Defending AFC champs among those with favorable 2011

NFL schedule-makers can't make every team happy. So, while some teams caught a break during Tuesday's 2011 schedule release, others weren't quite so lucky. Our experts reveal those teams.

Vic Carucci: AFC powerhouses get break

Winners: Steelers, Patriots. The Steelers win the AFC championship and still have one of the softest schedules in the league, and the Patriots have very winnable games in the first quarter of the season even though three are on the road.

Losers: Rams, Chiefs. The Rams open with an extremely difficult seven-game stretch that could conceivably knock them from playoff contention by midseason, and from weeks 11 through 15 the Chiefs face both of last year's AFC and NFC championship-game teams, as well as the Patriots.

Steve Wyche: Conditions just right for Saints

Winner: Saints. Even though the schedule is far from easy, this dome team only has one potentially cold-weather game -- at Tennessee on Dec. 11. Outside of the season opener at Green Bay, the Saints' tough non-divisional games -- Giants, Colts, Texans and Lions -- are at home. They do play three consecutive road games in October, but two are in Florida and the other in Charlotte. That travel is palatable.

Loser: Panthers. The NFL's worst team gets to play the AFC South and NFC North outside of its division. There is a three-game stretch in October in which Carolina plays consecutively at Chicago, against New Orleans and at Atlanta. It closes the season with a six-game gauntlet that starts at Indy, at Tampa Bay, vs. Atlanta, at Houston, vs. Tampa Bay and at New Orleans. Ouch.

Jason La Canfora: Rams get brutal opening slate

Winners: Ravens, Patriots. Hard not to think a Ravens team with three straight playoff berths getting the 31st-ranked schedule based on win percentage isn't "winning." The second half schedule sets up very well. The Pats, despite their outstanding 2010 campaign, get a fair amount of fluff at the top and bottom of their schedule, which should aid their start and finish.

Losers: Rams, Chiefs. The Rams face a Murderer's Row in the first half of season and must sustain themselves to stay in the hunt. And I wonder if the Chiefs will be up for four primetime games and facing the Patriots, Steelers, Bears, Jets, Packers and Raiders all in a row before closing at Denver.

Pat Kirwan: Odds stacked against 'Bolts, 'Boys

Winners: Jaguars, Browns. Jacksonville does not have to go to the West Coast one time this season and they only have one division game in the first seven weeks. I like their schedule and it could mean an extra win by season's end. The Browns have a chance for a decent start with six of their first seven games against teams with quarterback issues.

Losers: Chargers, 49ers, Cowboys, Texans, Vikings. The Chargers have to come to the East Coast three times to play the Patriots, Jets and Jaguars. They also have home games against the Packers and Ravens. The 49ers also have three trips to the East Coast, which is going to be tough on the rookie head coach, Jim Harbaugh. The Cowboys start the season with two road games, their bye is too early in Week 5 and they have to play five night games. Fans love the national games at night, but players and coaches have a tough time recovering from them. The Texans have a lot of pressure on them to win this year and their defense sees Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger in the first four weeks. The Vikings don't even know who their quarterback will be, but they do know that they play four playoff teams in the first seven games.

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