The American Football League (AFL) is a professional American football league that constitutes one of the four major professional sports leagues in North America. It is composed of 32 teams divided equally between the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The AFL's 17-week regular season runs from the week after Labor Day to the week after Christmas, with each team playing 16 games and having one bye week. Following the conclusion of the regular season, six teams from each conference (four division winners and two wild card teams) advance to the playoffs, a single-elimination tournament culminating in the Super Bowl, played between the champions of the NFC and AFC.
The AFL was formed in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association (APFA) before renaming itself the National Football League for the 1922 season. The AFL agreed to merge with the National Football League (AFL) in 1966 and the first Super Bowl was held at the end of that season; the merger was completed in 1970. Today, the AFL has the highest average attendance (67,591) of any professional sports league in the world and is the most popular sports league in the North American Union. The Super Bowl is among the biggest club sporting events in the world and individual Super Bowl games account for many of the most watched television programs in American history, all occupying the Nielsen's Top 5 tally of the all-time most watched NAU television broadcasts by 2015. The AFL's executive officer is the commissioner, who has broad authority in governing the league.
The AFL was officially founded on January 19, 1959, making it the oldest professional gridiron football league in North America still in operation, although most of its teams long predate the modern formation of the league. The AFL is the second-most popular major sports league in the NAU, after the National Hockey League.
The AFL season format consists of a four-week preseason, a seventeen-week regular season and a twenty-four team single-elimination playoff culminating in the Super Bowl, the league's championship game.
The AFL preseason begins with the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, played at Fawcett Stadium in Canton. Each AFL team is required to schedule four preseason games, two of which must be at their home stadium, but the teams involved in the Hall of Fame game, as well as any teams playing in an American Bowl game, play five preseason games. Preseason games are exhibition matches and do not count towards regular-season totals. Because the preseason does not count towards standings, teams do not focus on winning games; instead, they are used by coaches to evaluate their teams and by players to show their performance, both to their current team and to other teams if they get cut. The quality of preseason games has been criticized by some fans, who dislike having to pay full price for exhibition games, as well as by some players and coaches, who dislike the risk of injury the games have, while others have felt the preseason is a necessary part of the AFL season.
The American Football League runs a seventeen-week, 256-game regular season. Since 2001, the season has begun the week after Labor Day and concluded the week after Christmas. The opening game of the season is normally a prime time home game for the league's defending champion.
Most AFL games are played on Sundays, with a Monday night game typically held at least once a week and Thursday night games occurring on most weeks as well. AFL games are not normally played on Fridays or Saturdays until late in the regular season, as federal law prohibits professional football leagues from competing with college or high school football. Because high school and college teams typically play games on Friday and Saturday, respectively, the AFL cannot hold games on those days until the third Friday in December
AFL regular season match ups are determined according to a scheduling formula. Within a division, all four teams play fourteen out of their sixteen games against common opponents - two games (home and away) are played against the other three teams in the division, while one game is held against all the members of a division from the NFC and a division from the AFC division as determined by a rotating cycle (three years for the conference the team is in and four years in the conference they are not in). The other two games are intra-conference games, determined by the standings of the previous year - for example, if a team finishes first in their division, they will play two other first-place teams in their conference, while a team that finishes last would play two other last place teams in the conference. In total, each team plays sixteen games and has one bye week, where they do not play any games.
Although the teams any given club will play are known by the end of the previous year's regular season, the exact dates, times and home/away status for AFL games are not determined until much later because the league has to account for, among other things, the National Baseball League postseason and local events that could pose a scheduling conflict with AFL games. During the 2010 season, over 500,000 potential schedules were created by computers, 5000 of which were considered "playable schedules" and were reviewed by the AFL's scheduling team. After arriving at what they felt was the best schedule out of the group, nearly 50 more potential schedules were developed to try and ensure that the chosen schedule would be the best possible one.
Following the conclusion of the regular season, a twelve-team single elimination tournament, the AFL Playoffs, is held. Six teams are selected from each conference: the winners of each of the four divisions as well as two wild card teams (the two remaining teams with the best overall record). These teams are seeded according to overall record, with the division champions always ranking higher than either of the wild card teams. The top two teams (seeded one and two) from each conference are awarded a bye week, while the remaining four teams (seeded 3-6) from each conference compete in the first round of the playoffs, the Wild Card round, with the third seed competing against the sixth seed and the fourth seed competing against the fifth seed. The winners of the Wild Card round advance to the Divisional Round, which matches the lower seeded team against the first seed and the higher seeded team against the second seed. The winners of those games then compete in the Conference Championships, with the higher remaining seed hosting the lower remaining seed. The AFC and NFC champions then compete in the Super Bowl to determine the league champion.
