American Football Conference logo (2010-present)
|League||National Football League|
|Formerly||American Football League (AFL)|
|No. of teams||16|
|Most recent champion(s)||New England Patriots (8th Title)|
|Most titles||Tied, Pittsburgh Steelers (8 titles), New England Patriots (8 titles)|
The American Football Conference (AFC) is one of the two conferences of the National Football League (NFL). This conference and its counterpart, the National Football Conference (NFC), currently contain 16 teams each, making up the 32 teams of the NFL. The current AFC title holder is the New England Patriots.
Each AFC team plays the other teams in its division twice (home and away) during the regular season, in addition to 10 other games assigned to their schedule by the NFL the previous May. Two of these games are assigned on the basis of the team's final division standing in the previous season. The remaining 8 games are split between the roster of two other NFL divisions. This assignment shifts each year. For instance, in the 2007 regular season, each team in the AFC West played one game against each team in both the AFC South and the NFC North. In this way division competition consists of common opponents, with the exception of the 2 games assigned on the strength of each team's prior division standing. (i.e. the division winner will face the other two division winners in the AFC divisions that they are not scheduled to play) The NFC operates according to the same system.
At the end of each football season, there are playoff games involving the top six teams in the AFC (the four division champions by place standing and the top two remaining non-division-champion teams ("wild cards") by record). The last two teams remaining play in the AFC Championship game with the winner receiving the Lamar Hunt Trophy. The AFC champion plays the NFC champion in the Super Bowl. After Super Bowl XLVII the AFC has won 20 Super Bowls to the 24 won by the NFC. Since losing 13 consecutive Super Bowls in the 1980s and 1990s (XIX–XXXI), the AFC has won 10 of the last 16. The coach of the team with the best record that lost in the AFC Divisional round is the coach of the Pro Bowl.
Both the AFC and the NFC were created after the NFL merged with the American Football League (AFL) in 1970. The AFL began play in 1960 with eight teams, and added two more expansion clubs (the Miami Dolphins in 1966 and the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968) before the merger. In order to equalize the number of teams in each conference, three NFL teams that predated the AFL's launch (the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the then-Baltimore Colts) joined the ten former AFL teams to form the AFC. The two AFL divisions AFL East and AFL West were more or less intact, while the Century Division, in which the Browns and the Steelers had played since 1967, was moved from the NFL to become the new AFC Central.
Since the merger, five expansion teams have joined the AFC and two have left, thus making the current total 16. When the Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers joined the league in 1976, they were temporarily placed in the NFC and AFC respectively. This arrangement lasted for one season only before the two teams switched conferences. The Seahawks eventually returned to the NFC as a result of the 2002 realignment. The expansion Jacksonville Jaguars joined the AFC in 1995.
The Houston Texans were then added to the league in 2002, joining the AFC.
Between 2000 and 2014, the AFC had sent either the Baltimore Ravens (2 times), the Denver Broncos (1 time), the Indianapolis Colts (2 times), the Oakland Raiders (1 time), the New England Patriots (6 times), and the Pittsburgh Steelers (3 times) to the Super Bowl. By contrast, the NFC has sent 11 different teams during that same time frame.
The merged league created a new logo for the AFC that took elements of the old AFL logo, specifically the "A" and the six stars surrounding it. The AFC logo basically remained unchanged from 1970 to 2009. The 2010 NFL season introduced an updated AFC logo, with the most notable revision being the removal of two stars (leaving four representing the four divisions of the AFC), and moving the stars inside the letter, similar to the NFC logo.