Can you smell it? (Inhales deeply through nose) Ahhh, the regular season is near. Fresh-cut grass and hope smell good at University of Phoenix Stadium. Soon, we will be discussing real football. Soon, these games will matter.
But until then, there is one more game to get through on the road to the regular season. So let's go over some statistics, connections and other stuff for the Arizona Cardinals' preseason finale at the Denver Broncos.
Since we will see virtually nothing from the starters on either sideline Thursday, we will highlight some of the backups who won't get much playing time during the season (some may not even be on the rosters Monday).
Cardinals' backup quarterback Drew Stanton has completed 25-of-43 passes for 314 yards (7.3 YPA), one touchdown and two interceptions for a 69.3 passer rating. He also has been sacked six times, a sign that the backup offensive line has struggled -- particularly left tackle Nate Potter, who has allowed three of the six.
Ryan Lindley, who is among those who could be cut following the game, has completed 10-of-17 for 156 yards (9.2 YPA), no TD and no INT for a team-high 89.3 rating. He has yet to be sacked, but as he will see the bulk of the playing time Thursday night in Denver, that could change.
Broncos' second-stringer Brock Osweiler has completed 31-of-47 for 260 yards (5.5 YPA), no TD and 2 INT for a 62.4 rating -- he has been sacked eight times. While he figures to start the game in lieu of Peyton Manning, rookie Zac Dysert (3-of-3, 16 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 88.9 rating) likely will play the majority of the contest and could be released sometime this weekend.
Running back Ryan Williams will get a lot of playing time as well, and if he wants to make the 53-man roster, he needs to put on a show in the Mile High City. In a limited role last week, he carried twice for 10 yards (five yards each carry) and caught a 6-yard delayed screen pass from Stanton in which he stopped on a dime to change direction, making two defenders briefly miss.
What was most impressive about the play was that he put 6'5", 317-pound defensive end Brandon Moore on his backside with a chip block before making the catch.
The Cardinals are 6-16 in the preseason against the Broncos, and just 2-8 in Denver. Their first meeting, in Denver on Aug. 15, 1970, resulted in a 26-16 defeat; the latest, last year in Glendale, was a 16-13 defeat.
The starters will get very little work during Thursday's affair. A couple first-teamers -- including Palmer -- may not even play. For the most part, this one will be a battle of the roster hopefuls.
Unfortunately, that does include Williams. After all the talk and all the hype about him being ready to go, he missed two weeks of training camp after an MRI revealed nothing damaged in his surgically repaired knee.
Now, he probably has to shine against backups to make his case for a roster spot.
Also in the mix for a spot on the roster are wide receivers Kerry Taylor, Jaron Brown and Charles Hawkins. It's not necessarily a good thing that the No. 4 receiver position will come down to two undrafted rookies and a guy who has yet to stick with a team. But it is what it is, and unless a player of note is released from an NFL roster and signed by the Cardinals, one of these three players will make the team as that No. 4 guy.
The Cardinals have two players and two coaches who have ties to the Broncos. Long snapper Mike Leach played there from 2002 to '08, and his current streak of 168 consecutive games played began with the final eight games of that 2002 season. Tight end Kory Sperry is from Pueblo, Colorado and attended Colorado State from 2004 to '08. He spent part of the 2010 preseason with the Broncos.
Defensive assistant/assistant defensive backs coach Ryan Slowik worked for the Broncos from 2006 to '08. And director of pro scouting Quentin Harris played for the Broncos in 2006, appearing in six games.
The Broncos have four players and one coach who spent time with the Cardinals. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was drafted in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft and spent his first three seasons in Arizona before being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Kevin Kolb deal. Linebacker Paris Lenon played with the Cardinals from 2010 to '12, starting all 48 games over those three seasons and led the team with 320 total tackles over that time (Daryl Washington was second, with 314).
Linebacker Stewart Bradley played in Arizona in 2011 and '12. He appeared in all 32 games over that span but did not start a single game; he recorded 31 total tackles. Wide receiver Gerell Robinson starred at Chandler Hamilton high school before attending Arizona State. He spent the majority of the 2012 season on the Cardinals practice squad.
Broncos wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert served in the same position with the Cards in 2003.