AFC Championship Game
AFC Championship logo
|First played||1971 (1970 season)|
|Recent and upcoming games|
January 22, 2017
Pittsburgh Steelers 17, New England Patriots 36
The AFC Championship Game (also unofficially referred to as the AFC Title Game) is 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 and determines the champion of the American Football Conference (AFC). The winner then advances to face the winner of the National Football Conference (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, each winner of the AFC Championship Game has also received the Lamar Hunt Trophy, named after the founder of the AFL and longtime leader of the Kansas City Chiefs, Lamar Hunt.
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. Since the pre-merger NFL consisted of six more teams than the AFL, a realignment was done 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 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 a win in the NFC conference title game over the Carolina Panthers for Super Bowl XL. Note: The Baltimore Colts appeared in the NFL conference title game for Super Bowl III and then appeared in the AFC conference title game for Super Bowl V, becoming the first team to play for both conference titles. The Cleveland Browns were the second team to do so when they appeared in the NFL conference title game for Super Bowl III against the Baltimore Colts and then appeared in the AFC conference title game for Super Bowl XXI. 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.
At the end of each regular season, a series of playoff games involving the top six teams in the AFC are conducted. In the current (since 2002–03 season) NFL playoff structure, this consists of the four division champions and two wild card teams (those clubs that possess the two best won-loss records after the regular season yet fail to win their division). The two teams remaining following the Wild Card round (first round) and the divisional round (second round) play in the AFC Championship game.
Initially, the site of the game was determined on a rotating basis. Since the 1975–76 season, the site of the AFC Championship 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, in which case the fifth seed would host the sixth seed. Such an instance has never occurred in the NFL.
Lamar Hunt Trophy
Beginning with 1984–85 season, the winner of the AFC Championship Game has received the Lamar Hunt Trophy, named after the founder of the AFL. The original design 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. 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.
List of AFC Championship Games
- Numbers in parentheses in the table are AFC Championships. Bold indicates team won Super Bowl that year.
|Num||Team||W||L||PCT||PF||PA||Last appearance||Last championship||Home games||Home wins||Home losses||Home Win Pct.||Away games||Away wins||Away losses||Away Win Pct.|
|13||New England Patriots||9||4||.692||310||229||2016||2016||7||6||1||.857||6||3||3||.500|
|11||Los Angeles/Oakland Raidersd[›]||4||7||.364||202||253||2002||2002||5||3||2||.600||6||1||5||.167|
|4||Los Angeles/San Diego 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|
|1||Kansas City Chiefs||0||1||.000||13||30||1993||N/A||0||0||0||—–||1||0||1||.000|
|0||Tampa Bay Buccaneersc[›]||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 current tenure in Oakland (1995–present), where they have gone 1–1 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
- Most Victories – 9**; New England Patriots (1985, 1996, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2014, 2016)
- Most Losses – 8; Pittsburgh Steelers, (1972, 1976, 1984, 1994, 1997, 2001, 2004, 2016)
- Most Appearances – 16; Pittsburgh Steelers (1972, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1984, 1994, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2016)
- Most Consecutive Appearances – 6**; New England Patriots (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)
- Most Consecutive Victories – 4**; Buffalo Bills (1990, 1991, 1992, 1993)
- Most Victories Without A Loss – 2 Cincinnati Bengals (1981, 1988)[fn 2]
- Most Appearances Without A Win – 4 New York Jets (1982, 1998, 2009, 2010)
