Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Though they'd never admit it, you have to know the NFC East teams have been looking forward to facing this division. The Chiefs will eventually be good because Scott Pioli helped Bill Belichick invent football, and Todd Haley's going to be an excellent head coach. But it won't happen for them this quickly. The Broncos aren't poised for a breakout season by any means -- and the Raiders are the Raiders. The biggest challenge will be the Chargers, and that's where I'll spend most of my time during this exciting summer feature. Here are seven things to watch as we prepare for this AFC West-NFC East showdown:
1. Wade Phillips gets a look at his old defense: The Cowboys' head coach helped Shawne Merriman have the best season of his career when he was the defensive coordinator in San Diego. In fact, the Chargers' defense hasn't been nearly as dominant since Phillips brought his version of the 3-4 to Dallas. The Chargers will play on the road against the Browns and then come to Dallas on Dec. 13. It will be a great opportunity to see Merriman and DeMarcus Ware on the same field. The Cowboys opted for Ware over Merriman, and at this point, it looks like they made the right decision.
2. Philip Rivers visits the Meadowlands: On Nov. 8, the Chargers will visit Giants Stadium. Obviously Rivers and Giants quarterback Eli Manning will always be linked because of the big trade in 2004. Chargers fans -- and AFC West blogger Bill Williamson -- are convinced that Rivers is a better quarterback than Manning. But Rivers doesn't have a ring, and he puts up a lot of big numbers against inferior teams in the AFC West. Manning and the Giants win this one.
3. Should be an interesting Thanksgiving between the two divisions: Can't wait to watch Cowboys owner Jerry Jones give his mentor, Al Davis, a tour of the new stadium. That velour sweatsuit that Davis pulls out from time to time should keep him toasty in a domed stadium that is a little on the coolish side. I'm actually intrigued to see whether Darrius Heyward-Bey has anything. He'll have some opportunities against a Cowboys secondary that doesn't have a lot of depth and could be banged up. The other matchup, the Giants at Denver, is a lot more interesting. The Broncos could be in full fade mode at this point, but Invesco Field is still a tough place to play at 8:20 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving night. Or at least I think it will be.
4. Another reason I love that Cowboys-Chargers matchup Dec. 13: Chargers coach Norv Turner thinks he should've been the successor to Bill Parcells in Dallas, although he's always very complimentary of Phillips. Turner would've been exactly what Tony Romo needs -- someone who won't accept the careless mistakes. I think Phillips and Turner will bring a little something extra to this game.
5. The DeAngelo Hall "homecoming" game in Oakland: I'm not saying it's going to be a good game, but it will be fun to watch Hall return to Oakland on Dec. 13. Raiders owner Al Davis couldn't wait to dump the cornerback, but Hall has revived his career in Washington. Tom Cable vs. Jim Zorn. Isn't that the one you guys have been waiting for?
6. Eagles have a cross-country trip after an emotional game: The Eagles host the Cowboys in Week 9 and then fly across the country to play the Chargers in Week 10. It's the first part of a really tough stretch for Philly. I think it will be a great test for the Eagles, in part, because this is about the time the Chargers usually start putting things together.
7. Todd Haley will be waiting on the Cowboys: In Week 5, the Cowboys will make the trip to Arrowhead. I think Haley, the former passing game coordinator in Dallas, will take this one personally. He
still knows a lot of people with the organization and he definitely has a tremendous grasp of the Cowboys' personnel. Potential loss for the Cowboys. I assure you Haley already has this one circled.
Who benefits most?
The Redskins have the best schedule against the AFC West. I like that they host the Chiefs and Broncos before they get into late November. The Skins make the trip to Oakland on Dec. 13, and that game doesn't scare me because the Raiders will be out of it. The Redskins finish the season with a cross-country trip to San Diego. Something tells me that game won't matter for the Chargers because they will have sewn up a playoff spot. And that would be a good thing for the Skins if they're actually still in the hunt.