NFL Schedule 2011: 5 Teams the San Francisco 49ers Are Lucky to Play

Barrett HansenAnalyst IIAugust 3, 2011

NFL Schedule 2011: 5 Teams the San Francisco 49ers Are Lucky to Play

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    The San Francisco 49ers arguably have one of the easiest schedules in the National Football League, mostly based on the fact that their six divisional games are all against teams that finished 2010 with losing records.

    The other 10 games feature some intriguing matchups: San Francisco will get to play the very competitive AFC North and NFC East divisions.

    Here are the five teams the San Francisco 49ers are lucky to play in 2011.

5. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Since the NFC West and AFC North divisions face off this year, the San Francisco 49ers get to play the Cincinnati Bengals.

    Carson Palmer's disgruntled retirement has thrown a once formidable Bengals squad into disarray and the team will very possibly have to turn the reins over to first-year pro Andy Dalton on Opening Day.

    The 49ers will play the Bengals the third week of the season, possibly a huge advantage given the improbability Dalton masters the playbook and develops a strong rapport with his receivers that soon.

4. Dallas Cowboys

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    The San Francisco-Dallas rivalry has been dormant for over a decade, as neither team has been particularly successful for a while. 

    There is not nearly as intense a rivalry now as there was in the 80s and 90s, but there is definitely some tension between the two sides. A look back to the Terrell Owens midfield celebration incident back in 2000 shows that these two franchises still want to hold bragging rights even if the stakes aren't as high. 

    Both teams were expected to succeed in—and possibly win—their respective divisions last year, but both fell short and ultimately finished in third.

    The Week 2 matchup will be an intriguing early-season test for both teams as they begin their quests to reclaim former glory.

3. Arizona Cardinals

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    The San Francisco 49ers have always played the Arizona Cardinals well, and new Cardinal quarterback Kevin Kolb isn't going to change that.

    The Red and Gold has won six of the past eight against its rivals from the desert, which includes four of six while potential Hall-of-Fame quarterback Kurt Warner was at the helm.

    One of the two losses was the epic 2008 Monday Night game in Phoenix that ended with a failed fullback dive, leaving the 49ers stranded on Arizona's 1-yard-line as time expired in a 29-24 loss.

    Arizona is coming off its worst season under Ken Whisenhunt and will have to break in a new quarterback this year. If the Cardinals had trouble with San Francisco while they were winning division titles, Arizona will likely struggle with a much weaker roster.

2. Cleveland Browns

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    Beside Peyton Hillis being on the cover of Madden 2012, Cleveland Browns fans have little to be excited about this upcoming season.

    Since the NFL-AFL merger, the Browns have been synonymous with futility. The team has had just three winning season since 1990—Cleveland has gone 103-185 over that span.

    In the nine seasons since the adoption of the modern four-division format, Cleveland has finished in the top-half of the division only once and dead last six times.

    As a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2002, San Francisco will relish the chance to play another struggling team whom they have a strong chance of beating.

1. Baltimore Ravens

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    What is more exciting for the San Francisco 49ers than to watch their brand new head coach match wits against his older brother?

    Jim and John Harbaugh are the first-ever siblings to both be NFL coaches, and fortunately enough, their first season at the pro level features an inter-family matchup.

    John definitely has the edge with the established team. He will in all likelihood come out on top as the Ravens are one of the better teams around the NFL these days.

    Regardless of the game's outcome, the intrigue is hard to match. The Harbaugh Derby will be one of San Francisco's highlights this season.