- Most Defensive Shutouts – 2**; Miami Dolphins (1971, 21-0 vs Colts & 1982, 14-0 vs Jets)
- Most Consecutive Losses – 3*; Oakland Raiders (1973, 1974, 1975)
- Most Games Hosted – 11**; Pittsburgh Steelers (1972, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1994, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2004, 2008, 2010)
- Most Numerous Matchups – 3 (tie); New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers 2001, 2004, 2016; New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts 2003, 2006, 2014; Cleveland Browns vs. Denver Broncos 1986, 1987, 1989; Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Oakland Raiders 1974, 1975, 1976;
- Most points scored – 51**; January 20, 1991 (1990 season) – Buffalo Bills vs. Los Angeles Raiders
- Largest margin of victory – 48 points**; January 20, 1991 (1990 season) – Buffalo Bills (51) vs. Los Angeles Raiders (3)
- Fewest points scored, winning team – 10; January 12, 1992 (1991 season) – Buffalo Bills vs. Denver Broncos
- Fewest points scored – 0*; (tie) Jan 2, 1972 (1971 season) Baltimore Colts 0 vs Dolphins 21, Jan 23, 1983 (1982 season) NY Jets 0 vs Dolphins 14
- Most points scored, losing team – 34**; January 21, 2007 (2006 season) – New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts
- Most combined points scored – 73**; January 6, 1985 (1984 season) – Miami Dolphins (45) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (28)
- Fewest combined points scored – 14; January 23, 1983 (1982 season) – Miami Dolphins (14) vs. New York Jets (0)
- Longest game – 65 minutes, 38 seconds; January 11, 1987 (1986 season) – Denver Broncos (23) @ Cleveland Browns (20), OT
- Current AFC teams which have never appeared in a Conference Championship Game – Houston Texans[fn 3]
- Current AFC teams which have never won a Conference Championship – Cleveland Browns (0-3), Houston Texans (0-0), Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2), New York Jets (0-4) and Kansas City Chiefs (0-1)
- Longest drought without appearing in an AFC Championship Game – 26 years**; Cincinnati Bengals (last appearance – 1988)
- Longest drought without an AFC Championship – 45 years**: New York Jets,[fn 4] and Kansas City Chiefs[fn 5]
- Largest Comeback – Indianapolis Colts: 18 points (trailed 21-3; won 38-34)**; January 21, 2007 (2006 season) – New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts
- Highest attendance – 91,445; Los Angeles Raiders vs. Seattle Seahawks in Los Angeles on January 8, 1984 (1983 season).
*Tied for Conference Championship Record
**Conference Championship record
- 1982: 51.6 million viewers 
- 2003: 41.5 million
- 2005: 44.3 million
- 2006: 39 million viewers 
- 2007: 46.7 million viewers (6:44-10:23pm) 
- 2009: 42 million viewers 
- 2010: 42.352 million viewers
- 2011: 54.9 million viewers
- 2012: 48.7 million viewers
- 2013: 47.7 million viewers
- 2014: 51.3 million viewers 
- 2015:42.1 million viewers
- 2016: 53.3 million viewers
- 2017: 41.2 million viewers
- Joe Robbie Stadium, now Sun Life 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.
- 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.
- The franchise was founded in 2002.
- The Jets won Super Bowl III as the 1968 AFL Champion.
- The Chiefs won Super Bowl IV as the 1969 AFL Champion
- "Patriots Blog: AFC Championship Trophy In The House". WBZ-TV. January 18, 2012. Retrieved August 16, 2014.
The Lamar Hunt Trophy, given to the winners of the AFC Championship since 1984
- "Playoff". NFL Record and Fact Book 2009. Time, Inc. Home Entertainment. ISBN 978-1-60320-809-3.
- "NFC's Halas trophy has new look". Chicago Sun-Times.
- Bell, Jarrett (January 25, 2011). "NFL Replay: Gritty Steelers aren't pretty, but they are Super". USA Today.
- "NFL passes new records in TV ratings". USA Today. 1 February 2011. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
- "NFL Ratings Spike: 48.7 Million Watch AFC Title Game, NFC Game Draws 57.6 Mil". Deadline Hollywood. 23 January 2012. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
- "AFC Championship Ratings". TV by the Numbers. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
- "Astonishing Chart Shows How The NFL Dominates TV Ratings". Business Insider. 17 December 2013. Retrieved 11 October 2014.