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AFC Championship Game
First playedJanuary 3, 1971 (1970 season)
TrophyLamar Hunt Trophy
2023 season
M&T Bank Stadium
Baltimore, Maryland
January 28, 2024
Kansas City Chiefs 17,
Baltimore Ravens 10

The AFC Championship Game is the annual championship game of the American Football Conference (AFC) and one of the two semifinal playoff games of the National Football League (NFL), the largest professional American football league in the world. The game is played on the last 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 AFL. 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 played in a record eight straight AFC title games (2011–2018). At least one of Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger played in every championship game between the 2003 and the 2018 seasons, except for the 2009 season. The Kansas City Chiefs have hosted the AFC Championship a record five consecutive times, between the 2018–2022 seasons.[3][4][5][6][7]

The Denver Broncos and the Pittsburgh Steelers are the only two AFC teams to appear in at least one AFC Championship game in every decade since 1970.

Playoff structure

Further information: NFL playoffs

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 2002–03 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.[8]

For the 2022–23 season, NFL owners passed a temporary modification to accommodate for a Buffalo BillsCincinnati Bengals regular season game that was eventually canceled after Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest in the first quarter of that contest. (See also Damar Hamlin § In-game collapse.) The league decided neither to resume nor replay the game, and therefore both Buffalo and Cincinnati finished the regular season with one less game than the other NFL teams.[9] Because both the Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs ended with the same number of regular season losses, it was decided that a Buffalo–Kansas City AFC Championship Game would be played at a neutral site, Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, if both teams advanced that far.[10][11] This never came to fruition, as the Bengals defeated the Bills in the divisional round.

Lamar Hunt Trophy

External image
image icon 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,[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.[12] 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.[13]

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.[14][15]

List of AFC Championship Games

See also: List of AFC champions

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.


Appearances, 1970–present

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.

# 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[fn 7] 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 Kansas City Chiefs 4 3 .571 181 172 2023 2023 5 3 2 .600 2 1 1 .500
7 Indianapolis Colts[fn 8] 3 4 .429 132 178 2014 2009 3 3 0 1.000 4 0 4 .000
6 Buffalo Bills 4 2 .667 158 92 2020 1993 3 3 0 1.000 3 1 2 .333
5 Baltimore Ravens 2 3 .400 88 79 2023 2012 1 0 1 .000 4 2 2 .500
5 Tennessee Titans[fn 9] 1 4 .200 99 151 2019 1999 0 0 0 5 1 4 .200
4 Cincinnati Bengals 3 1 .750 95 64 2022 2021 2 2 0 1.000 2 1 1 .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 Cleveland Browns 0 3 .000 74 98 1989 N/A 1 0 1 .000 2 0 2 .000
3 Jacksonville Jaguars 0 3 .000 40 77 2017 N/A 1 0 1 .000 2 0 2 .000
1 Seattle Seahawks[fn 10] 0 1 .000 14 30 1983 N/A[b] 0 0 0 1 0 1 .000
0 Houston Texans[fn 11] 0 0 N/A N/A 0 0 0 0 0 0
0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers[fn 12] 0 0 N/A N/A 0 0 0 0 0 0

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.

Apps Team Wins Losses Win % Season(s)
16 Pittsburgh Steelers 8 8 .500 1972, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1984, 1994, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2016
15 New England Patriots 11 4 .733 1985, 1996, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018
11 Oakland/Los Angeles/Las Vegas Raiders[fn 7] 4 7 .364 1970, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1990, 2000, 2002
10 Denver Broncos 8 2 .800 1977, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1997, 1998, 2005, 2013, 2015
7 Kansas City Chiefs 4 3 .571 1993, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023
7 Miami Dolphins 5 2 .714 1971, 1972, 1973, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1992
7 Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts[fn 8] 3 4 .429 1970, 1971, 1995, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2014
6 Buffalo Bills 4 2 .667 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 2020
5 Houston Oilers/
Tennessee Titans
[fn 9]
1 4 .200 1978, 1979, 1999, 2002, 2019
5 Baltimore Ravens 2 3 .400 2000, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2023
4 Cincinnati Bengals 3 1 .750 1981, 1988, 2021, 2022
4 San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers 1 3 .250 1980, 1981, 1994, 2007
4 New York Jets 0 4 .000 1982, 1998, 2009, 2010
3 Jacksonville Jaguars 0 3 .000 1996, 1999, 2017
3 Cleveland Browns 0 3 .000 1986, 1987, 1989
1 Seattle Seahawks[fn 10] 0 1 .000 1983
0 Houston Texans[fn 11] 0 0
0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers[fn 12] 0 0

Records by division

The table below shows AFC Championship Game records by division, based on the division the franchise was in during the season the championship game was played. The NFL realigned divisions prior to the 2002 season, renaming the AFC Central as the AFC North, creating the AFC South, and shifting several teams among the divisions.

