Quick AFC North schedule thoughts

BY foxsports • April 19, 2011

Quick, early thoughts on the AFC North schedule...

**I love that they close the season with division games. I'm not sure I love that the season opens with them, too, but that's  the way it's laid out. Cincinnati at Cleveland on Sept. 11 with a share of first place at stake. Pittsburgh at Baltimore, too, in a game that should ALWAYS be on national TV.

**The second Ravens-Steelers game, in Pittsburgh on Nov. 6 is set for Sunday Night Football. The Ravens and Steelers are done playing before the Steelers and Ravens play either the Bengals or Browns once. Strange.

**It used to be almost half of a team's games in a given year were based on the previous season's final standings. Now it's just two games and basically luck of the draw for home/away in the predetermined cross-division and interconference games. The Ravens drew the shortest straw there, getting the Colts and Jets at home to go along with road games at Seattle, St. Louis, Jacksonville and San Diego.

**It's no surprise, given the uncertainty surrounding the "name" players and the franchise as a whole, that the Bengals aren't set for any national TV games.

**The Browns get on national TV, but only* in an early December Thursday-nighter at Pittsburgh. That's not exactly a treat.

**I used the * because suppose the Browns could get more national games via flex scheduling. Stranger things have happened, right? We know so little about this Browns team that has a new coach and could have 10-15 new starters that it's really hard to predict much at this point. But the talent level simply isn't there for this team to have high expectations.

**Maybe A.J. Green really is the savior. And maybe they'll get him next week. But this is about the schedule, even when I steer way off course. And a schedule that includes Tennessee and Miami in early-season home games and California road trips to play the Raiders and 49ers beats the heck out of playing the Jets, Patriots and such. Stay tuned; I know you will.

**We know the chances of Carson Palmer actually playing somewhere besides Cincinnati next year are slim, but three of the Bengals' first four opponents aren't 100 percent sure about their starting quarterback, either. And the end of the Bengals' schedule -- Houston, at St. Louis, Arizona, Baltimore -- sure seems a heck of a lot easier than the closing stretch the Ravens and Browns have to endure.

**Oh, it could be a nightmare last month for the Browns.

**The Steelers close with the Bengals and Browns at home, at San Fran, St. Louis at home and then at Cleveland. If they can survive Sunday night road games at KC and Indy, two with the Ravens and a home game with the Patriots in the first 12, they'll be set up nicely.

**Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh, 49ers at Ravens, on Thanksgiving night. Should have seen that coming.

**I think the Browns and Bengals always play on Thanksgiving Weekend. Most years, plenty of good seats are available.  

**If the NFC West is again the weakest division in football -- and there's no reason to see it changing in one year -- all four AFC North teams will benefit. But it might take 12 (or even 13) to win the division. And the Ravens learned the hard way last year it takes a near-perfect game and some luck to win in Pittsburgh in January.

--Zac Jackson

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