Kevin SeifertNFL NationClose
- 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
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 Historical references begin in 1999.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.
Super Bowl LII Coverage
The Eagles upset the Patriots to secure their first Super Bowl victory.
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• Officiating grades » | All the records »
• The biggest moments from the game »
• What should Philly do with Foles? »
• Now what? Execs debate Pats' future
• 'Bettor X' cashes in on big Eagles bets »
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.
Every week we get emails through our contact page that should never be sent. I intentionally have very little text on there, in the hopes that people will actually read it. If you don’t want to click through, it says:
I am just one guy, and I’m not affiliated with the NFL. Venting to me is pointless. If you choose to waste my time and vent anyhow, we reserve the right to publish your full email on the site, including your name and email address.
After the Lions-Cowboys game last week, I got a decent number of upset Lions fans that emailed me. After the Dez Bryant no-catch today, though, wow! Not only did I just get hundreds of emails from Cowboys fans that clearly can’t read, it’s at best a 50/50 call anyhow. I tend to think it was a good call on a bad rule, but my opinion doesn’t matter; I’m just a dude watching the games. The Lions got hosed, which most everyone can agree on, but the Dez call is more difficult. Regardless, I have nothing to do with it.
I don’t know if this means Dallas has the worst fans, but they’re clearly not big on reading, don’t spell especially well, and love exclamation points.
That said, the “we reserve the right to publish…” part of that page has been up for a while now. If people feel like flooding my inbox with insults, I’ll share them here for all to see. Here is a small sub-set of what has come in so far. Feel free to write back to any of them and start up a friendly dialog. 🙂
Be advised, these emails are completely untouched, including foul language, so proceed as you see fit.
Bill Gloeckler – email@example.com
I’m not a Packers fan but i now believe these games are fixed by the officials. I and all my friends will be sharing this on Facebook worldwide. I’m done with the payoffs you recieve
John Cannon – firstname.lastname@example.org
The refs absolutely suck this year. They have ruined football. That Dez Bryant call was terrible.
RJ ware – email@example.com
Yall mother fuckers are worthless. My bind grandmother makes better calls. Yall do not deserve to call professional games you sorry chick sucking mother fuckers
Martin Loewen – firstname.lastname@example.org
Fucking call me you fucking pussy refs for overturning that dez Bryant catch!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 432-638-0656
later from Martin again…
Tell me to my face that dez Bryant didn’t catch that ball!!! I dare you!!!!
513 CR 201
Seminole, TX 79360
scott collins – email@example.com
Y’all have ruined the game of football for me that was a catch by Bryant he clearly showed possession and elbow was down before ball come. Out I thank it was a touchdown me and my father are through watching football you officials have ruined the game for us we hate yalls. Guts
Brenda Schumacher – bs.pilates@gmIl.com
Even the Dallas “haters” are so aware and calling you guys WHIMPS AND WEAK!! You buckled under last weeks horrible call against the lions so you thought you could redeem yourself against a Dallas and all you did – confirmed you are weak and have no business refereeing! Stupid call against Dez!! His knee was down and he had total control of the ball with one hand! Call the game correctly and stay out of the teams way to lose or win! You buckled under pressure of haters do in my eyes- I will never trust you until you turn it around and prove you can call a game justly. Worts call EVER!!
Joe Harrison – firstname.lastname@example.org
As a retired referee, I just witnessed the worst playoff call I have ever seen. After the Dallas receivercaught the ball, he maintained control for three steps which demonstrates a legal reception. He again caught the ball placed two feet on the ground and continued to run. The ground cannot cause a fumble on a run. Was this call made for profit or just pure stupidity!!!!
Jacke Zannini – email@example.com
That’s the worst call of all time taking the catch away from Bryant. Not a fan of either term but 2 bad calls against Dallas. The refs ruined the game & should be FIRED w/ no pension -and investigated. Totally changed the fair outcome of the game. Unacceptable & you should be ashshamed. Appears criminal!
Bruce Burnett – firstname.lastname@example.org
I really think you need to find people who know the game before you have them referee a game like the Dallas vs Greenbay lots of BAD CALLS….. get with it or get out of the sport !
Montgomery Heathman – email@example.com
The referees in the Dallas vs Green Bay are the most inept I have seen in 45 years of the NFL. The call on Dez Bryant’s catch in the fourth quarter was terrible. I’m launching an investigation to determine influences compromising the integrity of their actions on the field, including any possible financial gains possibly made by their officiating. They all should be fired.
tim pohs – firstname.lastname@example.org
The officials in the playoffs this season are all blind as hell they don’t even deserve to work at the piggly wiggly my blind def mute grandmother can call games better than them
alina paradoa – email@example.com
Which one of you made that lousy call at the Dallas-G game?
Shame on you!!!!!!!!!!!!!! A blind man could have seen the catch better than you.
I don’t how much you get paid for doing what you do, but you should in all honesty quit or give your money back… Damn unbelievable.
Go ref at middle school games man, not even high school!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
brittany self – firstname.lastname@example.org
I am highly concerned that y’all don’t know how to call a complete catch. Y’all screwed over the Cowboys against the packers in the playoffs 2015. Y’all should make it right towards football teams that y’all don’t like. Y’all have a lot of outraged fans this season. Y’all need to learn how to call the right plays or don’t be a refree at all. Thank-you
brian machado – email@example.com
are you kidding me! Not only did Dez make great catch he had total enough control and presence of mine to extend arm with ball to end zone. Thanks for nothing u blinde f!
You do not belong with the rest of the competent refs., an embarrassment to your profession.
chris rake – firstname.lastname@example.org
How is it even acceptable you will let a official dictate the outcome of a playoff game of this magnitude. I find it very unprofessional and unecceptable especially at this level and this far into the season (playoff game). The Dallas Cowboys in all fashion should have won this game. I am appalled, not to mention it takes away the integrity of the game. I am ashamed and I hope you can sleep at night. Who’s side were the refs on today???????
Brian Steele – email@example.com
You guys are trash Steratore is a piece of shit he fixed that game for Green Bay you can all go fuck yourselves you cheating pieces of shit
I’ll post more as they continue to come in…