The 2004 Cincinnati Bengals season was the team's 37th year in professional football and its 35th with the National Football League. The Bengals began to focus on the future, trading All-Pro running back Corey Dillon to the New England Patriots. That cleared the way for Rudi Johnson to start at running back. Carson Palmer was given the starting quarterback job. Palmer and the young Bengals would struggle early, losing five of their first seven games. As the season wore on, the Bengals began to hit their stride, as they climbed back to .500, at 6–6, before a sprained knee sent Palmer to the sidelines during a 35–28 road loss to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Patriots.
With wins in their final two games the Bengals would finish 8–8 for the second year in a row. Rudi Johnson finished sixth in the NFL in rushing with 1,454 yards, giving Bengals fans hope for the future.
The 2004 season constituted the first time since 1991 that the Bengals played the Washington Redskins, and the match produced their first ever away win over that franchise. The reason for this is that before the admission of the Texans in 2002, NFL scheduling formulas for games outside a team’s division were much more influenced by table position during the previous season.