Schedules should allow Bears, Pats to jump out of gates fast

It doesn't quite seem fair, does it?

The Chicago Bears were in the 2010 NFC Championship Game. The New England Patriots had the NFL's best record last year at 14-2.

Yet, the NFL schedule makers appear to have provided each team with a reasonably good opportunity to start the 2011 season in strong fashion.

Given the very real possibility that most -- if not all -- of the offseason could be wiped out and the preseason shortened because of the ongoing labor dispute, any edge that an established team might gain due to their regular season schedule could prove significant.

The Bears, for instance, play four of their first six games at home. The favorable stretch includes Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons, back-to-back games in Weeks 3 and 4 against the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers, and ends hosting the Minnesota Vikings in Week 6. To be fair, it also includes difficult road games against the New Orleans Saints (Week 2) and Detroit Lions (Week 5) mixed in. But if the Bears can make the most of those four games at Soldier Field, they will be in decent shape for their Week 7 encounter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London, after which they have a bye week.

The Patriots' first six games also figure to greatly help their chances of having another successful season.

Although three of Patriots' first four games are on the road, those opponents (the Miami Dolphins in Week 1, Buffalo Bills in Week 3 and Oakland Raiders in Week 4) are far from daunting. The most difficult game they figure to play during that stretch is against the San Diego Chargers in Week 2, but that's in Foxborough, Mass.

Two other presumably tough games -- the New York Jets in Week 5 and the Dallas Cowboys the following week -- round out the Patriots' first six weeks. But those, too, are in Foxborough.

Where the Bears and Patriots are concerned, the 2011 schedule could very well play an important role in allowing the rich to get richer.

Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.

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