Organization within the NFL seems like it could be tricky with so many teams but the league has created a system that happens everything run flawlessly. This system revolves around the NFC and AFC.
So, what do NFC and AFC stand for in football?
In the NFL, NFC stands for “National Football Conference” and AFC stands for “American Football Conference.” These are the two main conferences in the NFL, which each consist of 16 teams. Teams mostly play within their own conferences but will also play outside of them for part of the season.
The two-conference system in the NFL allows for easier scheduling and creates a clear path to the Super Bowl. Throughout the rest of this article, we’ll cover which teams are in each conference and division, how scheduling works in the NFL, and much more.
Make sure to keep reading!
What Do NFC and AFC Stand for in Football?
The American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC) are the two main conferences that make up the National Football League (NFL). Established in 1970 as a result of the AFL-NFL merger, these conferences were created to unify both rival leagues and form a single organization.
The AFC originated from the American Football League (AFL), while the NFC has its roots in the NFL, pre-merger. Each conference is further divided into four divisions, namely North, South, East, and West, with each division consisting of four teams.
This structure comprises a total of 32 teams in the NFL, with 16 teams representing each conference.
Throughout the regular-season schedule, teams primarily play against their own conference, although there are games played between teams from both conferences as well. The division leaders and two wild card teams from each conference advance to the playoffs at the end of the regular season.
The playoff structure involves the top six teams from each conference (AFC and NFC) competing in a single-elimination tournament. This culminates with the remaining undefeated team from each conference going head-to-head in the Super Bowl.
Why Is the NFL Split Into AFC and NFC?
The NFL is divided into two conferences, the AFC and NFC, due to historical reasons that trace back to the NFL merger in 1970. Before the merger, there were two separate football leagues, the AFL and the NFL. The AFL and NFL decided to merge in order to create a more unified and competitive professional football landscape in the United States.
The newly-formed NFL needed a way to organize the teams, and thus, the league was split into two conferences. The AFC primarily consisted of teams from the former AFL, while the NFC included most of the pre-merger NFL teams. This division allowed for a balanced league structure and a clear path to the Super Bowl.
Today, the AFC and NFC both have 16 teams and they operate in a similar manner. The teams in each conference are further divided into four divisions, based on geographical location. The scheduling, playoff structure, and league administration also run parallel between the AFC and NFC.
What Are Divisions in Football?
In the NFL, there are two conferences: the AFC and the NFC. Each of these conferences is further divided into four divisions, making a total of eight divisions in the NFL.
The divisions are primarily based on geographic locations for easier logistics, maintaining regional rivalries, and reducing travel times for the teams.
The AFC consists of the following four divisions: AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, and AFC West. Each division has four teams, adding up to a total of 16 teams in the conference.
Similarly, the NFC has four divisions: NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, and NFC West, each with four teams, making up a total of 16 teams in the NFC as well.
The purpose of these divisions in football is to streamline regular season schedules and determine playoff spots. Each season, teams play against their division rivals twice, with the division winners making the playoffs.
Teams in the NFC
The NFC is one of the two conferences in the NFL and is comprised of four divisions: West, East, North, and South. Here’s how each of the divisions is broken down:
The NFC West features the:
- Arizona Cardinals
- Los Angeles rams
- San Francisco 49ers
- Seattle Seahawks
Some notable achievements by the teams in this division include the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl victory in 2013 and the San Francisco 49ers’ five Super Bowl championships.
The NFC East features the:
- Dallas Cowboys
- New York Giants
- Philadelphia Eagles
- Washington Commanders
The New York Giants have won the Super Bowl four times, while the Dallas Cowboys have taken home the title on five occasions. The Eagles and Commanders have also experienced success, with one and three Super Bowl wins, respectively.
The NFC North features the:
- Chicago Bears
- Detroit Lions
- Green Bay Packers
- Minnesota Vikings
The Green Bay Packers, led by legendary quarterbacks Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, have been consistently dominant, earning them four Super Bowl titles. The Chicago Bears, known for their strong defense and the iconic Mike Ditka coaching era, have won one Super Bowl.
Finally, the NFC South features the:
- Atlanta Falcons
- Carolina Panthers
- New Orleans Saints
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Saints won their first Super Bowl in 2009, and the Buccaneers claimed their second championship in 2020. The Falcons and Panthers have also reached the Super Bowl but have yet to win it all.
Teams in the AFC
Here’s how the AFC is organized:
The AFC West features the:
- Denver Broncos
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Las Vegas Raiders
- Los Angeles Chargers
In recent years, the Kansas City Chiefs have been the dominant team, winning multiple Super Bowls.
The AFC East features the:
- Buffalo Bills
- Miami Dolphins
- New England Patriots
- New York Jets
Historically, the Patriots have been a powerhouse in this division, securing numerous championships and playoff berths under the leadership of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. However, other teams like the Buffalo Bills have recently emerged as strong contenders as well.
The AFC North features the:
- Baltimore Ravens
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Cleveland Browns
- Pittsburgh Steelers
This division has produced several Super Bowl champions and memorable playoff moments. The Pittsburgh Steelers, in particular, have won the Super Bowl six times.
The AFC South features the:
- Houston Texans
- Indianapolis Colts
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- Tennessee Titans
The Colts were a dominant force under Peyton Manning but have wavered in recent years. The division shows some promise but likely won’t claim a Super Bowl in the near future.
How Does Scheduling Work in the NFL?
In a regular NFL season, teams will play a total of 17 games, which are organized to follow a specific scheduling formula. This formula takes into account the divisional, intraconference, and interconference games.
Each team plays the following games within their respective conference:
- Six games against division opponents, where they face each team in their division twice, once at home and once away.
Next, each team plays a total of 10 intraconference and interconference games:
- Four games against the teams in another division within their conference, where each team plays the entire division once, rotating yearly.
- Four games against the teams in a division from the opposite conference, where again, each team plays the entire division once, following a yearly rotation.
- Two games against conference opponents with the same division rank, excluding the teams from their division and the division already played. This means, for example, that a first-place team will play against other first-place teams in its conference.
The final game, the 17th of the season, works this way:
- Each team plays one opponent from the opposite conference based on the previous year’s standings within their respective divisions. They face the team that ranked at the same position in a division not included in the already scheduled matchups for that year.
This systematic approach to scheduling ensures that each team faces a diverse range of opponents from both conferences and guarantees a challenging yet fair regular season for all teams involved.
The NFL scheduling process is flexible and adapts each year to accommodate the changes in performance and standing of the teams, making it an essential aspect of the league’s organization.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Determines If a Team Is in the NFC or AFC?
A team’s conference in the NFL, either the NFC or AFC is determined primarily by their geographical location and historical affiliations. The AFC generally consists of teams from the eastern and southern regions of the United States, while the NFC generally comprises teams from the north and west.
Has a Team Ever Switched from the AFC to the NFC?
Yes, there have been instances of teams switching conferences. The most notable example is the Seattle Seahawks, who joined the NFL in 1976 as an NFC team, then switched to the AFC in 1977, and returned to the NFC in 2002. This realignment was part of a larger restructuring effort by the NFL to balance the number of teams in each conference.
Is the AFC or NFC More Competitive?
Determining which conference is more competitive can be subjective and varies from year to year. With that said, the AFC has been the more competitive conference in recent years.