The American Football Conference (AFC) was born out of the merger between the National Football League and the American Football League (AFL) in 1970. After the AFL’s inception in 1960 and its addition of two expansion teams, the Miami Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals, it was merged with NFL to form the AFC and the National Football Conference (NFC). To balance the numbers, three NFL teams – Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the then-Baltimore Colts joined the ten former AFL teams to constitute the AFC. The formation saw mostly intact AFL divisions with a touch of the NFL’s Century Division forming the new AFC Central. The divisional setup was primarily based on geographical lines, agreed upon for the 1970 season.


Expansion, Relocation, and Realignment

Since its inception, the AFC has seen dynamic shifts – the addition of five expansion teams and the departure of two. The Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers temporarily joined the AFC and NFC respectively in 1976. Following a one-season arrangement, they swapped conferences, with the Seahawks returning to the NFC due to the 2002 realignment. Relocation too played a role in the AFC’s evolution. The Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984, while the Oakland Raiders moved to Los Angeles in 1982, back to Oakland in 1995, and finally to Las Vegas in 2020. The San Diego Chargers, after 56 years in San Diego, relocated back to Los Angeles in 2017. The Houston Oilers’ move to Tennessee in 1997 led to their renaming as the Tennessee Oilers and eventually the Tennessee Titans two years later. The AFC’s expansion continued in 2002 with the addition of the Houston Texans. With the exception of several relocations since that time, the divisional setup has remained relatively stable.


Teams and Season Structure

A total of 16 teams, organized into four divisions (East, North, South, and West), make up the AFC. Each team plays others in their respective division twice during the regular season, in addition to eleven other games assigned to their schedule by the NFL. Three games are based on a team’s final divisional standing from the previous season, while the remaining eight games are split between two other NFL divisions. This pattern rotates each year and adheres to a standard cycle. For example, in the 2023 season, each team in the AFC West will compete against every team in the AFC East and NFC North. The end of each season sees the top four division winners and three wild cards qualifying for the playoffs, culminating in the AFC Championship Game. The winner receives the Lamar Hunt Trophy and competes with the NFC champion in the Super Bowl.


Performance Over the Years

From 1995 to 2021, only nine of the AFC’s 16 teams made it to the Super Bowl. The New England Patriots made the most appearances with 10, followed by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos with four each. On the contrary, the NFC sent 13 of its 16 teams during the same period. Between 2001 and 2019, the AFC champions mainly relied on three quarterbacks – Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger. The AFC started seven quarterbacks in the last 20 Super Bowls, whereas the NFC started 16.

AFC Teams

Baltimore RavensBuffalo BillsCincinnati BengalsCleveland Browns
Denver BroncosHouston TexansIndianapolis ColtsJacksonville Jaguars
Kansas City ChiefsLas Vegas RaidersLos Angeles ChargersMiami Dolphins
New England PatriotsNew York JetsPittsburgh SteelersTennessee Titans


AFC Champions

2022Kansas City ChiefsCincinnati Bengals23-20
2021Cincinnati BengalsKansas City Chiefs27-24 (OT)
2020Kansas City ChiefsBuffalo Bills38-24
2019Kansas City ChiefsTennessee Titans35-24
2018New England PatriotsKansas City Chiefs37-31 (OT)
2017New England PatriotsJacksonville Jaguars24-20
2016New England PatriotsPittsburgh Steelers36-17
2015Denver BroncosNew England Patriots20-18
2014New England PatriotsIndianapolis Colts45-7
2013Denver BroncosNew England Patriots26-16
2012Baltimore RavensNew England Patriots28-13
2011New England PatriotsBaltimore Ravens23-20
2010Pittsburgh SteelersNew York Jets24-19
2009Indianapolis ColtsNew York Jets30-17
2008Pittsburgh SteelersBaltimore Ravens23-14
2007New England PatriotsSan Diego Chargers21-12
2006Indianapolis ColtsNew England Patriots38-34
2005Pittsburgh SteelersDenver Broncos34-17
2004New England PatriotsPittsburgh Steelers41-27
2003New England PatriotsIndianapolis Colts24-14
2002Oakland RaidersTennessee Titans41-24
2001New England PatriotsPittsburgh Steelers24-17
2000Baltimore RavensOakland Raiders16-3


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