AFC Championship Game
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AFC Championship Game
AFC Championship Game
Afc championship logo.svg
AFC Championship logo
First played1971 (1970 season)
TrophyLamar Hunt Trophy

Recent and upcoming games
2019 season
Arrowhead Stadium
Kansas City, Missouri
January 19, 2020
Kansas City Chiefs 35,
Tennessee Titans 24

The AFC Championship Game is the annual championship game of the American Football Conference (AFC) and one of the two semi-final playoff games of the National Football League (NFL), the largest professional American football league in the United States. The game is played on the penultimate Sunday in January by the two remaining playoff teams, following the AFC postseason's first two rounds. The AFC champion then advances to face the winner of the NFC Championship Game in the Super Bowl.

The game was established as part of the 1970 merger between the NFL and the American Football League (AFL), with the merged league realigning into two conferences. Since 1984,[1] each winner of the AFC Championship Game has also received the Lamar Hunt Trophy, named after the founder of both the AFL and the Kansas City Chiefs, Lamar Hunt.

History

The first AFC Championship Game was played following the 1970 regular season after the merger between the NFL and the American Football League. The game is considered the successor to the former AFL Championship, and its game results are listed with that of its predecessor in the annual NFL Record and Fact Book.[2] Since the pre-merger NFL consisted of six more teams than the AFL (16 teams for the NFL and 10 for the AFL), a realignment was required as part of the merger to create two conferences with an equal number of teams: The NFL's Baltimore Colts, the Cleveland Browns, and the Pittsburgh Steelers joined the ten former AFL teams to form the AFC; while the remaining 13 pre-merger NFL clubs formed the NFC.

Every current AFC team except the Houston Texans has played in an AFC Championship Game at least once. The Seattle Seahawks, who have been members in both the AFC and the NFC, hold the distinction of appearing in both conference title games, a loss in the AFC conference title game to the Los Angeles Raiders for Super Bowl XVIII and, in their first appearance in a NFC conference title game, a win over the Carolina Panthers for Super Bowl XL. The Pittsburgh Steelers have the most appearances in the AFC Championship Game at 16, with 11 of those games being in Pittsburgh, the most for either conference. The New England Patriots have won the most AFC Championships at 11, and have played in a record eight straight AFC title games (2011-2018). Between Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, at least one of the three quarterbacks has been in every championship game between the 2003 and the 2018 seasons.

Playoff structure

The redesigned Lamar Hunt Trophy, awarded since 2010-11 season.

The structure of the NFL playoffs has changed several times since 1970. At the end of each regular season, the top teams in the AFC qualify for the postseason, including all division champions (three division winners from the 1970-71 to 2001-02 seasons; four since the 2002-03 season) and a set number of "wild card" teams that possess the two best win-loss records after the regular season yet fail to win their division (one wild card team from the 1970-71 to 1977-78 seasons; two wild cards from 1978-79 to 1989-90, and from 2001-02 to 2019-20; three from 1990-91 to 2001-02, and since 2020-21). The two teams remaining following the Wild Card round (first round) and the divisional round (second round) play in the NFC Championship Game, with the winner advancing to the Super Bowl.

Initially, the site of the AFC Championship Game was determined on a rotating basis. Since the 1975-76 season, the site of the game has been based on playoff seeding based on the regular season won-loss record, with the highest surviving seed hosting the game. A wild card team can only host the game if both participants are wild cards; such an instance has yet to occur in the NFL.[3]

Lamar Hunt Trophy

External image
image iconThe (former version of the) Lamar Hunt Trophy on display at a press conference at the Westin Hotel in Denver, Colorado. Getty Images. January 20, 2006.

Beginning with the 1984-85 NFL playoffs,[1] the winner of the AFC Championship Game has received the Lamar Hunt Trophy, named after the founder of the AFL. The original trophy consisted of a wooden base with a sculpted AFC logo in the front and a sculpture of various football players in the back.

