the rest will be up to Josh Allen and this offense.

2. Baltimore Ravens

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

We already loved Baltimore’s defense before the offseason. Big moves to land Marcus Peters and Earl Thomas in 2019 paid off big-time as the secondary started shutting down air space all year long. It turns out, that wasn’t enough for general manager Eric DeCosta.

The Ravens made two huge additions this offseason with Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe. Instantly, a productive pass-rush unit turned into a ferocious defensive line. Oh, they also drafted Patrick Queen to address their remaining need at linebacker. From the defensive line to the secondary, Baltimore’s defense is loaded. Pair it with the offense, and it’s clear why the Ravens are a Super Bowl contender.

1. San Francisco 49ers

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, trading away All-Pro DeForest Buckner is a hit for this defense. But if we’ve learned anything from the 49ers, they know how to identify and develop talent. Javon Kinlaw can develop into a star, and this defense already has the force that is Nick Bosa.

We’ll also need to keep an eye on Kwon Alexander and Dee Ford’s health next season. If those players can stay on the field, this group will keep playing at an elite level. Even if the front seven isn’t as dominant, Richard Sherman will shut down No. 1 receivers. When it’s all over, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will use this defense’s dominance to prove he is ready to become a head coach.

This article first appeared on Sportsnaut and was syndicated with permission.

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Can you name every NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award winner since 1971?
2019 / NE / CB / #24
Stephon Gilmore
2018 / LAR / DE / #99
Aaron Donald
2017 / LAR / DE / #99
Aaron Donald
2016 / OAK / DE / #52
Khalil Mack
2015 / HOU / DE / #99
J.J. Watt
2014 / HOU / DE / #99
J.J. Watt
2013 / CAR / LB / #59
Luke Kuechly
2012 / HOU / DE / #99
J.J. Watt
2011 / BAL / LB / #55
Terrell Suggs
2010 / PIT / S / #43
Troy Polamalu
2009 / GB / CB / #21
Charles Woodson
2008 / PIT / LB / #92
James Harrison
2007 / IND / S / #21
Bob Sanders
2006 / MIA / DE / #99
Jason Taylor
2005 / CHI / LB / #54
Brian Urlacher
2004 / BAL / S / #20
Ed Reed
2003 / BAL / LB / #52
Ray Lewis
2002 / TB / LB / #55
Derrick Brooks
2001 / NYG / DE / #92
Michael Strahan
2000 / BAL / LB / #52
Ray Lewis
1999 / TB / DT / #99
Warren Sapp
1998 / GB / DE / #92
Reggie White
1997 / SF / DT / #94
Dana Stubblefield
1996 / BUF / DE / #78
Bruce Smith
1995 / BUF / LB / #95
Bryce Paup
1994 / SF / CB / #21
Deion Sanders
1993 / PIT / CB / #26
Rod Woodson
1992 / SEA / DT / #99
Cortez Kennedy
1991 / NO / LB / #56
Pat Swilling
1990 / BUF / DE / #78
Bruce Smith
1989 / MIN / DT / #75
Keith Millard
1988 / CHI / LB /
Mike Singletary
1987 / PHI / DE / #92
Reggie White
1986 / NYG / LB / #56
Lawrence Taylor
1985 / CHI / LB / #50
Mike Singletary
1984 / SEA / S / #45
Kenny Easley
1983 / MIA / DE / #75
Doug Betters
1982 / NYG / LB / #56
Lawrence Taylor
1981 / NYG / LB / #56
Lawrence Taylor
1980 / OAK / CB / #37
Lester Hayes
1979 / TB / DE / #63
Lee Roy Selmon
1978 / DEN / LB / #53
Randy Gradishar
1977 / DAL / DE / #79
Harvey Martin
1976 / PIT / LB / #58
Jack Lambert
1975 / PIT / CB / #47
Mel Blount
1974 / PIT / DT / #75
Joe Greene
1973 / MIA / S / #40
Dick Anderson
1972 / PIT / DT / #75
Joe Greene
1971 / MIN / DT / #88
Alan Page

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