Nfl Referee Assignments Championship League

Jan 5, 2018
  • Kevin SeifertNFL Nation

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    • ESPN.com national NFL writer
    • ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
    • Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008

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Officiating played its usual outsized role in the 2017 NFL experience, drawing massive attention for controversial calls involving inconsistencies with replay review to the catch rule (again) to an inability to prevent players from targeting each other's brains. But in between, of course, the vast majority of plays were officiated without incident.

What can we say as the playoffs begin?

First, the NFL's officials called almost exactly the same number of penalties -- including those that were declined or offset -- as they did in 2016. The number was 4,044 this season after 4,048 last season, according to the ESPN Stats & Information penalty database.

Second, officials ejected 18 players from games this season, the most in any season since at least 2001. Most were for fighting or contact with an official -- behavior you would expect to disappear in the playoffs but could lead to a season-changing call if it surfaces.

Penalties per game by referee: 2017

Anderson, Walt17.4
Steratore, Gene17.1
Torbert, Ronald17.1
Cheffers, Carl16.9
Triplette, Jeff16.8
Corrente, Tony16.6
Hochuli, Ed16.5
McAulay, Terry16.3
Boger, Jerome15.9
Coleman, Walt15.9
Parry, John15.7
Morelli, Pete15.6
Hussey, John14.8
Allen, Brad14.7
Wrolstad, Craig14.7
Blakeman, Clete14.6
Vinovich, Bill11.6

Third, the discrepancy of penalty frequency among crews was not as severe as it has been in previous years. As the chart shows, 12 of the 17 crews averaged between 15.6 and 17.4 flags per game. The primary outlier was once again referee Bill Vinovich, whose crew averaged 11.6 per game. Vinovich is not among the four referees assigned to upcoming wild-card weekend games, but he could be a candidate to work in the divisional round.

What follows in this officiating scouting report is a look at the four first-round referees. Keep in mind that the NFL scrambles crews in the playoffs to maximize use of the highest-graded officials at each position from the regular season. Although the makeup will be different, it's the referee who always sets the tone for any crew.

Note: All data is culled either from ESPN Stats & Information or Pro Football Reference. Historical references begin in 1999.


No. 5 Tennessee Titans at No. 4 Kansas City Chiefs

Saturday: 4:20 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC/WatchESPN | Game HQ

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Referee: Jeff Triplette | Titans' history in his games: 11-11 | Chiefs' history in his games: 7-9

Triplette has a fairly earned reputation for extended discussions and occasional high-profile gaffes, but his playoff appearance means he graded out among the upper echelon of referees on a play-by-play basis.

A common theme among Triplette's crews has been their strict adherence to roughness and sportsmanship rules. In 2017, Triplette called an NFL-high 40 penalties for either roughing the passer, unsportsmanlike conduct, unnecessary roughness or taunting. For context, consider that six crews amassed 22 or fewer such penalties. Triplette also ejected three players, tied for the second-most among referees, after disqualifying an NFL-high six players in 2016. On the other hand, he called 39 fouls for offensive holding, the second-fewest in the league.

This will be his first game involving the Chiefs since December 2015.

No. 6 Atlanta Falcons at No. 3 Los Angeles Rams

Saturday: 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC | Game HQ

Referee: Ed Hochuli | Falcons' history in his games: 4-10 | Rams' history in his games: 9-9

The Rams already have seen Hochuli twice this season. His crew worked L.A.'s victories over the New York Giants in Week 9 and the Seattle Seahawks in Week 15, when the Rams won by a combined score of 93-24.

Hochuli's regular-season crew was much friendlier to defensive backs, and more dangerous to wide receivers, than most of the league's officials. It called the league's highest total of offensive pass interference calls (18) and the second-lowest total of defensive pass interference, defensive holding and illegal contact penalties combined (29). That's the kind of discrepancy that will pop out to both teams, regardless of whether Hochuli's postseason crew is scrambled.


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No. 6 Buffalo Bills vs. No. 3 Jacksonville Jaguars

Sunday: 1:05 p.m. ET, CBS | Game HQ

Referee: John Hussey | Bills' history in his games: 1-1 | Jaguars' history in his games: 0-2

This will mark the first playoff game for Hussey, who was promoted to referee in 2015. His crew was among the most lenient in 2017, averaging the fifth-fewest penalties per game (14.8) in the league.

His name surfaced in the news when video showed him checking on Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage after a hit that left Savage concussed in Week 14. Savage returned to the game briefly before being removed to undergo further testing. The NFL changed its protocol this season to encourage officials to inform a team's medical staff when concussion symptoms are observed. Overall, though, Hussey protected quarterbacks this season. He threw seven flags for roughing the passer, tied for fifth-most in the NFL.


No. 5 Carolina Panthers vs. No. 4 New Orleans Saints

Sunday: 4:40 p.m. ET, Fox | Game HQ

Referee: Tony Corrente | Panthers' history in his games: 12-5 | Saints' history in his games: 9-11

In a scheduling quirk, this will be Corrente's first non-preseason game involving the Saints since November 2013. Two of his touchdown calls this season have been reversed amid high-profile controversy over replay and the catch rule, for Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkinsin Week 6 and Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse Jamesin Week 15. His regular-season crew was quick to throw flags on both sides of the passing game, having tossed the league's second-most for defensive pass interference, defensive holding or illegal contact combined (49) and third-most for offensive pass interference (10).

