What’s the best division in football?

In the NFL, parity rules, and trying to pre-judge any team in July, much less assess which clubs will face the toughest schedule and who will be a contender or a pretender, is a dangerous proposition. But what the heck? This is the Internet, and it’s the dog days of early July.

To me, the battle of the best division comes down to the East. All apologies to the NFC South and AFC South, which both had some powerhouses a year ago, but I’m not sure teams like Tampa Bay and Tennessee are going to be quite as strong as they were in 2008, while Atlanta faces, on paper, what could be a brutal schedule. And I’m not sure Jacksonville and Houston are going to leap up with the big boys. And I’m not sure you could make a cogent case for any of the other divisions really being in this discussion.

Perhaps it’s my East Coast bias, or the fact that I’ve covered so much NFC East football this decade, but I think watching some of these NFC East vs. AFC East games this season in going to be a hoot. These divisions are loaded with star power on the field, have some of the game’s best quarterbacks in their prime and feature some of the game’s great minds at the helm (Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Andy Reid). Pretty much every team in these divisions has the backing of powerful owners willing to dig deep to invest in a winner, and the advantages these big-market teams derive from their huge corporate and population hubs cannot be ignored, either.

In many ways, this should be the cream of the crop, and I think it will be. To me, New England is the team to beat in the AFC East with a healthy Tom Brady. Miami might slip up some, but the New York Jets were pretty darn good for 12 weeks last season and could receive a boost from new coach Rex Ryan, while the Trent Edwards-to-T.O. express might help take Buffalo from a seven-win outfit to a team that stays in the hunt.

And the NFC East has been highly competitive for years now. I see it as a three-team dogfight — I don’t believe Washington will be able to improve on last season’s .500 finish — with a case to be made for Philadelphia, the New York Giants and Dallas as teams capable of going deep into the playoffs. Could it be a season where three playoff teams come out of this division? Well, if the NFC East beats up on the NFC South in head-to-head battles, it certainly could be.

If I had to pick my Beast of the East, preseason version, I’m going to take the AFC East.

Ultimately, we know it will be one team, and not any division, that wins the crowns and is fitted for rings. But I’m always up for a little debate, and I figure this might get some people thinking.

If you feel slighted, let me know. But I’m going to exclude the AFC West and NFC West from the discussion. Even Johnnie Cochran couldn’t have swayed me that either of those divisions is worthy. Everything else is in play.

I’ll check in on the comments later, so look for me there.

— Jason La Canfora

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