The final preseason game on the schedule for the Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos is the last opportunity many players for both squads will have to impress coaches and earn a roster spot.
Just two days after the game, all 32 NFL teams must cut their rosters down to 53 players, meaning jobs are on the line Thursday night at Sports Authority Field.
For the Broncos, it's Super Bowl or bust in 2013.
Peyton Manning doesn't likely have many more seasons left in him, so urgency won't be a problem for Denver as long as he's still steering the ship.
Arizona should be much improved in Bruce Arians' first season at the helm. His vertical, attacking style of offense suits Carson Palmer's skill set to perfection, meaning that Larry Fitzgerald won't suffer through another nightmare season and should challenge for All-Pro honors—as befits a receiver of his talents.
Here's what you need to know about Thursday night's Cardinals-Broncos tilt.
When: Thursday, Aug. 29, 9 p.m. ET
Where: Sports Authority Field, Mile High, Denver, Colo.
Watch: No national coverage; check local listings
Live Stream: Preseason Live
Betting Lines (via Covers): Over/Under: 38.5 points; Spread: pick
Cardinals Injury Report (via ESPN.com)
Out: Jonathan Cooper, OG
Questionable: Rob Housler, TE, Andre Roberts, WR, Dan Williams, DT
Probable: Ryan Williams, RB, Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Daryn Colledge, OG
Broncos Injury Report (via ESPN.com)
Out: Quinton Carter, S
Questionable: Jeremiah Johnson, RB, Derek Wolfe, DE
Probable: Jacob Tamme, TE
Will Montee Ball Show Up Big for Broncos?
Rookie running back Montee Ball has a chance to become an integral member of Denver's offense this year. Peyton Manning has gotten rocked a few times this preseason due to his shaky offensive line. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase must establish a running game in order to keep Manning healthy.
Gase is currently of a mind to employ "a committee" approach to the running back position, as noted by Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com:
#Broncos OC Adam Gase said team will use all of the RBs "by committee'' and "we've never shied away from that.''— Jeff Legwold (@Jeff_Legwold) August 27, 2013
Ronnie Hillman looked like he was going to run away with the starting role before he fumbled his way into the doghouse for a few days before falling back into John Fox's good graces.
With a strong showing on Thursday night—particularly as a pass-protector—Ball could earn some trust and more playing time once the regular season begins.
This is an interesting game to predict.
Which team will win?
Both teams feature backup quarterbacks capable of putting up big numbers. Between Drew Stanton and Brock Osweiler, we could be looking at two future NFL starters.
Given the wealth of talent and depth on Arizona's defense, I'm expecting the road team to come away with the victory to finish out the preseason in style.
Final Score: Cardinals win, 24-21
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