No team made bigger strides last season than Cincinnati, which finished 8-8 and was in playoff contention until the final game, a significant accomplishment for a team coming off a two-win season.

The Bengals hope to take the next step by turning their offense over to Carson Palmer, who did not take a snap last year as a backup to Jon Kitna. Kitna threw for 3,591 yards with 26 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season.

"The worst thing I can do is try to go out there and try to prove my worth or try to prove myself trying to throw the big ball," Palmer told "I have to be patient and take what the defense gives me. I'll have to dink it around. I'm sure the crowd just wants to see me wing it down the sidelines. But when you try to prove your worth, it makes you force things and force a bad decision."

Rudi Johnson emerged to rush for 957 yards and nine touchdowns, and will continue to be the team's featured running back after Corey Dillon was traded to the New England Patriots.

If Cincinnati is going to challenge for its first playoff berth since 1990, it must improve defensively. The Bengals were 28th in the league in total defense under Coach Marvin Lewis, who was one of the league's top defensive coordinators before arriving in Cincinnati last year.

The Bengals acquired middle linebacker Nate Webster to complement linebackers Kevin Hardy and Brian Simmons to bolster a unit that was 25th against the run, allowing 138.6 yards per game.

Cincinnati also upgraded its secondary, which was one of the league's worst last year. The Bengals signed former Broncos Pro Bowl cornerback Deltha O'Neal to play opposite cornerback Tory James (team-high four interceptions), and signed former Rams free safety Kim Herring to play alongside strong safety Rogers Beckett.

Best Hands: Cris Collinsworth was a three-time Pro Bowler who led team in receiving in six of his eight seasons. He finished with 417 receptions for 6,698 yards and 36 touchdowns.

Worst Hands: After leaving Washington, Michael Westbrook, a former first-round draft pick, went to the Bengals and had just eight catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns in 2002.

Grading This Year's WRs: Led by Chad Johnson, the group is poised to emerge as one of the league's best units after Bengals had 26 touchdown receptions last season, third highest in the conference.

WRs grade: B plus