AFC Championship Game
|First played||1971 (1970 season)|
|Trophy||Lamar Hunt Trophy|
|Recent and upcoming games|
Kansas City, Missouri
January 24, 2021
Buffalo Bills 24
Kansas City Chiefs 38
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, 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.
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 (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.
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 AFC 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.
Lamar Hunt Trophy
|The (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, 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. 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.
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.
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.
^ a: Overtime
|#||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 %|
|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|
|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|
|4||Kansas City Chiefs||2||2||.500||117||115||2020||2020||3||2||1||.667||1||0||1||.000|
|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.
Appearances by Year
In the sortable table below, teams are ordered first by number of appearances, then by number of wins, and finally by year of first appearance. In the "Season(s)" column, bold years indicate winning Conference Championship appearances.
Most common matchups
|3||Oakland / Los Angeles / Las Vegas Raiders vs. Pittsburgh Steelers||Steelers, 2–1||1974, 1975, 1976|
|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|
|2||Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs||Tie, 1–1||1993, 2020|
|2||Miami Dolphins vs. Pittsburgh Steelers||Dolphins, 2–0||1972, 1984|
|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||Denver Broncos vs. Pittsburgh Steelers||Tie, 1–1||1997, 2005|
|2||Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots||Tie, 1–1||2011, 2012|
|2||Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots||Broncos, 2–0||2013, 2015|
- Most victories: 11**; New England Patriots (1985, 1996, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018)
- Most losses: 8; Pittsburgh Steelers, (1972, 1976, 1984, 1994, 1997, 2001, 2004, 2016)
- Most appearances: 16; Pittsburgh Steelers (1972, 1974–1976, 1978, 1979, 1984, 1994, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2016)
- Most consecutive appearances: 8**; New England Patriots (2011–2018)
- Most consecutive victories: 4**; Buffalo Bills (1990–1993)
- 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 consecutive losses without a win: 4; (tie) Oakland Raiders (1970, 1973, 1974, 1975), New York Jets (1982, 1998, 2009, 2010)
- Most shutouts: 2**; Miami Dolphins (1971, 21–0 vs Colts and 1982, 14–0 vs Jets)
- Most consecutive losses: 3; Oakland Raiders (1973–1975)
- Most games hosted: 11**; Pittsburgh Steelers (1972, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1994, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2004, 2008, 2010)
- Most consecutive games hosted: 3; Kansas City Chiefs (2018–2020)
- Most numerous matchups: 3 (tie)
- Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Oakland Raiders (1974, 1975, 1976)
- Cleveland Browns vs. Denver Broncos (1986, 1987, 1989)
- New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (2001, 2004, 2016)
- New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts (2003, 2006, 2014)
- Most points scored: 51**; January 20, 1991 (1990) – Buffalo Bills (51) vs. Los Angeles Raiders (3)
- Largest margin of victory: 48 points**; January 20, 1991 (1990) – Buffalo Bills (51) vs. Los Angeles Raiders (3)
- Fewest points scored, winning team: 10; January 12, 1992 (1991) – Buffalo Bills (10) vs. Denver Broncos (7)
- Fewest points scored: 0*; (tie) Jan 2, 1972 (1971) Baltimore Colts 0 vs Dolphins 21, Jan 23, 1983 (1982) NY Jets (0) vs Dolphins (14)
- Most points scored, losing team: 34**; January 21, 2007 (2006) – New England Patriots (34) vs. Indianapolis Colts (38)
- Most combined points scored: 73**; January 6, 1985 (1984) – Miami Dolphins (45) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (28)
- Fewest combined points scored: 14; January 23, 1983 (1982) – Miami Dolphins (14) vs. New York Jets (0)
- Current AFC teams which have never appeared in a Conference Championship Game: Houston Texans[fn 3]
- Current AFC teams which have never hosted a Conference Championship Game: Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans,[fn 3] New York Jets,[fn 4] Tennessee Titans[fn 5]
- Current AFC teams which have never won a Conference Championship: Cleveland Browns (0–3), Houston Texans (0–0), Jacksonville Jaguars (0–3) and New York Jets (0–4)
- Longest drought without appearing in an AFC Championship Game: 31 years**; Cincinnati Bengals (last appearance – 1988)
- Longest drought without an AFC Championship: 50 years**: New York Jets,[fn 6]
- Highest attendance: 91,445; Los Angeles Raiders vs. Seattle Seahawks in Los Angeles on January 8, 1984 (1983)
- Overtime games:
- *Tied for Conference Championship record
- **Conference Championship record
- 1982: 51.6 million viewers
- 2002: Not available
- 2003: 41.5 million
- 2004: Not available
- 2005: 44.3 million
- 2006: 39 million viewers
- 2007: 46.7 million viewers (6:44-10:23pm)
- 2008:Not available
- 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
- 2018: 53.9 million viewers
- 2019: 41.1 million viewers
- 2020: 41.85 million viewers
- 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.
- 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 last hosted the 1968 AFL Championship Game during the pre-Super Bowl era.
- The Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise last hosted the 1962 AFL Championship Game.
- The Jets won Super Bowl III as the 1968 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
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