GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Cardinals and Chargers will conclude their preseason against one another in San Diego on Thursday. This is notable because 11 days later they’ll open the regular season against each other in the second game of a Monday night doubleheader.
You know what that means? Thursday’s preseason finale in San Diego is the most meaningless preseason game in NFL history.
And that’s saying something.
Preseason games normally feature vanilla defenses, French vanilla offenses, teams that don’t game plan, starters that don’t play more than a few series and results that don’t matter — no matter what Dennis Green says.
But the fourth preseason game has always been viewed as the most meaningless of a worthless lot because the starters generally sit. An NFL spokesperson could not confirm this as the first time two teams will play each other in the preseason finale and the regular-season opener (the league is not aware of another instance), but when you add in these rare (perhaps unique) circumstances, pointlessness reaches new lows.
CARDINALS AT CHARGERS
When: 7 p.m. Thursday Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego TV: (Ch. 15) Radio: 98.7 FM Sitting this one out: Sorry. That list is too long. Most of the starters will sit, but starters coming off injuries are expected to see time including safety Tyrann Mathieu (knee), nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu (knee), left guard Jonathan Cooper (toe) and linebacker Kevin Minter (pectoral). Safety Deone Bucannon, the teams 2014 first-round pick should also play. Need to know: Coach Bruce Arians expects the starters who do play to see between 20 and 25 snaps. Third-string QB Logan Thomas will play the entire game.
"On top of that, it comes on a short week," Arizona center Lyle Sendlein said. "Nobody’s going to show anything. It’s going to be a lot of 1-on-1 battles rather than trying to win schematically. It will be a good test for the guys who play to see who can do what."
Sendlein pointed out that the Cardinals have actually been in a similar situation before. Arizona faced Green Bay in the regular-season finale in 2009, already knowing it would face the Packers again in the first round of the playoffs. That created a quandary.
"Do you want to show your cards and work on things in the game or do you want to keep everything new and fresh to where they can’t prepare for it?" Sendlein asked.
The Cardinals chose the latter approach while Green Bay played for the win, crushing the Cards 33-7 at University of Phoenix Stadium. One week later, the Cards got revenge in an epic, 51-45 overtime win in which QB Kurt Warner threw more touchdowns (five) than incompletions (four).
Of course the stakes are nowhere near as high in either of these games, so why would the Cardinals change their approach?
"You stay generic," coach Bruce Arians said. "We’ll keep it as simple as possible."
While most of the starters won’t play on Thursday, there is meaning for a handful of players trying to make the roster at wide receiver, outside linebacker, defensive back and other positions.
The game will also offer a chance for players coming off injuries to get some tune-up time. Left guard Jonathan Cooper (turf toe) and safety Tyrann Mathieu (just off PUP, knee) are hoping to play while linebacker Kevin Minter (pectoral), nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu (just off PUP, knee) and rookie safety Deone Bucannon are expected to play.
Fourth-round pick Logan Thomas will also get a chance to quarterback the entire game — the last time that will happen this season if things go according to plan for Arizona.
So if you’re the kind of person who finds beauty in all things, maybe you’ll want to tune in Thursday night. If not, you might be better served getting your beauty rest.