As we pointed out Thursday morning, we're configuring the best Bengals lineup since Cincinnati last appeared in the Super Bowl (1988 season, 1989 calendar year). We'll go through each position, provide the candidates, give you my pick, and then you guys debate/poll the winners.
We'll naturally start at quarterback.
We're not including Akili Smith or David Klingler, because the only reason someone would vote for those players is 1) you're being all rebellious with girly laughter 2) you're drunk 3) you're name starts with Chili.
Andy Dalton (two playoff appearances, one Pro Bowl): Only played two seasons thus far but has compiled a 19-13 starting record. He's been to the postseason in both seasons that he's been in the NFL and already ranks fifth in team history with 47 touchdowns thrown. If he continues to improve while sustaining his overall winning percentage, he might be considered as one of the best in franchise history. For now, he's not.
Carson Palmer (two playoff appearances, two Pro Bowls): Given time, Palmer would have devastated virtually every franchise record in the books. Having only played seven seasons, he was 43 touchdowns, and 10,000 yards passing shy of breaking those respective records. Within 2-3 years, Palmer would have been the team's best quarterback, statistically speaking, of all-time.
Jon Kitna: Was the team's regular starting quarterback for three seasons ('01-'03) and posted over 3,000 yards in each season. Was a big part in mentoring Palmer, and helping Marvin Lewis to led Cincinnati into a new era. Strung together his best season in 2003 with 26 touchdowns thrown and a 62.3 completion rate.
Jeff Blake (one Pro Bowl): No one had a prettier deep ball than Blake, who pieced together a Pro Bowl season in 1995, generating 3,822 yards receiving, 28 touchdowns, and a passer rating of 82.1. That season earned Blake a Pro Bowl. Unfortunately, and not completely his fault, Blake finished with a 25-41 record as a starting quarterback in Cincinnati.
Boomer Esiason: After a four-year hiatus with his departure in 1993, Esiason returned in 1997 for a seven-game spell where the Bengals won four of his five starts. During that span, Esiason completed 63.4 percent of his passes, scored 13 touchdowns against only two interceptions and 1,478 yards passing for a season-long for a 106.9 passer rating. However, based on our criteria (players that started the Super Bowl are ineligible), you're voting for Boomer's 1997 season only.
No quarterback has done what Dalton has in his first two seasons and gone to consecutive playoffs. Loved Boomer but one half-season isn't enough.
I'm going with what figures to be the unpopular pick in Carson Palmer. I'm ignoring his exit or general decline starting in 2007. And even though he generally failed to live up to his infinite expectations, there was no offense more beautiful than the one he conducted in 2005. We can only imagine how Palmer, prior to his knee and elbow injuries, would be doing in this offense today.
Now you vote for your pick, argue for the reasons in the comments. Let's have fun with this.