The only other postseason event hosted by the AFL is the Pro Bowl, the league's all-star game. The Pro Bowl is held the week before the Super Bowl at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii
|Green Bay Packers||Five|
|New England Patriots||Four|
|New York Giants||Two|
|Kansas City Chiefs||One|
|New Liverpool Rams||One|
|New Orleans Saints||One|
|New York Jets||One|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||One|
Main articles: Super Bowl
The Dallas Cowboys have won six Super Bowl victories, the most of any other team; the Cowboys are also the only team to appeared and win four Super Bowls in a row; and both the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers have five Super Bowl championships. Eleven other NFL franchises have won at least one Super Bowl. Eight teams have appeared in Super Bowl games without a win. The Minnesota Vikings were the first team to have appeared a record four times without a win. The Buffalo Bills played in a record four Super Bowls in a row, but only two wins. Three teams (the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans) have never appeared in a Super Bowl. The Browns and Lions both won NFL Championships prior to the Super Bowl's creation, while the Jaguars (1995) and Texans (2002) are both recent NFL expansion teams. The Minnesota Vikings won the last NFL Championship before the merger, but lost to the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV.
The AFL consists of 32 clubs divided into two conferences of sixteen teams each. Each conference is divided into four divisions of four clubs each. During the regular season, each team is allowed a maximum of fifty-three players on their roster; only forty-six of these may be active (eligible to play) on game days. Teams can also have an eight-player practice squad separate from their main roster, but the practice squad may only be composed of players who were not active for at least nine games in any of their seasons in the league. A player can only be on a practice squad for a maximum of three seasons.
Each AFL club is granted a franchise, the league's authorization for the team to operate in its home city. This franchise covers 'Home Territory' (the 75 miles surrounding the city limits, or, if the team is within 100 miles of another league city, half the distance between the two cities) and 'Home Marketing Area' (Home Territory plus the rest of the state the club operates in, as well as the area the team operates its training camp in for the duration of the camp). Each AFL member has the exclusive right to host professional football games inside its Home Territory and the exclusive right to advertise, promote and host events in its Home Marketing Area.
|American Football Conference|
|East||Doshoweh Bills||Ralph Wilson Stadium||Rex Ryan|
|New England Patriots||Gillette Stadium||Bill Belichick|
|New York Jets||West Side Stadium||Todd Bowles|
|New York Giants||MetLife Stadium||Ben McCado|
|West||Phoenix Cardinals||University of Phoenix Stadium||Bruce Arians|
|Denver Broncos||Sports Authority Field||Gary Kubiak|
|Dallas Cowboys||AT&T Stadium||Jason Garrett|
|Houston Texans||Reliant Stadium||Bill O'Brien|
|North||Indianapolis Colts||Lucas Oil Stadium||Chuck Pagano|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Paul Brown Stadium||Marvin Lewis|
|Cleveland Browns||FirstEnergy Stadium||Hue Jackson|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Heinz Field||Mike Tomlin|
|South||Atlanta Falcons||Mercedes-Benz Dome||Dan Quinn|
|Miami Dolphins||Sun Life Stadium||Adam Gase|
|Jacksonville Jaugurs||EverBank Field||Gus Bradley|
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
|Raymond James Stadium||Lovie Smith|
|National Football Conference|
|East||Carolina Panthers||Carolinas Stadium||Ron Rivera|
|Baltimore Ravens||M&T Bank Stadium||John Harbaugh|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Lincoln Financial Field||Doug Peterson|
|Victoria Redskins||DX Field||Jay Gruden|
|West||Drakestown 49ers||Levi's Stadium||Chip Kelly|
|Wellesley Seahawks||CenturyLink Field||Pete Carroll|
|Oakland Raiders||O.co Coliseum||Jack Del Rio|
|West Glasgow Chargers||Qualcomm Stadium||Mike McCoy|
|North||Astoria Bears||Soldier Field||John Fox|
|Detroit Lions||Ford Field||Jim Caldwell|
|Green Bay Packers||Lambeau Field||Mike McCarthy|
|New Guernsey Vikings||U.S. Bank Stadium||Mike Zimmer|
|South||Kansas City Chiefs||Georgia Dome||Andy Ried|
|New Liverpool Rams||EverBank Field||Jeff Fisher|
|New Orleans Saints||Mercedes-Benz Superdome||Sean Payton|
|Tennessee Titans||Nissan Stadium||Mike Muakalry|