CINCINNATI - The Bengals are convinced that this time, it will be different.
No first-round flameout. No winter full of playoff angst. No more fans grumbling about how they can't win the big one - or any one that happens after the regular season.
That historic streak of playoff futility? They've got their best chance to put it to rest.
The Bengals (11-5) haven't won a playoff game since the 1990 season, a stretch of futility that's tied for seventh-longest in NFL history. They're favored to end the drought on Sunday when they host the San Diego Chargers (9-7), a team they beat 17-10 a month ago.
Unlike the past two seasons, when the Bengals were a young team that got into the playoffs as a wild card, this postseason holds a lot more promise.
Just win one.
"That's really the next hurdle,'' offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "There's not a hurdle we haven't cleared this season.''
Things seem to be falling into place for the AFC North champions. By winning the division title, they get to host a playoff game for the first time since 2009, when they lost to the Jets.
And they've gotten the more favorable matchup. The Chargers got the final wild card on Sunday by beating Kansas City 27-24 in overtime. The Chiefs had a chance to win it, but Ryan Succop's 41-yard field goal attempt was wide at the end of regulation.
The NFL acknowledged on Monday that the Chargers should have been penalized for an illegal formation on the play, giving Succop another chance. A Chiefs win would have put Pittsburgh in the playoffs and sent the Steelers to Cincinnati on Sunday.
The Steelers beat the Bengals in Pittsburgh 30-20 on Dec. 15 and would have brought thousands of their fans to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, cutting into the Bengals' home-field advantage.