Most common AFC Championship Game matchups in NFL history

What are the most common AFC Championship Game matchups to have happened since the merger in 1970, and how often have they occurred?

The AFC Championship Game began in 1970 when the NFL officially merged and formed one league with two conferences. Prior to that, the game to determine who went to the Super Bowl as the then-AFL representative was called the AFL Championship Game. Let’s take a look back at the most common matchups in the history of the AFC Championship Game.

AFC Championship Game | Most common matchups

The 2021-22 AFC Championship Game will be the 52nd time the game has been played since the merger was finalized in 1970. No two teams have met more than three times during that stretch, with four such matchups sharing that honor.

Oakland/Los Angeles/Las Vegas Raiders vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Incredibly, the Raiders and Steelers met three times in the first seven AFC Championship Games but have not met in one since. The dominance of those two teams during the early part of the AFC is clear to see. Of the first 11 times the AFC Championship Game took place, either the Raiders or Steelers were in the game in 10 of those. The Raiders had also played in the final three AFL Championship Games before the merger, while the Steelers only joined the AFC in 1970 when the merger became official.

The Steelers won the first two contests between the two teams in 1974 and 1975. They went on to win the Super Bowl on both occasions. The Raiders won the 1976 edition and also went on to win the Super Bowl. Of the four most played AFC Championship Game matchups, three have seen the winner go on to lift the Lombardi Trophy in the ensuing Super Bowl.

Denver Broncos vs. Cleveland Browns

This matchup between the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns happened three times in four seasons. They first faced off in the 1986-87 season, subsequently meeting again the following year. After a one-year interlude, they met again at the end of the 1989-90 season.

The Broncos won all three meetings, but two of the games provided widely remembered and discussed moments. The first game was won in overtime after John Elway led the Broncos on “The Drive” to tie the game up in regulation. The second meeting was also a classic and featured “The Fumble” as the Broncos emerged as 38-33 victors. The final game of the trio saw the Broncos win 37-21, with Denver scoring 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers feature on the list for a second time, but this time against the New England Patriots. Pittsburgh and New England have met in three AFC Championship Games since 2001. The Patriots have come out on top in all three games, going on to win the Super Bowl on each of those occasions.

The first two meetings took place at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, with the third being played at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. The closest of the three games came in 2001 when the Patriots won by 7 points. The next two games were won by a combined total of 33 points.

Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots

Now, it is the Patriots’ turn to feature for a second time on this list. This time, it is against the Indianapolis Colts, with the three games taking place between 2003 and 2014. The Patriots won the first and third contests; the Colts won the second one. On all three of those occasions, the winner has gone on to emerge victorious at the Super Bowl.

The first two meetings formed part of the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning rivalry. Meanwhile, the third meeting saw Andrew Luck quarterbacking the Colts in his third season in the NFL. That final meeting also led to the “DeflateGate” controversy. The following investigation and speculation would somewhat overshadow the Patriots’ 28-24 victory in Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks.

Honorable Mention: Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs

The meeting between the Chiefs and Bills at the culmination of the 2020-21 NFL season was officially the second meeting between the two in the AFC Championship Game. However, it was the third time the two teams had met to determine which team would go to the Super Bowl.

The first occasion dates back to the year of the very first Super Bowl. In the AFL Championship Game to end the 1966-67 season, the Chiefs defeated the Bills 31-7 to be the first AFL representative at the Super Bowl. Therefore, in the “Super Bowl era,” the Chiefs and Bills have also met three times. However, they have only met twice post-merger in the AFC Championship Game.

Which AFC Championship Game matchups have occurred twice?

Here is a list of AFC Championship Games to have occurred twice since 1970.

  • Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs
    Tie 1-1; 1993 and 2020
  • Miami Dolphins vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
    Dolphins 2-0; 1972 and 1984
  • Houston/Tennessee Oilers/Titans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
    Steelers 2-0; 1978 and 1979
  • Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots
    Patriots 2-0; 1996 and 2017
  • Denver Broncos vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
    Tie 1-1; 1997 and 2005
  • Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots
    Tie 1-1; 2011 and 2012
  • Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots
    Broncos 2-0; 2013 and 2015

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