Think back to 1990. What a year it was. D.C. Mayor Marion Barry was arrested in an FBI sting, West and East Germany reunited, Iraq invaded Kuwait, Madonna's "Vogue" topped the Billboard charts and the Cincinnati Bengals enjoyed their last winning season with a 9-7 record.
Fifteen years later, the Bengals seem poised to end the NFL's longest active streak of non-winning seasons. Back-to-back 8-8 campaigns under Coach Marvin Lewis has spawned rare -- and justified -- optimism. The key will be improving the run defense, which ranked 26th in the NFL in 2004. Toward that end, Cincinnati drafted Georgia defensive end-turned-linebacker David Pollack in the first round, and his college teammate, linebacker Odell Thurman, in the second.
Pollack, the reigning Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year, is expected to make a significant impact this season, although his 19-day holdout means he'll have to earn his starting spot. Thurman has dazzled at middle linebacker with his speed during camp and the preseason.
"Cincinnati got the biggest steal of the draft," said Thurman, the 48th overall pick, on draft day.
Third-year quarterback Carson Palmer's development is crucial to the offense's success. He threw for 2,897 yards, 18 touchdowns and 18 interceptions after holding a clipboard his rookie year. With running back Rudi Johnson (1,454 yards) and wide receiver Chad Johnson (1,274 yards) surrounding him, Palmer's performance could determine whether the Bengals finish over .500.