Saturday's Preseason Essentials
Tony Mejia

Minnesota at Denver (PK, 35), 9 p.m. ET: The Vikings are the last of this season’s three NFC co-favorites to debut and will also see Kirk Cousins make his first appearance despite the absence of three starting offensive linemen. The Vikes have been cursed by injuries up front early on, losing guard Nick Easton to a neck injury that is expected to be season-ending. Running back Dalvin Cook is also poised to return, although head coach Mike Zimmer hasn’t divulged whether he’d throw him out there this early. With Jerick McKinnon gone, the Vikings will lean on Latavius Murray as Cook’s backup but are hoping another back can step up, so Mack Brown, Mike Boone, Roc Thomas and Johnny Stanton looking to impress. Trevor Siemian and Kyle Sloter, both of whom have spent time with the Broncos team they’ll run into here, are vying to back up Cousins and can make a good impression by playing well against many former teammates they used to practice against daily. Zimmer has been a cash cow for bettors since taking over with the Vikings, winning 14 of 17 preseason games. He’s a perfect 4-0 in exhibition openers, winning the last two on the road.

Vance Joseph’s first season at the helm was a disaster, so he’ll be under some pressure to get his team to perform early. Case Keenum comes over from the Vikes to try and stabilize the quarterback position and has hit the ground running. He’ll play no more than two series before giving way to Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly, who will end up locked into a battle for No. 2 despite one being a 2016 first-round pick and the other falling to pick No. 253 a year later. It definitely sounds like the offense will again be in serious trouble if Keenum can’t stay healthy all season, but there is a lot of young personnel worth monitoring in second-round pick Courtland Sutton, fourth-rounder DaeSean Hamilton 2017 undrafted product Tim Patrick, all receivers. The defense will again be the backbone of the team even with Aqib Talib moved to the Rams, and could excel again if No. 5 pick Bradley Chubb can be dominant as a rookie. Joseph had a perfect preseason in his first year. Denver has won its last three exhibition games at Mile High.


L.A. Chargers at Arizona (-2.5/36.5), 10 p.m. ET: With a more accurate kicker, the Chargers would’ve been a playoff team in 2017. Despite little homefield advantage, L.A. won nine of its last 12, finishing in a four-way tie at 9-7. They got off to an ugly start in the preseason, getting blown out by a combined 61-24 at the StubHub Center in exhibitions before opening the regular season with three straight defeats there. Anthony Lynn and his coordinators, veteran former head coaches Ken Whisenhunt and Gus Bradley, have prioritized getting off to a better start and appreciate not having to start from scratch, so we’ll see if positive results come quickly. A determination hasn’t been made on whether to let Philip Rivers suit up, but he played a series last year. The starting defense played a quarter but is expected to be missing Joey Bosa due to a foot injury. L.A. will get a great look at its depth, which includes determining the better backup for Rivers, Cardale Jones or the newly acquired Geno Smith.

The Cardinals have a new regime with Steve Wilks having replaced Bruce Arians as head coach. While QB Carson Palmer retired, the return of Larry Fitzgerald did preserve one link to the past, while David Johnson coming back from wrist surgery can be considered another plus. Patrick Peterson is also in the mix, so Wilks, a defensive mind who coached with the Panthers for the past six years after three-season stints coaching DBs for the Bears and Chargers, will have an elite presence to work with closely in molding the backbone for a talented defense. The Arizona offense took a hit since center AQ Shipley was lost to the season this week, so don’t expect to see starter Sam Bradford exposed for more than a series. That means Josh Rosen, the No. 10 pick out of UCLA, should play the bulk of this one. Former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy is in charge of the offense and also gets to try and enhance Mike Glennon’s trade value in the second half here, likely giving the home team an edge.