AFC North: NFL schedule

Breakdown: Baltimore, after a 12-4 season, caught the biggest break among AFC North teams with a 31st-ranked strength of schedule. Based on last year's records, the Ravens have the easiest schedule in the division and in the AFC.

The two games against the Steelers are always the highlight of the Ravens' schedule, and I love the idea of both teams setting the tone early and playing in Week 1. Coming off a divisional playoff loss in January, Baltimore will get its chance at revenge by hosting Pittsburgh on Sept. 11 at M&T Bank Stadium. The second meeting between the Steelers and Ravens will be in Pittsburgh on Nov. 6.

With key players such as linebacker Ray Lewis (35) and safety Ed Reed (32) getting up there in age, the window for Baltimore to make a title run is closing. With the exception of several tough games, the schedule is certainly set up for the Ravens to make the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

Complaint department: It's surprising that the Week 1 matchup between the Ravens and Steelers turned out to be a 1 p.m. start. This is the best rivalry in football and will involve two likely playoff contenders. At the very least, this could have been a highlighted by television networks for a later, 4 p.m. start.

Beware of QBs: Baltimore's stellar defense will face several top quarterbacks in 2011. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has always been a thorn in the Ravens' side and will travel to Baltimore on Dec. 11. Obviously, Baltimore will battle Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers twice within the division. It also has games against Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers (Dec. 18) and the up-and-coming Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams (Sept. 25). Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is 9-4 in his career against the Ravens, but Palmer wants out of Cincinnati.

Ravens Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 11, Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 18, at Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 25, at St. Louis, 4:05 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 2, NY Jets, 8:20 PM
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 16, Houston, 4:05 PM
Week 7: Monday, Oct. 24, at Jacksonville, 8:30 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 30, Arizona, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 6, at Pittsburgh, 8:20 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 13, at Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 20, Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 24, San Francisco, 8:20 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 4, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11, Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 18, at San Diego, 8:20 PM
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 24, Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 1, at Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

With a suspension of star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looming, how difficult will the Pittsburgh Steelers' September schedule be?

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Jerry Lai/US PresswireThe Steelers are waiting to hear from the NFL about a punishment for Ben Roethlisberger.
Courtesy of Roethlisberger's off-the-field misconduct, the Steelers are currently at the mercy of the NFL in so many ways. Not only are they awaiting word on a likely suspension of their starting quarterback, but the Steelers also have to hope for the most lenient September schedule possible.

Pittsburgh will get one answer Tuesday night when the league releases its 2010 regular-season schedule at 7 p.m. ET. The Steelers and the rest of the league will be keeping close tabs on whom Pittsburgh faces to start the season.

The Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals would be very fortunate (happy?) if the NFL scheduled September divisional games for Pittsburgh. The AFC North is expected to be very competitive this year, and the Steelers' rivals could get a head start by beating a weakened Pittsburgh team.

Fortunately for the Steelers, their strength of schedule is only rated No. 21 this year. So there's ample opportunity to get winnable September games.

Many project Roethlisberger's suspension to be in the range of two to four games. Perhaps Pittsburgh could have a shot without him against rebuilding teams such as the Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Oakland Raiders and maybe Cleveland. But the league also could pit the Steelers against 2010 opponents such as Baltimore, Cincinnati, the New England Patriots and the reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

Either way, every game is going to be tough for Pittsburgh to win without Roethlisberger.

Five schedule wishes

April, 13, 2009
4/13/09
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The annual release of the NFL schedule has become a holiday of sorts for football enthusiasts. On Tuesday, the league will release its slate of games for the 2009 season.

With that in mind, here are five wishes for the AFC North that I would like to see tomorrow when the schedule is released:

1. Cleveland opens on the road

The NFL has given the Cleveland Browns an unbelievable 10 straight home openers since the team returned to the league in 1999, which is the longest such streak in the NFL. Three years ago, I questioned the league office about this and was told it was strictly a "coincidence.” It hasn't helped the Browns all that much, because they are 1-9 in those games. But if the NFL grants Cleveland a home opener for the 11th straight season, I'm taking this out of the "coincidence” category and throwing it into the "conspiracy" bin.

2. Cincinnati should be Cleveland's Week 1 opponent

Let's settle this right off the bat: Who has sleeper potential in the AFC North and who is a pretender? Both teams are in good spots to improve on its four-win seasons from 2008. The Browns and Bengals have much easier schedules and should have better luck with injuries. Last year the Baltimore Ravens beat the Bengals in the season opener and it propelled the Ravens to a great season. Who knows what can happen by pitting the Browns and Bengals in the 2009 opener in The Jungle?

3. Pittsburgh at Baltimore in prime time

As much as the Ravens took flak for not wanting to face the Steelers in Heinz Field at night to open the season, they did have a point that the schedule between these two teams wasn't balanced. This is the year Pittsburgh should definitely face Baltimore in a prime time match up at M&T Bank Stadium. After last season's classic trilogy, the NFL is finally catching on to this rivalry. The expectation is that both teams will be playoff contenders again next year, so at least one of its games deserve the national spotlight.

4. Jay Cutler vs. Ravens or Steelers early

Is new Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler the real deal? Will the biggest trade of the offseason pan out? Put Cutler to the test early against the Steelers' or Ravens' defense early and let's find out. The Bears play every team in the AFC North this season. So Cutler will have to face two of the NFL's stingiest defenses at some point. This doesn't necessarily have to be a season opener. But I want to see what Cutler is made of against one of these two units within the first month of the regular season.

5. No prime time games for Cleveland

Remember a year ago? The Browns were the darlings of the NFL following a 10-win season in 2007 and were awarded a whopping five prime time games. Well, that turned out to be an absolute disaster last year as Cleveland flopped its way to a 4-12 season that had television execs cringing. The Browns didn't earn the national spotlight this time around. Perhaps fewer prime time games next year will help them improve.

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