The third preseason game is always the highlight of the preseason for many teams, as it's traditionally the game that the starting offensive and defensive lineups play through the entire first half.
While preseason often isn't telling (see: the 4-0 Lions in preseason going 0-16) the third preseason game can be an excellent indicator of a team's status entering the season, as the starters seldom see any time in the fourth preseason game.
Think of it as a final audition for the regular season.
So, what are the top three things to look for in tonight's game? And no, the long snapper battle isn't one of them.
Let's take a look:
Honorable Mention: Shoo, Injury Bug!
The Cardinals are in an interesting position, as they are seemingly getting healthier coming out of preseason. While quite a few players have gotten nicked up, names like Frostee Rucker, Robert Nkemdiche, Justin Bethel, Mike Jenkins and (most importantly) Tyrann Mathieu are all practicing again.
While who will play and how much is unknown at this point, except for the fact that that Mathieu is probably not going to see time until the regular season at earliest.
UPDATE: Per Kent Somers, Mathieu is getting a few series, 10-11 plays, which is excellent news and means he is further ahead than we could have seen and should be good for Week 1.
Arizona is coming out of camp without any serious or season-ending injuries, Alex Okafor's biceps tear not-withstanding as he is playing through it, and that's a good thing.
But there's always usually a rash of injuries during preseason games. We saw the Ravens lose Benjamin Watson for the year, and Cardinals fans can recall a few years ago when Jonathan Cooper broke his leg on one of the last few plays of the starters' time in the third preseason game.
Cards fans need to hope that there are no major injuries, and if that is the case, they'll be entering the season in good shape. Also: it's only MAJOR, or season-ending injuries to watch out for. Even some injuries that have players out for 6 weeks or so can be overcome, especially with how deep Arizona is at most positions.
Now onto the real list to watch:
#3. Cornerbacks not named Patrick Peterson
Brandon Williams had a firm grip on the other starting cornerback spot. It seemed. Now Justin Bethel and Mike Jenkins (despite having one hand in a cast) are pushing him for time. It's to be expected that Williams will show struggles as a corner with only one year of previous experience (much less a rookie) but he needs to show the ability to continually improve and bounce back from those struggles week to week with what the coaches are asking.
Bethel and Jenkins both can make major strides into claiming the job if either can excel and Williams struggles in the limelight tonight, and as Bruce Arians said, it's the only other starting spot still up in the air.
#2. The Nkemdiche Factor
You know that feeling of when you'd receive a big present in the mail from your grandma but had to wait a whole month until Christmas to open it? Cards fans have been feeling this way all offseason about Robert Nkemdiche.
With just a tease or two of hearing about his explosiveness and pass-rushing ability in OTA's and the first practice of training camp before his high ankle sprain, we haven't seen Nkemdiche much. That changes Sunday, as Bruce Arians intends to play Nkemdiche a lot to help him catch up on his missed reps.
The big thing to watch with Nkemdiche might not even be his final stat sheet. Rather, seeing how he is doing mentally on the line, if he's lining up right or is making the right assignments, is far more important. Nkemdiche missed a lot of time, but if he can slide in and do his job right away, Cardinals fans can look forward perhaps to seeing him spend a lot more time on the field than not rotating in as a defensive lineman.
#1. Are the Quarterbacks and the Offense Clicking?
Carson Palmer and the Cardinals offense got off to a fast start versus the Oakland Raiders in the first preseason game of the year, driving downfield almost easily. Then the team settled for a field goal and struggled versus the Chargers, including a turnover (returned for six) and generally bad play by Palmer and Stanton.
While the preseason isn't the best judgement, I do think it's important that the offense shows that it can bounce back. Palmer turning the ball over or finding pressure given by D.J. Humphries off the right side is hardly what you want to see for the team. If the Cardinals can go out and show that they are indeed worthy of repeating as the top offense in the league, it will not only be a big sigh of relief for fans, but will show the team has what it takes.
Another important thing to watch is the play of Drew Stanton. Stanton's balls have been sailing in preseason, and he's been picked off multiple times. While Arians trust Stanton and Drew isn't going anywhere any time soon, if he continues to struggle, it might be a sign that the team isn't in great hands if Palmer goes down like they were in 2014. Stanton coming out and showing himself as a capable backup could mean the difference between a top seed, playoff berth, etc. should Palmer be forced to sit for whatever reason.
And realistically, that's not what any Cardinals fans wants to see or hear, but the team goes as Palmer goes.
And tonight, we'll get a good look at just how that team is going.
So what are you looking forward to the most tonight? Let us know in the comments!