EAGAN, Minn. — This one is as real as it gets in the preseason.
The Vikings will host the Cardinals on Saturday in the third preseason game for both teams, with the starters for each squad expected to play the most significant time in exhibition play.
Kickoff is at noon (CT) at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Minnesota is 2-0 in preseason play, getting wins at New Orleans and against Seattle thus far. The Vikings went 8-7-1 and missed the postseason in 2018.
Arizona is 1-1 in exhibition play, having split contests with the Chargers and Raiders. The Cardinals went 3-13 in 2018, finishing last in the NFC West with the worst record in the NFL.
Here are three areas to watch in Saturday's contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:
The offensive line | By @EricLSmith
There wasn't a position group on the Vikings roster that didn't get overhauled as much as the offensive line this offseason.
Minnesota drafted Garrett Bradbury, added Josh Kline in free agency and shifted Pat Elflein to left guard. Those three players now make up the starting interior of the line, with Riley Reiff returning for his third season at left tackle.
The Vikings haven't been at full strength yet this preseason due to an injury to right tackle Brian O'Neill, but Saturday's game presents the final chance for a dress rehearsal before the season opener.
Rashod Hill and Storm Norton have taken reps with the line in practices in place of O'Neill, and the third preseason games will give the coaching staff a chance to evaluate not only those two, but the rest of the depth at that spot.
With the starters all but cemented, there could be four roster spots available for 11 linemen on the roster.
While the starters should play a considerable amount, keep an eye on the second and third-team units in the battle for roster spots.
Defense will face another mobile QB | By @LindseyMNSports
The Vikings will face a quarterback who has some similarities to last week's opponent.
Cardinals rookie QB Kyler Murray has drawn comparison to Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, whom Minnesota recently saw in a preseason game for the fourth consecutive year. The two passers share a likeness in size and a baseball background, and Murray also has the ability to move outside of the pocket.
Where Murray and Wilson differ, however, is in NFL experience. Murray will take the field at U.S. Bank Stadium for his third pro exhibition contest and go up against a Vikings defense that remained largely intact for the past five seasons. It will be interesting to watch how Murray fares against Minnesota's front and, conversely, how the defense responds to a young, mobile quarterback.
The Vikings have had ups and downs defensively over the first two games, and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer will look for the unit to start fast and physical against Arizona.
Largest sample size for offense | By @pcraigers
Kirk Cousins and the Vikings offense knew their opportunities would be limited in the first two preseason contests.
The unit (minus running back Dalvin Cook) maximized their nine snaps in New Orleans to open the game with a 76-yard touchdown drive to open the preseason. Last week against Seattle, the first team (sans Cook) played 19 snaps and netted a field goal out of two possessions.
The first possession was promising but a fumbled snap put Minnesota behind the chains near midfield and forced a punt.
The Vikings advanced the ball quickly on their second series with a 34-yard pass from Cousins to Adam Thielen and a 45-yard pass interference penalty drawn by the receiver on consecutive plays. A penalty on Minnesota on a goal-to-go play halted momentum and led to a 24-yard field goal.
Zimmer has generally played starters through the first half and into the third quarter in the third preseason games he's coached. Cousins said he's looking forward to more opportunities.
"I think the challenge with the first two games is if you don't start fast, don't play well early, you feel like you had a horrible game, and in reality if you play four quarters maybe you don't, it just took you longer to get going," Cousins said. "So the nice thing with the third game is you have a little bit larger sample size in case you don't start fast, but certainly we hope to and expect to start fast. We want to put together a good showing against their starters with a longer amount of time on the field."
— The Vikings offense leads the NFL this preseason with an average of 433.0 yards of total offense per game.
— Running back Mike Boone's 181 yards from scrimmage this preseason is the highest total in the NFL.
— Vikings specialists have made all seven kicks in the preseason. Dan Bailey has made six extra points and a field goal, and Kaare Vedvik was good on his lone extra point try.
— The Vikings are the only team in the NFL that hasn't allowed a sack in preseason play.
"I think it's been a real positive offseason and preseason. I'd like to finish it the right way before we get to the real thing."
The Vikings wrap up preseason play Thursday in Buffalo. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. (CT).
Minnesota opens the 2019 regular season at home against Atlanta on Sept. 8. Kickoff is at noon (CT).