The procedure for the assigning officials to playoff games will be slightly different this season.
In previous seasons, the league assigned the eight highest ranking crews to the first two rounds of the playoffs, rather than by individual merit. Individual crew members could be swapped out with the next highest ranked official at the position for two reasons: (1) he was ranked too low individually, usually lower than 11th, or (2) he was one of the top 3 officials at his position, and, thus assigned to a Conference Championship or Super Bowl, although many times a Super Bowl official did work a playoff game in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
This season, the league office has returned to the divide-and-merge format that existed prior to 2003.
“There are no postseason assignments made based upon the cumulative performance of an entire crew,” said NFL vice president of communications Michael Signora. “From the 2003-11 seasons, Wild Card and Divisional playoff assignments were in part based upon crew performance, but that is not the case for the 2012 playoffs.”
The league did not elaborate in their e-mail to us why the change occurred. We will update if we find more.
2002 Wild Card playoffs: Giants at 49ers
The change to keep crews intact stemmed from an incident in a 2002 Wild Card game between the Giants and 49ers. The Giants attempted a pass on a last-second botched field-goal attempt. Because the deep officials were under the goalposts, they were out of position for a pass play. Back judge Scott Green (a current head referee) did not call a blatant pass interference call on the attempt, because apparently he believed Giants lineman Rich Seubert was not an eligible receiver, and thus could not be interfered with.
Turns out, Seubert did report in as eligible, as is required by the rules when a player lines up in a receiver position when his uniform number indicates he is not a receiver. The Giants did not get an untimed down that they were entitled to had the proper penalty been called, and lost the game.
The head of officiating at the time, Mike Pereira, said that these mixed crews lacked the cohesiveness and rhythm that officials had on their regular-season crews, and the change was made in the ensuing offseason.