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National Football League championships

From Academic Kids


The National Football League has used several different formats to determine their league champions since its founding in 1920.

From 1920 to 1932, the NFL champion was the team with the best record during the season. This was tricky to sort out, as teams played anywhere from eight to twenty games in a season. In 1932, Chicago Bears and Portsmouth Spartans were tied and played a grudge match of sorts, Chicago winning 9-0. The game proved so popular that the league reorganized to make it a permanent feature.

Between 1933 and 1966, the NFL decided its champion through a single postseason playoff game. During this period, the NFL was divided into two groupings, sometimes referred to as divisions and sometimes called conferences. The first place team in each of the two groupings at the end of the regular season played a title game to determine the championship. If there was a tie for first place, an extra playoff game was played in order to determine which team would play the title game. At various times during this period, the two groupings were called Eastern Division and Western Division (1933-1949); American Conference and National Conference(1950-1952); Eastern Conference and Western Conference(1953-1966).

From 1960 through 1969, a week before the NFL championship game, the NFL also had a post-season game called the "Playoff Bowl", the "Bert Bell Benefit Bowl" or the "Runner-up Bowl". Vince Lombardi called it "a rinky-dink game". At the time of the games, CBS-TV advertised them as "playoff games for third place in the NFL", but today the NFL claims they were exhibition games and does not include records of the game participants or results in league playoff statistics. The games were quietly discontinued after 1969.

In 1966, the success of the American Football League (AFL), the spectre of the NFL's losing more stars to the AFL, and concern over a costly "bidding war" precipitated by the NFL's Giants' signing of Pete Gogolak, who was under contract to the AFL's Buffalo Bills, led the leagues to discuss a merger. Key to this was approval by Congress of a law (PL 89-800) that would waive anti-trust requirements for the merged leagues. The major point of the testimony given by the leagues to obtain the law was that if the merger were permitted, "Professional football operations will be preserved in the 23 cities and 25 stadiums where such operations are presently being conducted." The merger became effective in 1970, and since then, in spite of the testimony to the contrary, there have been a dozen franchise moves.

After expansion in 1967, the NFL split the Eastern Conference into the Capitol and Century Divisions and the Western Conference into Coastal and Central Divisions, and the playoff schedule was expanded from a single game between two teams to a four team tournament, with the four divisional champions participating.

After the 1966 through 1969 seasons, the NFL champion played the American Football League champion in Super Bowls I through IV, the only true inter-league championship games of professional football. The first two were won by the Packers, the last two by the AFL's New York Jets and the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs, respectively, leaving the leagues all even in World Championship competition.

After 1970, the AFL and NFL fully merged and underwent a realignment. Six divisions were allocated among two conferences. Since there is now only one league, the winner of the Super Bowl is the NFL champion. (See Super Bowl for a complete list of Super Bowl winners)

With only six division winners in the newly merged league, the NFL designed an 8-team playoff tournament to include one "wild card" team from each conference -- the second place team with the best record.

The league expanded the playoffs to 10 teams in 1978, adding a second wild card team from each conference. The wild card teams played each other in the first round, called the "Wild Card Playoffs". The six division winners would then automatically advance to the second round, called the "Divisional Playoffs".

A players' strike shortened the 1982 regular season to nine games. Thus, the league used a special 16-team playoff tournament just for that year. The top eight teams from each conference qualified. The playoffs would then revert back to the 1978 format during the following year.

In 1990, the NFL expanded the playoffs again to 12 teams by adding a third wild card team from each conference. This time, the division winner with the worst win-loss-tie record in each conference would have to play in the Wild Card Playoffs against the wild card team with the worst record.

In 2002, the NFL realigned into eight divisions, four per conference, to accommodate a 32nd team. The playoffs remained as a 12-team tournament -- four division winners and two wild card teams per conference qualified. But only the two division winners with the best win-loss-tie records in each conference would automatically advance to the Divisional Playoffs, while everybody else had to play in the Wild Card round.

APFA-NFL standings champions

Year Team Wins-Losses-Ties
1920Akron Pros8-0-3
1921Chicago Staleys9-1-1
1922Canton Bulldogs10-0-2
1923Canton Bulldogs11-0-1
1924Cleveland Bulldogs7-1-1
1925Chicago Cardinals11-2-1
1926Frankford Yellow Jackets14-1-2
1927New York Giants11-1-1
1928Providence Steam Roller8-1-2
1929Green Bay Packers12-0-1
1930Green Bay Packers10-3-1
1931Green Bay Packers12-2-0
1932Chicago Bears7-1-6

NFL championship games

AFL-NFL Super Bowl Championship games

Super Bowls NFL Championship games

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