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Our playoff predictions: Morelli, McAulay consensus in top slots



morelli toss

Referee Pete Morelli prepares for the coin toss [Donn Jones/Tennessee Titans]

Football Zebras commentary

Week 17 is upon us, meaning that the final evaluations for officials vying for playoff positions are being determined. Officials will not be informed of the Wild Card Playoff assignments until the middle of the upcoming week. The later playoff rounds will then be rolled out in the succeeding week or two.

Football Zebras writers Mark Schultz and Ben Austro have listed their predictions for the referee assignments below. Last season, Mark had the lone correctly slotted referee (John Parry in the Wild Card). Both Ben and Mark had four referees out of position by one round (up or down), Ben had another two positions out, and Mark’s Super Bowl referee wound up working the Wild Card. (We disregarded alternate and Pro Bowl assignments.)

Here are this year’s selections:

Mark Schultz

Pete Morelli was a Super Bowl field judge and had the honor of calling the Adam Vinateri winning field goal (video). He will never win any style points, but he has had a solid season and it would not surprise me in the least to see him toss the coin in the Meadowlands.

Mark’s Crew Selections

Mark Schultz breaks down his predictions for all the crew positions on the Behind the Football Stripes forum (screen name FredFan7). Join the discussion, and add your own guesses.

Ed Hochuli put in another great year with no major errors that can be hung on him. Ditto for Terry McAulay. Where Hochuli is avuncular on the mic, McAulay adjudicates fouls so fast, sometimes the TV cameras have a hard time getting him in focus before he’s done with the announcement! In a year that saw some administrative or rules errors, the NFL wants to have its top three games in good hands and those games will be in good hands with Morelli, Hochuli, and McAulay.

Gene Steratore’s Super Bowl day is fast approaching, maybe even this year. Steratore has worked some very tough rivalry games this season, and the NFL seems to have confidence to send him and his crew to handle the tinderbox match-ups. John Parry and Walt Anderson have also had good seasons and will be rewarded with a playoff game.

For the Wild Card, I feel that Mike Carey, Jerome Boger, Ron Winter, and Carl Cheffers have all had good years, but not the superior years needed for a divisional or conference championship round.

I’ve omitted some big names this year, including Tony Corrente and Scott Green. I think either of them could sneak into the wild card round. Clete Blakeman has never been given the trip to Hawaii, and the NFL will give him that pretty nice consolation prize.

Ben Austro

Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King was embedded with Gene Steratore’s crew for his masterpiece three-part series “Game 150.” I don’t think it was any accident that the league chose Steratore for King’s assignment; it is Steratore’s position to lose at the peak. Basketball will have to wait. Gene has a February football game to officiate.

Terry McAulay always shows why he consistently scores a high-profile assignment each year, as he is by far the best manager to wear the white hat. Pete Morelli runs a nice no-frills operation, for which he was entrusted the only rookie official this season as well as taking in his former boss, Carl Johnson.

Walt Anderson, Ed Hochuli, and John Parry would not surprise me if they earned a Conference Championship, but I’ve slotted them in the Divisional Playoffs by a hair.

Jerome Boger has had a better season this year than the league-ordained perfect season he had last season. Walt Coleman and Ron Winter have no qualms in my book this season. Bill Leavy seems to be a crazy selection, despite two major rules misapplications, but I think he snapped into midseason form right away. If the vice president of officiating is true to his mission that development is more important than grades, then there is no doubt that Leavy is ensured a playoff assignment.

On the fringe, I have Tony Corrente, Scott Green, and Bill Vinovich. They are all in my handwritten predictions, but were scratched off in the process. This alone should guarantee they will make the playoffs.

Of the remaining referees, the most senior member is Mike Carey, who has not officiated a Pro Bowl since the 2001 season (the league-union mandated cutoff for determining Pro Bowl eligibility). If a white hat is retiring that I’m not aware of, then that referee will get the assignment through a special arrangement with the union. Otherwise, Carey is assured of at least a Pro Bowl assignment this season.

Postseason predictions

Ben Austro Mark Schultz
Super Bowl Gene Steratore Pete Morelli  
Conference Championship Terry McAulay Ed Hochuli
Pete Morelli Terry McAulay
Divisional Playoffs Walt Anderson   Walt Anderson
Ed Hochuli   Pete Morelli  
John Parry   John Parry  
Gene Steratore   Gene Steratore
Wild Card Playoffs Jerome Boger   Jerome Boger  
Walt Coleman   Mike Carey  
Bill Leavy   Carl Cheffers
Ron Winter   Ron Winter  
Pro Bowl Mike Carey   Clete Blakeman
15 points 20 points  


We will score the predictions as follows: 5 points for a correctly slotted referee, 3 points for selections off by a round, 2 for two rounds, 1 for three rounds, and 1 point each for a Pro Bowl guess who works the playoffs and a playoff guess who works the Pro Bowl. (Ties broken by the number of correctly slotted referees, then by scores in each round in descending order.)