For the 2010-11 NFL playoffs, the Lamar Hunt Trophy and the George Halas Trophy, which is awarded to the NFC Champion, were redesigned by Tiffany & Co. at the request of the NFL, in an attempt to make both awards more significant.[4] The trophies are now a new, silver design with the outline of a hollow football positioned on a small base to more closely resemble the Vince Lombardi Trophy, which is awarded to the winner of the Super Bowl.[5]

In recent years Conference championship rings are also awarded to members of the team who wins the AFC or NFC championship since they are the winners of the conference, even though they may not necessarily follow it up with a win in the Super Bowl.[6][7]

List of AFC Championship Games

Numbers in parentheses in the table are AFC Championships. Bold indicates team won Super Bowl that year.
Numbers in parentheses in the city and stadium column is the number of times that metropolitan area and stadium has hosted an AFC Championship, respectively.
Season Playoffs Winning team Score Losing team Score Location Stadium
1970 1970-71 Baltimore Colts (1) 27 Oakland Raiders 17 Baltimore, Maryland Memorial Stadium
1971 1971-72 Miami Dolphins (1) 21 Baltimore Colts 0 Miami, Florida Miami Orange Bowl
1972 1972-73 Miami Dolphins (2) 21 Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Three Rivers Stadium
1973 1973-74 Miami Dolphins (3) 27 Oakland Raiders 10 Miami, Florida (2) Miami Orange Bowl (2)
1974 1974-75 Pittsburgh Steelers (1) 24 Oakland Raiders 13 Oakland, California Oakland Coliseum
1975 1975-76 Pittsburgh Steelers (2) 16 Oakland Raiders 10 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (2) Three Rivers Stadium (2)
1976 1976-77 Oakland Raiders (1) 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 7 Oakland, California (2) Oakland Coliseum (2)
1977 1977-78 Denver Broncos (1) 20 Oakland Raiders 17 Denver, Colorado Mile High Stadium
1978 1978-79 Pittsburgh Steelers (3) 34 Houston Oilers 5 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (3) Three Rivers Stadium (3)
1979 1979-80 Pittsburgh Steelers (4) 27 Houston Oilers 13 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (4) Three Rivers Stadium (4)
1980 1980-81 Oakland Raiders (2) 34 San Diego Chargers 27 San DIego, California Jack Murphy Stadium
1981 1981-82 Cincinnati Bengals (1) 27 San Diego Chargers 7 Cincinnati, Ohio Riverfront Stadium
1982 1982-83 Miami Dolphins (4) 14 New York Jets 0 Miami, Florida (3) Miami Orange Bowl (3)
1983 1983-84 Los Angeles Raiders (3) 30 Seattle Seahawks 14 Los Angeles, California Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
1984 1984-85 Miami Dolphins (5) 45 Pittsburgh Steelers 28 Miami, Florida (4) Miami Orange Bowl (4)
1985 1985-86 New England Patriots (1) 31 Miami Dolphins 14 Miami, Florida (5) Miami Orange Bowl (5)
1986 1986-87 Denver Broncos (2) 23[a] Cleveland Browns 20 Cleveland, Ohio Cleveland Municipal Stadium
1987 1987-88 Denver Broncos (3) 38 Cleveland Browns 33 Denver, Colorado (2) Mile High Stadium (2)
1988 1988-89 Cincinnati Bengals (2) 21 Buffalo Bills 10 Cincinnati, Ohio (2) Riverfront Stadium (2)
1989 1989-90 Denver Broncos (4) 37 Cleveland Browns 21 Denver, Colorado (3) Mile High Stadium (3)
1990 1990-91 Buffalo Bills (1) 51 Los Angeles Raiders 3 Orchard Park, New York Rich Stadium
1991 1991-92 Buffalo Bills (2) 10 Denver Broncos 7 Orchard Park, New York (2) Rich Stadium (2)
