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NFL vs. AFL — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Maham Liaqat — Published on March 4, 2024
The NFL is a professional American football league known for its high level of competition and popularity, while the AFL was a rival league that merged with the NFL in 1970, influencing the modern game with its innovative strategies.
NFL vs. AFL — What's the Difference?

Difference Between NFL and AFL


Key Differences

The National Football League (NFL) has been the premier professional American football league in the United States since its founding in 1920. Known for its high competitive level, the NFL has grown into one of the most popular and financially successful sports leagues worldwide, with a significant cultural impact in American society.
The American Football League (AFL), established in 1960, was a professional football league that competed with the NFL until the two leagues merged in 1970. The AFL was known for its more dynamic passing game, wider-open style of play, and the introduction of features like the two-point conversion, which were later adopted by the NFL.
The merger between the NFL and AFL in 1970 not only ended the rivalry but also significantly shaped the future of professional American football. It led to the creation of the Super Bowl, pitting the champions of the NFL and AFL against each other, which has since become one of the biggest annual sporting events in the world.
The NFL's structure post-merger incorporated teams from the AFL and established a unified league with two conferences: the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). This structure facilitated a balanced competition and continued growth of the sport.
Despite the AFL no longer existing as a separate entity, its legacy lives on in the NFL through its innovative approaches to the game and the continued rivalry in the form of the AFC and NFC. The merger is a pivotal moment in American sports history, highlighting the evolution of professional football into the spectacle it is today.

Comparison Chart

Founding Year



Continues to operate
Merged with NFL in 1970

Style of Play

Traditionally focused on a balanced approach
Emphasized a dynamic passing game


Standardized the game of professional football
Introduced the two-point conversion, among others


Premier American football league
Influential in shaping modern NFL, especially in strategy and organization


Super Bowl (post-merger)
AFL Championship (pre-merger), contributes to AFC vs. NFC Super Bowl

Cultural Impact

Significant, with global fanbase
Catalyzed changes in professional football, impacting the NFL's evolution


NFC and AFC (post-merger)
None, as it merged into the NFL structure

Compare with Definitions


Operates with two conferences post-merger.
The NFL is divided into the NFC and AFC, enhancing rivalry and competition.


Rival professional football league to the NFL until 1970.
The AFL introduced a more dynamic passing game that influenced football.


Premier professional American football league.
The NFL hosts the Super Bowl, attracting millions of viewers worldwide.


Merged with the NFL, shaping the modern game.
The AFL-NFL merger led to the creation of the Super Bowl.


Continues to evolve with innovations.
The NFL has adopted various technologies and rules to improve game safety and engagement.


Legacy includes the emphasis on passing.
The AFL's focus on the passing game has continued to influence NFL strategies.


Known for high competition and cultural impact.
NFL games are celebrated events in American culture with significant viewership.


Known for innovation and strategic gameplay.
AFL strategies and rules innovations have been integrated into the NFL.


Global fanbase and influence.
The NFL has expanded its reach with international games and a growing global audience.


Contributed teams to the NFL's AFC.
Former AFL teams now play in the NFL's American Football Conference.


The American Football League.


A federation of North American labor unions that merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1955

Common Curiosities

What is the significance of the NFL-AFL merger?

The merger led to the creation of the Super Bowl, established a more competitive league structure, and helped professional football grow into one of the most popular sports in the United States.

How did the AFL impact the NFL?

The AFL introduced several innovations, such as the two-point conversion and a more strategic passing game, which were adopted by the NFL, enhancing the sport's appeal and strategic depth.

Are AFL teams still part of the NFL?

Yes, former AFL teams are now part of the NFL and compete in the American Football Conference (AFC).

What is the difference between the NFC and AFC?

The NFC and AFC are conferences within the NFL, with the NFC consisting of teams from the original NFL and the AFC including teams from the former AFL and other teams.

What was the AFL known for?

The AFL was known for its dynamic passing game, innovative strategies, and contributions to the evolution of professional American football.

What led to the creation of the Super Bowl?

The creation of the Super Bowl was a result of the NFL-AFL merger, serving as a championship game between the winners of the NFL and AFL's respective championships.

Why did the NFL and AFL merge?

The NFL and AFL merged to unify professional American football, ending the costly bidding war for players and consolidating their fan bases and resources.

What were the key differences in gameplay between the NFL and AFL before the merger?

Before the merger, the NFL favored a more balanced offensive approach, emphasizing both the running and passing games, while the AFL was known for its innovative, pass-oriented offenses and wide-open style of play.

How has the NFL evolved since the merger?

Since the merger, the NFL has expanded in size, adopted innovations from the AFL, and grown significantly in popularity, financial success, and global reach.

How do the NFL and AFL championships differ?

Pre-merger, the NFL and AFL held separate championship games; post-merger, the Super Bowl became the singular championship game for the unified league.

What were the fan reactions to the NFL-AFL merger?

Fan reactions were mixed at the time of the merger, with some excited about the unified league and the creation of the Super Bowl, while others were nostalgic for the rivalry and unique identity of the AFL.

How did the AFL influence NFL team expansions and relocations?

The AFL's success and popularity prompted the NFL to expand and relocate teams to compete in markets that the AFL had proven viable, leading to a broader national presence for professional football.

What happened to AFL records after the merger?

AFL records were integrated into the NFL's historical records, acknowledging the achievements of AFL players and teams as part of the league's consolidated history.

How did the AFL change the financial landscape of professional football?

The AFL introduced competition for player contracts, which increased salaries and benefits for players and led to a more financially robust environment for professional football as a whole.

Did the AFL have any unique teams that did not join the NFL?

All AFL teams became part of the NFL after the merger, with no teams left out, ensuring that the legacy and contributions of all AFL teams continued within the unified league.

How did television contracts differ between the NFL and AFL before the merger?

Before the merger, the AFL secured a lucrative television contract with NBC, which significantly increased its visibility and competitiveness with the NFL, which had its own contracts with different networks.

What role did the Super Bowl play in the merger between the NFL and AFL?

The Super Bowl was a key element in the merger agreement, serving as a culminating championship game that would bring together the best of both leagues, enhancing public interest and league unity.

How did the merger affect the strategic approaches of NFL teams?

The merger led NFL teams to adopt some of the strategic innovations introduced by the AFL, such as more aggressive passing offenses, which contributed to the evolution of the game's strategies.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Maham Liaqat
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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