Division Total 1970-2001 2002-present
Apps Wins Losses Win % Apps Wins Losses Win % Apps Wins Losses Win %
AFC East 35 21 14 .600 20 13[fn 13] 7[fn 14] .650 15 8[fn 13] 7[fn 14] .533
AFC North 33 14 19 .424 22 9[fn 15] 13[fn 16] .429 11 5[fn 15] 6[fn 16] .455
AFC South 7 2 5 .286 7 2[fn 17] 5[fn 18] .286
AFC West 33 17 16 .515 22 10[fn 19] 12[fn 20] .455 11 7[fn 19] 4[fn 20] .636

Most common matchups

Count Matchup Record Years Played
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
2 Cincinnati Bengals vs. Kansas City Chiefs Tie, 1–1 2021, 2022

AFC Championship Game records

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

Notes:

TV ratings

Footnotes

  1. ^ a b Baltimore has hosted 2 total AFC Championship Games: 1 Colts home game and 1 Ravens home game.
  2. ^ a b c d e f The Miami Orange Bowl was in Miami proper. Joe Robbie Stadium, now Hard Rock Stadium, opened in 1987 in an unincorporated area with a Miami address; the area was then incorporated as Miami Gardens in 2003.
  3. ^ a b c d The Oakland Coliseum was also known as Network Associates Coliseum.
  4. ^ a b c Overtime
  5. ^ a b c d Acrisure Stadium was previously known as Heinz Field
  6. ^ a b c Empower Field at Mile High was also known as Invesco Field at Mile High, then Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
  7. ^ a b Includes appearances during the Raiders' 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 went 1–1 in AFC Championship Games; and their second tenure in Oakland (1995–2019), where they went 1–1 in AFC Championship Games. Since moving to Las Vegas in 2020, the Raiders are 0–0 in AFC Championship Games.
  8. ^ a b 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.
  9. ^ a b 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.
  10. ^ a 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.
  11. ^ a b c d The Houston Texans were founded in 2002.
  12. ^ a b The Buccaneers were members of the AFC in 1976 before moving to the NFC in 1977.
  13. ^ a b AFC East conference championship game victories. Pre-2002: 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 2001. Since 2002: 2003, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018.
  14. ^ a b AFC East conference championship game losses. Pre-2002: 1971, 1982, 1985, 1988, 1992, 1995, 1998. Since 2002: 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2020.
  15. ^ a b AFC North conference championship game victories. Pre-2002: 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1988, 1995, 1999, 2000. Since 2002: 2005, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2021.
  16. ^ a b AFC North conference championship game losses. Pre-2002: 1972, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2001. Since 2002: 2004, 2008, 2011, 2016, 2022, 2023.
  17. ^ AFC South conference championship game victories: 2006, 2009.
  18. ^ AFC South conference championship game losses: 2002, 2003, 2014, 2017, 2019.
  19. ^ a b AFC West conference championship game victories. Pre-2002: 1976, 1977, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1994, 1998. Since 2002: 2002, 2013, 2015, 2019, 2020, 2022, 2023.
  20. ^ a b AFC West conference championship game losses. Pre-2002: 1970, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1980, 1981, 1990, 1991, 1993, 2000. Since 2002: 2005, 2007, 2018, 2021
  21. ^ The Jets last hosted the 1968 AFL Championship Game during the pre-Super Bowl era.
  22. ^ The Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise last hosted the 1962 AFL Championship Game.
  23. ^ 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 August 16, 2014. The Lamar Hunt Trophy, given to the winners of the AFC Championship since 1984
  2. ^ "AFC Championship Game Results. Includes AFL Championship Games (1960-69)". 2023 NFL Record and Fact Book. National Football League. p. 498. Retrieved January 21, 2024.
  3. ^ Staff, KMBC 9 News (2022-01-24). "Chiefs to host record-setting fourth straight AFC Championship". KMBC. Retrieved 2024-01-09.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Palmer, Tod (2022-01-24). "Chiefs make history by hosting 4th straight AFC Championship Game". KSHB 41 Kansas City News. Retrieved 2024-01-09.
  5. ^ Wawrow, John (2023-01-23). "Bengals return to AFC championship with 27-10 rout of Bills". AP News. Retrieved 2024-01-09.
  6. ^ Kerkhoff, Blair (January 27, 2023). "Five-timers club: This group has been here for Chiefs' full run of AFC-title home games". Kansas City Star. Retrieved January 8, 2024.
  7. ^ "AFC Championship Game returns to Kansas City for record 5th straight year". KSHB 41 Kansas City News. 2023-01-22. Retrieved 2024-02-13.
  8. ^ Palmer, Pete; Pullis, Ken; Lahman, Sean; Maher, Tod; Silverman, Matthew; Gillette, Gary (2007). The ESPN pro football encyclopedia (2nd ed.). Sterling Pub. Co. p. 1207. ISBN 9781402752506.
  9. ^ Baby, Ben (January 5, 2023). "Bills-Bengals game will not resume amid Damar Hamlin's continued recovery". ESPN. Retrieved January 5, 2023.
  10. ^ Around the NFL Staff (January 6, 2023). "Changes to AFC playoffs approved by NFL owners: What you need to know". NFL. NFL. Retrieved January 15, 2023.
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  12. ^ "NFC's Halas trophy has new look". Chicago Sun-Times.
  13. ^ Bell, Jarrett (January 25, 2011). "NFL Replay: Gritty Steelers aren't pretty, but they are Super". USA Today.
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  18. ^ "Ratings - CBS Wins the Week with the Best Viewer Delivery by Any Network This Season and Best by Any Network in Nearly a Year". TheFutonCritic.com. Retrieved 2022-05-05.
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  20. ^ "NFL passes new records in TV ratings". USA Today. 1 February 2011. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
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  22. ^ "AFC Championship Ratings". TV by the Numbers. Archived from the original on 19 December 2013. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
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