1992 1992-93 Buffalo Bills (3) 29 Miami Dolphins 10 Miami, Florida[fn 1] (6) Joe Robbie Stadium
1993 1993-94 Buffalo Bills (4) 30 Kansas City Chiefs 13 Orchard Park, New York (3) Rich Stadium (3)
1994 1994-95 San Diego Chargers (1) 17 Pittsburgh Steelers 13 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (5) Three Rivers Stadium (5)
1995 1995-96 Pittsburgh Steelers (5) 20 Indianapolis Colts 16 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (6) Three Rivers Stadium (6)
1996 1996-97 New England Patriots (2) 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 6 Foxborough, Massachusetts Foxboro Stadium
1997 1997-98 Denver Broncos (5) 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 21 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (7) Three Rivers Stadium (7)
1998 1998-99 Denver Broncos (6) 23 New York Jets 10 Denver, Colorado (4) Mile High Stadium (4)
1999 1999-2000 Tennessee Titans (1) 33 Jacksonville Jaguars 14 Jacksonville, Florida Alltel Stadium
2000 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens (1) 16 Oakland Raiders 3 Oakland, California (3) Oakland Coliseum (3)
2001 2001-02 New England Patriots (3) 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (8) Heinz Field
2002 2002-03 Oakland Raiders (4) 41 Tennessee Titans 24 Oakland, California (4) Network Associates Coliseum (4)
2003 2003-04 New England Patriots (4) 24 Indianapolis Colts 14 Foxborough, Massachusetts (2) Gillette Stadium
2004 2004-05 New England Patriots (5) 41 Pittsburgh Steelers 27 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (9) Heinz Field (2)
2005 2005-06 Pittsburgh Steelers (6) 34 Denver Broncos 17 Denver, Colorado (5) Invesco Field at Mile High
2006 2006-07 Indianapolis Colts (2) 38 New England Patriots 34 Indianapolis, Indiana RCA Dome
2007 2007-08 New England Patriots (6) 21 San Diego Chargers 12 Foxborough, Massachusetts (3) Gillette Stadium (2)
2008 2008-09 Pittsburgh Steelers (7) 23 Baltimore Ravens 14 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (10) Heinz Field (3)
2009 2009-10 Indianapolis Colts (3) 30 New York Jets 17 Indianapolis, Indiana (2) Lucas Oil Stadium
2010 2010-11 Pittsburgh Steelers (8) 24 New York Jets 19 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (11) Heinz Field (4)
2011 2011-12 New England Patriots (7) 23 Baltimore Ravens 20 Foxborough, Massachusetts (4) Gillette Stadium (3)
2012 2012-13 Baltimore Ravens (2) 28 New England Patriots 13 Foxborough, Massachusetts (5) Gillette Stadium (4)
2013 2013-14 Denver Broncos (7) 26 New England Patriots 16 Denver, Colorado (6) Sports Authority Field at Mile High (2)
2014 2014-15 New England Patriots (8) 45 Indianapolis Colts 7 Foxborough, Massachusetts (6) Gillette Stadium (5)
2015 2015-16 Denver Broncos (8) 20 New England Patriots 18 Denver, Colorado (7) Sports Authority Field at Mile High (3)
2016 2016-17 New England Patriots (9) 36 Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Foxborough, Massachusetts (7) Gillette Stadium (6)
2017 2017-18 New England Patriots (10) 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 20 Foxborough, Massachusetts (8) Gillette Stadium (7)
2018 2018-19 New England Patriots (11) 37[a] Kansas City Chiefs 31 Kansas City, Missouri Arrowhead Stadium
2019 2019-20 Kansas City Chiefs (1) 35 Tennessee Titans 24 Kansas City, Missouri (2) Arrowhead Stadium (2)

