We are already at Week 7 of the NFL season and many teams now know if they are contenders or pretenders for the Super Bowl crown. The pressure is also on the officials to contend for a prestigious playoff assignment and a the honor of officiating Super Bowl XLVII.
When the NFL officials took to the field to start Week 4, they had not blown a whistle since their last 2011 assignment. Yet, in that first game they were being judged on their mechanics and accuracy. The grading curve wasn’t adjusted just because it was their first game of the season. Those judgements, made by NFL officiating supervisors, will be used to decide if each official is worthy of a playoff assignment or a Super Bowl assignment. That puts pressure on the officials to perform. If the officials have a hard time shaking off the rust the supervisors grading them will not be sympathetic.
How many mistakes (or “dings” in NFL officiating parlance) can an official make and still be assigned to a Super Bowl? Most officials who are assigned to the Super Bowl have between zero and three dings a season. That doesn’t allow officials much time to shake off the rust. How many dings can an official get and hope for a playoff assignment? Well, we don’t know, but in his last season, referee Jerry Markbreit said he had his worst season ever with nine dings and worried about getting a playoff assignment (he ended up getting a playoff game). I write this to illustrate that officials have very little margin for error to get a playoff assignment, let alone a Super Bowl assignment. If an official makes a few mistakes in these first three weeks that he blames on rust, those mistakes might knock him out of the playoffs.
So, will a veteran make few rusty mistakes and not get assigned a playoff game and open up the door for some new officials? Or will experienced officials rise to the occasion and monopolize the playoffs and Super Bowl? Those questions are being answered now, but we’ll have to wait until the postseason to discover those answers.