Last but not least, the biggest storyline in this game could be how the NFL’s officiating crew performs in the final game of what was a very bad year for NFL officiating. This past December, Sports Illustrated published an article titled, “The Officiating Crisis: Worse than Ever, or Just Louder Critics?” in which they listed some of the officiating blunders that occurred this season. Among them were:
- Week 4, Detroit-Seattle: No flag after K.J. Wright illegally batted a Calvin Johnson fumble out of the end zone. The penalty would have given the Lions possession on the one-yard line with under two minutes left, down 13-10, but instead Seattle got the ball and ran out the clock.
- Week 10, Jacksonville-Baltimore: No false start penalty on Jacksonville, which would have resulted in a 10-second runoff and the end of the game, and instead resulted in a Baltimore face mask penalty, an untimed down, and a game-winning Jacksonville field goal.
- Week 11, Bills-Patriots: Officials didn’t stop the clock when Sammy Watkins went out of bounds with two seconds left, costing Buffalo a chance at one final Hail Mary play.
These are just three of the many missed calls and/or unjustified calls by NFL officials this past season, and it is legitimate cause for concern as we head into the most anticipated football game of the year. With such aggressive and confident groups such as Denver and Carolina, things are bound to get a little chippy on Sunday, so the refs are going to have to be on their “A” game. Especially the head ref for the game, Clete Blakeman, who was the most recent referee to be involved in a mishap just a few weeks ago when he botched the coin toss in the dramatic NFC Divisonal game between Arizona and Green Bay.
Let’s hope Blakeman gets it right this time around.