In this year of the quick whistle there will be an early reading available on the shape the Eastern Division may take in the National Football Conference.

The Dallas Cowboys will try to break on top in quest of their fourth straight division title Sunday against the Cardinals in Busch Stadium.The New York Giants will play the Eagles in Philadelphia and that can be seen on television at 1 p.m., Washington time, on WDVM-TV-9.

Jim Hart of the Cardinals, who, like other quarterbacks, is being given extra protection by the officials this season, has a rookie's optimism beginning his 14th season. Despite the death in training camp of tight end J. V. Cain, the quarterback is saying, "I feel that if it's not the best offense, it ranks with the best we've ever had. We're tremendously talented; there are no weak spots. We have the firepower."

The Cardinals are catching the Cowboys wounded by retirements and injuries. Particularly painful will be the absence of running back Tony Dorsett, still recovering from a broken big toe.

This city is exuberant about No. 1 draft choice Ottis Jerome Anderson from the University of Miami (Fla.) and Theotis Brown of UCLA. They led the Cardinals 1-2 in rushing in the exhibition season and Brown was the top receiver.

Anderson is 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and Brown 6-2, 225. In a bit of preseason exaggeration Anderson has been likened to Terry Metcalf and Earl Campbell.

Anderson surely is not as quick as Metcalf, now with Toronto in the Canadian Football League, or as strong as Campbell of Houston.

Yet Hart says of Anderson, "I don't think too much is being asked of him. You give him the ball and he runs. His playing time in the preseason was staggered and he kept asking, 'When am I going to get the ball?' Well, his time has come."

Once known as the Cardiac Cardinals under Don Coryell because of their exciting finishes, the Cards still have heart. They began last season 0-8 in Coach Bud Wilkinson's first year in the pros, but won six of their last eight. The Cardinals have an exceptional offensive line to spring a running game and to give Hart time to find speedballs such as Mel Gray and Pat Tilley.

There is still another game of special interest to area fans that is on television, at 4 p.m. EDT, for those whose sets can pull in Channel 11 from Baltimore.

The Colts play at Kansas City and once more hold out the promise of an entertaining offense with Bert Jones recovered from a shoulder separation that sidelined him for 13 games in 1978. Joe Washington has his first full training camp behind him and is ready to be an all-purpose back besides adding his speed as a deep receiver to that of Roger Carr, Randy Burke, and Glenn Doughty.

It will be something of a surprise if the Giants and Eagles produce offensive fireworks. Coach Dick Vermeil of the Eagles plays it snug on the attack. The Giants are best on defense while sorting out their quarterback priority among Joe Pisarcik, Randy Dean and top draft choice Phil Simms from Morehead State.