^ a: Overtime

Appearances, 1970-present

# Team W L Win % PF PA Last game Last win Home games Home wins Home losses Home Win % Away games Away wins Away losses Away Win %
16 Pittsburgh Steelers 8 8 .500 332 303 2016 2010 11 6 5 .545 5 2 3 .400
15 New England Patriots 11 4 .733 371 280 2018 2018 8 7 1 .875 7 4 3 .571
11 Las Vegas Raiders[d] 4 7 .364 202 253 2002 2002 5 3 2 .600 6 1 5 .167
10 Denver Broncos 8 2 .800 235 200 2015 2015 7 6 1 .857 3 2 1 .667
7 Miami Dolphins 5 2 .714 152 115 1992 1984 6 4 2 .667 1 1 0 1.000
7 Indianapolis Colts[e] 3 4 .429 132 178 2014 2009 3 3 0 1.000 4 0 4 .000
5 Buffalo Bills 4 1 .800 130 54 1993 1993 3 3 0 1.000 2 1 1 .500
5 Tennessee Titans[f] 1 4 .200 99 151 2019 1999 0 0 0 -- 5 1 4 .200
4 Baltimore Ravens 2 2 .500 78 62 2012 2012 0 0 0 -- 4 2 2 .500
4 Los Angeles Chargers 1 3 .250 63 95 2007 1994 1 0 1 .000 3 1 2 .333
4 New York Jets 0 4 .000 46 91 2010 N/A 0 0 0 -- 4 0 4 .000
3 Kansas City Chiefs 1 2 .333 79 91 2019 2019 2 1 1 .500 1 0 1 .000
3 Jacksonville Jaguars 0 3 .000 40 77 2017 N/A 1 0 1 .000 2 0 2 .000
3 Cleveland Browns 0 3 .000 74 98 1989 N/A 1 0 1 .000 2 0 2 .000
2 Cincinnati Bengals 2 0 1.000 48 17 1988 1988 2 2 0 1.000 0 0 0 --
1 Seattle Seahawks[b] 0 1 .000 14 30 1983 N/A[b] 0 0 0 -- 1 0 1 .000
0 Houston Texans 0 0 -- -- -- N/A N/A 0 0 0 -- 0 0 0 --
0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers[c] 0 0 -- -- -- N/A N/A 0 0 0 -- 0 0 0 --

^ b: The Seahawks were members of the NFC in 1976 and then members of the AFC from 1977 to 2001, before rejoining the NFC in 2002. Including their appearances in the NFC Championship Game (3-0), they hold a combined 3-1 record between both Conference Championship Games.

^ c: The Buccaneers were members of the AFC in 1976 before moving to the NFC in 1977.

^ d: Includes appearances during their first tenure in Oakland (the 1970 merger until 1981), where they went 2-5 in AFC Championship Games; their period as the Los Angeles Raiders (1982-1994), where they were 1-1 in AFC Championship Games; and their second tenure in Oakland (1995-2019), where they have gone 1-1 in AFC Championship Games. Since moving to Las Vegas in 2020, the Raiders are 0-0 in AFC Championship Games.

^ e: Includes appearances as the Baltimore Colts (the 1970 merger to 1983), where they went 1-1 in AFC Championship Games. Since moving to Indianapolis in 1984, the Colts are 2-3 in AFC Championship Games.

^ f: Includes appearances as the Houston Oilers (the 1970 merger to 1996), where they went 0-2 in AFC Championship Games. Since moving to Tennessee in 1997, they are 1-2 in AFC Championship Games.

Most common matchups

Count Matchup Record Years Played
3 Denver Broncos vs. Cleveland Browns Broncos, 3-0 1986, 1987, 1989
3 New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Patriots, 3-0 2001, 2004, 2016
3 Baltimore / Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots Patriots, 2-1 2003, 2006, 2014
3 Oakland / Los Angeles / Las Vegas Raiders vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Steelers, 2-1 1974, 1975, 1976
2 Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots Broncos, 2-0 2013, 2015
2 Houston / Tennessee Oilers / Titans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Steelers, 2-0 1978, 1979
2 Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots Patriots, 2-0 1996, 2017
2 Miami Dolphins vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Dolphins, 2-0 1972, 1984
2 Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots Tie, 1-1 2011, 2012
2 Denver Broncos vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Tie, 1-1 1997, 2005

Records

AFC Championship Game logo, 2001-2005
AFC Championship Game logo, 2008-2010 (Used with old shield since 2005)

Notes:

  • *Tied for Conference Championship record
  • **Conference Championship record

TV ratings

  • 1982: 51.6 million viewers [1]
  • 2002:
  • 2003: 41.5 million
  • 2004:
  • 2005: 44.3 million
  • 2006: 39 million viewers [2]
  • 2007: 46.7 million viewers (6:44-10:23pm) [3]
  • 2008:
  • 2009: 42 million viewers [4]
  • 2010: 42.352 million viewers
  • 2011: 54.9 million viewers[8]
  • 2012: 48.7 million viewers[9][10]
  • 2013: 47.7 million viewers[11]
  • 2014: 51.3 million viewers [5]
  • 2015: 42.1 million viewers[12]
  • 2016: 53.3 million viewers[13]
  • 2017: 41.2 million viewers[14]
  • 2018: 53.9 million viewers[15]
  • 2019: 41.1 million viewers[16]

Footnotes

  1. ^ Joe Robbie Stadium, now Hard Rock Stadium, is located in Miami Gardens. However, the city was not incorporated until 2003. Prior to that, the area was an unincorporated area of Miami-Dade County, and the stadium used a Miami address.
  2. ^ The Miami Dolphins won 5 AFC Championships before losing their first championship game. The New England Patriots equaled that record before losing a championship game.
  3. ^ a b The franchise was founded in 2002.
  4. ^ The Jets last hosted the 1968 AFL Championship Game during the pre-Super Bowl era.
  5. ^ The Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise last hosted the 1962 AFL Championship Game.
  6. ^ The Jets won Super Bowl III as the 1968 AFL Champion.

References

  1. ^ a b "Patriots Blog: AFC Championship Trophy In The House". WBZ-TV. January 18, 2012. Retrieved 2014. The Lamar Hunt Trophy, given to the winners of the AFC Championship since 1984
  2. ^ "Playoff". NFL Record and Fact Book 2009. Time, Inc. Home Entertainment. ISBN 978-1-60320-809-3.
  3. ^ Palmer, Pete; Pullis, Ken; Lahman, Sean; Maher, Tod; Silverman, Matthew; Gillette, Gary. The ESPN pro football encyclopedia (2nd ed.). Sterling Pub. Co. p. 1207. ISBN 9781402752506.
  4. ^ "NFC's Halas trophy has new look". Chicago Sun-Times.
  5. ^ Bell, Jarrett (January 25, 2011). "NFL Replay: Gritty Steelers aren't pretty, but they are Super". USA Today.
  6. ^ "First look at the Atlanta Falcons NFC Championship rings". 247sports.com. Retrieved 2019.
  7. ^ "Brandin Cooks thanks Patriots for AFC Championship ring". 247sports.com. Retrieved 2019.
  8. ^ "NFL passes new records in TV ratings". USA Today. 1 February 2011. Retrieved 2014.
  9. ^ "NFL Ratings Spike: 48.7 Million Watch AFC Title Game, NFC Game Draws 57.6 Mil". Deadline Hollywood. 23 January 2012. Retrieved 2014.
  10. ^ "AFC Championship Ratings". TV by the Numbers. Archived from the original on 19 December 2013. Retrieved 2014.
  11. ^ "Astonishing Chart Shows How The NFL Dominates TV Ratings". Business Insider. 17 December 2013. Retrieved 2014.
  12. ^ Patten, Dominic (19 January 2015). "AFC Championship Game Ratings Stumble For CBS, 'Revenge' Rises". deadline.com.
  13. ^ Hipes, Patrick (25 January 2016). "AFC Title Game Ratings Score For CBS With 53.3 Million Viewers". deadline.com.
  14. ^ "NFL Conference Championships Overnight TV Ratings 2006-2016". sportstvratings.com. 23 January 2017.
  15. ^ https://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/patriots/2020/01/20/without-patriots-ratings-for-afc-championship-game-take-dip/wrAL3bzYoGHWiKJiF8rOPO/story.html
  16. ^ https://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/patriots/2020/01/20/without-patriots-ratings-for-afc-championship-game-take-dip/wrAL3bzYoGHWiKJiF8rOPO/story.html

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