By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts ball hawk

Loyal Cold, Hard Football Facts readers (Hi, Cousin Cooter!) are fully aware by now that the NFL is all about the passing game.
Teams that pass well on offense and stop the pass on defense win a lot of games. And teams that do both best, such as New Orleans in 2009 and Green Bay in 2010, usually win championships.
So we decided to look at the 2011 strength of schedule based upon Defensive Passer Rating. Which teams' opponents, in other words, were the best and worst last year on pass defense. Now, we understand all these strength of schedule projections end up meaning little in the long term. Just because a team’s opponents won 55 percent of their games last year, for example, does not mean they’re going to be that tough this year.
Same thing with Defensive Passer Rating: just because certain teams were great against the pass last year does not mean they will be this year. Still, it’s an interesting exercise just the same.
The entire list is below. Some of the highlights:

Welcome news for Jake Locker and Andy Dalton

The rookie quarterbacks represent the future of the franchise in Tennessee and Cincinnati, respectively.

If they do take the reins, our strength-of-schedule projections say they’ll have a pretty easy road by the low standards of rookie QBs: Locker and the Titans face the weakest group of pass defenses in football, with an 87.8 Defensive Passer Rating last year. It certainly helps when a full quarter of your schedule comes against Houston (100.5 DPR) and Jacksonville (98.5 DPR), the two worst defenses in football last year based upon Defensive Passer Rating.  
Dalton and the Bengals enjoy the prospects of the second-easiest schedule. Their opponents posted an average 86.0 Defensive Passer Rating last year.
Rookie quarterbacks not named Ben Roethlisberger almost always struggle in the NFL. So the schedule may mean little as Locker and Dalton attempt to find their way in the NFL. Both have predictably struggled in the preseason.
Locker, who proved relatively inaccurate in college, has completed just 53.6 percent of his attempts with 1 TD, 1 INT and a 69.2 passer rating, taking most of the Titans snaps in the first two exhibition games. Dalton has thrown 0 TD and 3 INT with a 30.9 passer rating, handling the bulk of the Bengals snaps.

Better news for playoff powerhouses

The Steelers, Eagles, Jets, Ravens, Colts and Patriots are all among favorites to win the Super Bowl and all but the Jets have been powerhouses for the past decade.

All have elite quarterbacks, too – with New York’s Sanchez perhaps still best described as an elite-QB-in-waiting. At the very least, he’s one of the game’s bright young stars.
So it seems a little unfair that all these teams and quarterbacks project to face an easy collection of pass defenses this year. All six teams are in the top 10 of softest pass-defenses: Pittsburgh No. 4, Philadelphia No. 5, N.Y. Jets No. 6, Baltimore No. 7, Indy No. 8 and New England No. 9.
Seems the rich stand to get richer in a year many already project will provide plenty of extra advantages to the game’s elite organizations.

Real bad news for the Black & Blow Division

The NFC North made great strides last year toward shedding the second-rate status that earned it the moniker “Black & Blow Division” from the Cold, Hard Football Facts in our trend-setting Gridiron Glossary.

After all, the NFC title came down to Packers-Bears (in just their second-ever postseason meeting), while Green Bay brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Titletown for just the second time in the 44 years since its namesake roamed the sidelines.
The 2011 season is one of hope, too: the Packers and Bears should be contenders again, while Detroit was absolutely the most improved team in football in 2010.
But the division’s quarterbacks will all have to earn it the hard way this year: the quartet of teams project to face four of the five toughest groups of pass defenses in 2011.
Of course, the fact that Green Bay and Chicago ranked Nos. 1 and 3, respectively, in Defensive Passer Rating last year skews the schedule against the NFC North. But tough cookies. 
Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has already proven an elite quarterback and can shred the best of pass defenses, as he proved with his MVP performance in the Super Bowl against a Pittsburgh team that ranked No. 2 in Defensive Passer Rating.
The rest of the crew is not so lucky: Chicago enters the 2011 season with the same second-rate passing game that has plagued the organization since the day that Sid Luckman retired.
Detroit still harbors high hopes from its offense and from young quarterback Matt Stafford. The second toughest pass-defense schedule won’t help that confidence.
And then, finally, there’s north star-crossed Minnesota, the organization can’t catch a break unless it’s a bad one. This year, the team will put its hopes in either rookie Christian Ponder or old warhorse Donovan McNabb. (Hey, it could be worse, Vikings fans: imagine if you're team put its hopes in a 40-year-old mistake-prone gunslinger with a history of colossal choke jobs in big games. Seriously, what team and what fan base would be so desperate as to put its hopes in a guy like that?)
It won’t help Ponder and McNabb that the Vikings project to face the toughest group of pass defenses in the NFL this year, with a 80.3 Defensive Passer Rating in 2010. Just can't catch a break, Vikes fans.

Here's the entire list. Remember, the higher the Defensive Passer Rating, the worse the defenses.

2011 DPR Strength of Schedule
Team Aggregate DPR Average DPR
Tennessee 1404.92 87.81
Cincinnati 1376.02 86.00
Miami 1374.87 85.93
Pittsburgh 1371.79 85.74
Philadelphia 1368.5 85.53
NY Jets 1368.16 85.51
Baltimore 1367.36 85.46
Indianapolis 1367.29 85.46
New England 1364.03 85.25
Houston 1361.69 85.11
Cleveland 1361.67 85.10
Washington 1361.25 85.08
Tampa Bay 1357.39 84.84
NY Giants 1354.96 84.69
Dallas 1354.38 84.65
Jacksonville 1354.32 84.65
Arizona 1351.41 84.46
San Diego 1346.67 84.17
Buffalo 1345.99 84.12
Carolina 1341.07 83.82
Oakland 1338.28 83.64
San Francisco 1337.98 83.62
New Orleans 1337.17 83.57
Atlanta  1335.74 83.48
St. Louis 1335 83.44
Kansas City 1333.4 83.34
Seattle 1328.36 83.02
Green Bay 1311.92 82.00
Denver 1309.58 81.85
Chicago 1306.45 81.65
Detroit 1289.3 80.58
Minnesota 1285.32 80.33