The 2011 NFL schedule was released and assuming there is no interruption to the football season, the Bears face a daunting start — and finish — to their schedule.

It was rumored to be a possibility that the Bears could face the defending champion Green Bay Packers on the opening night of the football season. They and the Saints were considered the two favorites to earn that unenviable task and New Orleans was ultimately selected. Since 2004, when the NFL began scheduling defending champions to open the season with a Thursday night home game, the champions have yet to lose.

It’s probably better that the Bears didn’t draw that duty.

Instead, the Bears will face the Packers at Soldier Field in Week 3, but not before facing a pair of tough NFC South opponents in the first two weeks. Atlanta will come to Chicago in Week 1 and the Bears will travel to New Orleans in Week 2. Considering Atlanta’s home record with Matt Ryan as the starting quarterback, it’s good that the Bears don’t have to travel there to start the season, but none of the Bears’ first three opponents will be a pushover.

The Bears’ next four games, before a Week 8 bye, are a little bit easier. They have home games against Carolina (Week 4) and Minnesota (Week 6), a road game in Detroit (Week 5), and will play overseas in London against Tampa Bay in Week 7.

In the second half of the season, the Bears will travel to Philadelphia, host the Lions and Chargers, visit the Raiders, host the Chiefs, make the trip to Denver before their last home game in Week 15 against the Seahawks. The Bears close out the regular season with two tough road games: a Christmas night game against the Packers and a New Year’s Day game against the Vikings.