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Scouting each ref's crew for each game this weekend

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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.

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.

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

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

(Don't have ESPN? Get instant access today: ESPNInstantAccess.com)

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 have 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.

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

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-Jenkins in Week 6 and Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James in 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."


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i hate to see that ed hochuli is the head ref for our playoff game.  seems like everyone around the league is in love with this guy but i for one can't stand him and i don't think the atlanta falcons organization cares too much for either.

back in 1997 it was hochuli's crew that erroneously gave the denver broncos an extra down against the falcons out in denver in a goal line situation that cost the falcons a game.  the falcons protested the game and contacted the league offices about the matter.  in conclusion--the league as well as hochuli sent a letter of apology to the falcons' organization basically saying they were sorry but obviously there was nothing that could be done about it at that point.  they also said that hochuli would not be allowed to officiate another falcons game for that season.  

well i guess that penalty stood for the remainder of that year but when the 1998 super bowl came around between the falcons and the broncos (strange coincidence) it was hochuli who was the lead official.

so i'm not getting my hopes up for any calls this weekend...not that i ever expect the falcons to get any calls any way.

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3 hours ago, notthatcool said:

On one hand this helps our much penalized DBs, but it could hurt Julio who is already being mugged most plays.  

Put him in motion or get him off the line.  When Julio is moving the only way to interfere then is to basically tackle him.  Teams are learning to jam him hard at the LOS when he is split out on the LOS.  I think if we do that, the advantage, if there is one, lies squarely with us. 

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1 hour ago, schwarzenegger321 said:

Put him in motion or get him off the line.  When Julio is moving the only way to interfere then is to basically tackle him.  Teams are learning to jam him hard at the LOS when he is split out on the LOS.  I think if we do that, the advantage, if there is one, lies squarely with us. 

Pretty sure he got tackled two weekends ago and refs ruled the ball "uncatchable" even though he was blowing by the DB... With Julio's speed, I'd dare say no ball is truly out of his range...

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5 minutes ago, Leggggggo said:

Pretty sure he got tackled two weekends ago and refs ruled the ball "uncatchable" even though he was blowing by the DB... With Julio's speed, I'd dare say no ball is truly out of his range...

The few times this year Julio has actually had a pi called for him, the refs have literally had a conference and picked up the flag. No ball is “uncatchable” for Julio unless it’s way out of bounds or 25 yards downfield from him. Lattimore almost picked off that pass, so that shows you how “uncatchable” it was.

Julio can be blatantly held, pushed, and even tackled with no consequences, it’s sickening.

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