Ever since the strong finish of the 2007 NFL season for the AFC South, there have been discussions on whether or not they have unseated the NFC East as the NFL's toughest division. You have the division with Eli Manning (and Tony Romo, Jason Campbell, and Donovan McNabb) and then the division with Peyton Manning (and Vince Young, David Garrard, and Matt Shaub).
If you compare quarterbacks, the NFC East looks like it can't be beat (unless it's in the playoffs). But if you look closer at the inter-conference meetings between these teams in the last half-dozen years, you'd see an edge for Big Bro Manning and Co.
Since the Houston Texans were added to the league and the AFC South was formed in 2002, the NFC East and AFC South have been scheduled twice. In '02, the expansion Houston Texans' very first game was against the Dallas Cowboys, a game which they won, 19-10, before going on to a season of 4-12 (the pre-Bill Parcells Cowboys didn't do much better at 5-11).
All in all, the series between the divisions was split (8-8). Both divisions had two playoff-bound teams, and both divisions sent a team to its respective conference championship game. Pretty even, right?
In '06, the series went 10-6 between the two divisions. The Colts, Jags, and Titans all went 3-1 over NFC East opponents while the Texans went 1-3. The Jags and Titans both missed the playoffs that year at 8-8. Meanwhile, the Giants, Cowboys, and Eagles all made the playoffs, but none made it out of the divisional round. The Colts, of course, toted the Lombardi Trophy back to Indianapolis that year.
Last season the AFC South and NFC East both housed three playoff teams apiece. The AFC South finished with the best collective record an NFL division has ever had (42-22). However, the only team to get out of the divisional round from either division was the Giants, and we all know how that ended up (18 and one are now my favorite numbers).
So, really, what it comes down to is this season's play. From what I saw Thursday night, the Redskins are going to have some problems getting going with Jim Zorn's new offense. Washington's bleak outlook and Houston's upside (Andre Johnson is a beast) ends up giving the AFC South the edge this season for toughest division. I expect this debate to heat up following this weekend's games.