It's also worth noting that his crew called 40 false starts, the second-most in the NFL. You might think a false start is a black-or-white call -- a player either moved early or he didn't -- but some officials are more aggressive than others. Keep in mind that 10 of the 17 crews called 30 or fewer false starts this season.

Jan 12, 2018
  • Kevin SeifertNFL Nation

    Close
    • ESPN.com national NFL writer
    • ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
    • Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008

    Follow on Twitter

Officiating assignments for the divisional round are important on a number of levels. The members of these crews handle the critical games that determine the championship round, of course. And, generally speaking, they also constitute the pool from which the NFL will staff the Super Bowl.

Yes, one of the four referees working this weekend is expected to be assigned to Super Bowl LII. The group includes two veterans and two of the league's newest referees. They will all work with scrambled crews of "all-star" officials, but because a referee sets the tone for any crew, it's worth recalling their regular-season tendencies. The numbers include declined and offsetting fouls.

Note: All data is culled from either research by ESPN Stats & Information or Pro Football Reference. Historical references begin in 1999.


No. 6 Atlanta Falcons at No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles

Saturday: 4:35 p.m. ET, NBC | Game HQ

Referee: Bill Vinovich | Falcons' record in his games: 7-3 | Eagles' record in his games: 2-6

Vinovich is annually one of the least flag-happy NFL referees, and 2017 was no different. In fact, as the chart shows, he averaged the lowest number of penalties per game (11.6) -- a full three flags fewer than the next-lowest referee. His regular-season crew threw just three flags in one game this season, five in another, six in two others and more than 17 only once.

Penalties per game by referee: 2017

Anderson, Walt17.4
Steratore, Gene17.1
Torbert, Ronald17.1
Cheffers, Carl16.9
Triplette, Jeff16.8
Corrente, Tony16.6
Hochuli, Ed16.5
McAulay, Terry16.3
Boger, Jerome15.9
Coleman, Walt15.9
Parry, John15.7
Morelli, Pete15.6
Hussey, John14.8
Allen, Brad14.7
Wrolstad, Craig14.7
Blakeman, Clete14.6
Vinovich, Bill11.6

The Falcons saw Vinovich in their Week 17 victory over the Panthers, in which his crew threw 13 flags. As it turns out, Vinovich was also the referee for the Eagles' most recent playoff game, a 26-24 loss to the Saints in the 2013 wild-card round.

His 2017 crew ranked near the bottom of the individual frequency charts, most notably in the category handled solely by the referee: roughing the passer (two).


No. 5 Tennessee Titans at No. 1 New England Patriots

Saturday: 8:15p.m. ET, CBS | Game HQ

Referee: Ron Torbert | Titans' record in his games: 2-1 | Patriots' record in his games: 3-0

Torbert's regular-season crew averaged the NFL's third-most penalties per game, but, with any luck, his activity will be moderate this weekend, given the teams on the field. The Patriots and Titans ranked third and fourth in the NFL, respectively, in fewest penalties this season.

The Titans probably don't have fond memories of their most recent game with Torbert, when his crew failed to enforce the "Holy Roller" rule late in the first half in the Titans' 40-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 11. The mistake put the Steelers in position for a 50-yard field goal attempt just before halftime.

Patriots fans will be reassured to know that Torbert's crew called only six offensive pass interference fouls, tied for fourth fewest in the NFL. The Patriots were called for eight OPI fouls in the regular season, tied for most in the league, including three by tight end Rob Gronkowski.


No. 3 Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 2 Pittsburgh Steelers

Sunday: 1:05 p.m. ET, CBS | Game HQ

Referee: Brad Allen | Jaguars' record in his games: 1-1 | Steelers' record in his games: 2-1

Like Torbert, Allen is in his fourth season as an NFL referee. His crew ranked well below the NFL average in penalty frequency for three of those years, including 2017. Nevertheless, it threw a league-high combined 51 flags during the regular season for either defensive pass interference, defensive holding or illegal contact. The gap was especially pronounced for defensive holding; Allen's crew called 30 while the other 16 crews averaged 18.0.

Hopefully, that tendency won't carry into the playoffs. The Jaguars were called for an NFL-low nine combined penalties for defensive pass interference, defensive holding or illegal contact. The Steelers were called for the second lowest with 12. The average for the rest of the NFL was 21.3.

No. 4 New Orleans Saints at No. 2 Minnesota Vikings

Sunday: 4:40 p.m. ET, FOX | Game HQ

Referee: Gene Steratore | Saints' record in his games: 6-7 | Vikings' record in his games: 5-5

This will be Steratore's second Saints-Vikings game in the past five months. He also worked the teams' Week 1 matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium, throwing 15 flags in the Vikings' 29-19 victory.

He produced one of the season's strangest moments in Week 15, using a notecard to help measure a first down on a key fourth down in the Dallas Cowboys' 20-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders. Afterward, NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron reminded referees that foreign objects should not be part of the process. Steratore's crew threw at least 20 flags in four games during the season and overall was tied with Torbert as the league's second-most active crew (17.1 per game).

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