The NFL preseason moves into its first full week of action, including a Thursday night matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Chargers. At home, the Cardinals are a two-point favorite with an over/under of 35.5 points.
The Chargers enter this season with high expectations. Los Angeles was 12-4 last year but got lost in the AFC shuffle amidst the Chiefs and Patriots. But they should not be forgotten about this season and are poised for a big year, so even for a preseason game, there’s a lot of excitement around the Chargers.
Of course, there are high levels of excitement surrounding the Cardinals as well, but for different reasons. Arizona has a new head coach in Kliff Kingsbury and a new quarterback in Kyler Murray, and internally, the Cardinals believe both are rising stars. Only time will tell if both pan out, but coming off a 3-13 campaign in 2018, the Cardinals have nowhere to go but up.
Just a Glimpse
Murray will get his first taste of NFL action on Thursday, although he isn’t expected to play much. Arizona’s offensive line was a disaster last season, and while the team has tried to improve that group during the offseason, they surely aren’t going to expose Murray to injury once the backup linemen are in the game. On top of that, David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, two of the few established veterans on the Arizona offense, aren’t going to play much, so Murray may not be set up for success in his first appearance.
Either way, it’ll be the Arizona backups who will be playing for three-plus quarters on Thursday. Backup quarterback Brett Hundley should see extensive playing time, as should a group of young but promising wide receivers, including Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler. Outside of Hundley and Arizona’s other quarterbacks, most players the Cardinals have will know that roster spots and playing time will be up for grabs during the preseason, so everyone should be motivated to make their mark.
Nothing to Prove
The Chargers are likely to take a relaxed and professional approach to this preseason game, especially since they’ll be on the road and won’t have to worry about impressing their fans. They know what they have and won’t risk injury to their starters this early in the preseason. That means Philip Rivers will play limited snaps, as will running backs Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson and most of the stars on the Los Angeles defense.
If there’s one weakness the Chargers have heading into the season, it could be the team’s overall depth, something that will be noticed in the first preseason game. At quarterback, the Chargers will be in good shape with Tyrod Taylor, Cardale Jones, and Easton Stick. But there’s nothing particularly impressive about the Los Angeles backups.
A Question of Motivation
Motivation should always be taken into account when it comes to preseason games. The Cardinals will be eager to put in a good performance and get a win after last year’s 3-13 season, especially at home. The Chargers, on the other hand, have no such concerns and won’t care too much about the result of the game. That gives Arizona an edge, and with the spread at less than a field goal, bet on the Cardinals to win and cover.
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