History of the American Football Conference
There were four attempts to create an American Football League, with the efforts in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s all failing quite quickly. The AFL that was created in 1960 only lasted 10 seasons, but its legacy lives on in the creation of the AFC – the result of the AFL-NFL merger that took place in 1970.
The eight original AFL franchises all still exist in the 16-team AFC. A testament to that league’s innovation and its strength of ownership. Those original eight are the New York Titans (now Jets), Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Houston Oilers in the Eastern division. The Dallas Texans (now Kansas City Chiefs), Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders (now in Las Vegas), and Los Angeles Chargers in the Western division.
Early Days of the AFL
The early days of the AFL suffered from low attendance. Some ownership groups had to give up their teams, most notably the New York Titans group. But a generous television contract helped keep the league going. Which was fueled by a more offensive style of football than their rivals in the NFL.
The NFL was always stronger, with better ratings and better attendance. The AFL was having an effect on rising salaries, as well as competition in the draft. So talks began regarding a merger. In 1970 it was completed, creating the AFC from the AFL.
The New AFC
Joining the original eight in the newly formed AFC were two expansion AFL teams, the Miami Dolphins (1966) and Cincinnati Bengals (1968). Also, had three teams from the NFL, the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Baltimore Colts.
Since the leagues merged in 1970, five different AFC teams have moved cities. The Raiders have done it three times, ending up in Las Vegas. The Colts moved to Indianapolis. The Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens. The Oilers moved to Tennessee and became the Titans. The Chargers moved back to Los Angeles from San Diego.
Nine of the 16 AFC teams have won Super Bowls, and the conference is home to the two winningest teams in history, the Steelers and Patriots.
NFL Big Changes from Last Season – AFC
The NFC has won the last two Super Bowls, but the amount of talent in the AFC is definitely deeper. And it increased this offseason with the addition of two of the NFC’s best quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan.
Wilson was a Super Bowl champion in Seattle, and now he’s in the loaded AFC West. Ryan, a former MVP with the Falcons, is the new quarterback in Indianapolis.
One of those winningest teams that was mentioned, the Steelers, is a team in transition. Consider that between 2001 and 2019, 17 of the 19 Super Bowls were started by just three AFC quarterbacks – Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Ben Roesthlisberger. The last of those three, Big Ben, retired this offseason. Leaving Pittsburgh with its first new quarterback in two decades.
Big Changes in the AFC
Other big changes in the conference are in the AFC East, where the Dolphins have loaded up on speed in an effort to stay with the favorites in the division, the Bills. Tyreek Hill is now in Miami, who already had one of last year’s top rookie wide receivers, Jaylen Waddle.
The AFC South was the weakest of the divisions in 2021. The Colts look like an improved team in 2022. The Titans will have a healthy Derek Henry back. Doug Pederson is the new head coach in Jacksonville Jaguars. He is expected to get far more from Trevor Lawrence than Urban Meyer did.
We are just one year removed from Lawrence being a favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. The talent is still there, and he could make a similar leap to what Joe Burrow did in his second season.
And speaking of the AFC North, with the return of a healthy Ravens team, that suddenly becomes a great race in 2022.