Football Zebras commentary
Editor’s note: The Wild Card assignments were released sooner than expected, but our predictions below were set before we received the assignment list.
Our annual tradition is to predict which referees are assigned to the postseason and the Pro Bowl. As we find every year, there tends to be a razor-thin line at the playoff cut, so an omission on this list does not necessarily mean we thought the referee was not worthy of a playoff assignment. We simply ran out of room.
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I am going to flip the order around this year and start at the top of the chart. For two of the past three seasons, I have placed Walt Coleman in the top position of my playoff predictions. This will now be three out of four, in my last chance to do so, as Coleman will be retiring after an NFL career that began when Richard Marx had the number 1 song on the radio. Coleman is right here waiting for his first Super Bowl assignment while he has been snubbed more times than Susan Lucci. You must be doing something right to officiate in the NFL for 30 seasons, and in a season with a fair share of controversy, Coleman and his crew came through.
In the Conference Championships, I have to add Bill Vinovich. He has been placed in multiple marquee assignments through the season, and his repeated appearances on Sunday night had NBC’s Al Michaels saying Vinovich needed to apply for a Screen Actors Guild card. I also see Clete Blakeman assuming the mantle of the officiating elite along with Vinovich for years to come. They are filling some very big shoes with the retirements of Terry McAulay and Ed Hochuli, who had a combined 17 conference championships and 5 Super Bowls.
Moving to the Divisional Playoffs, I have Craig Wrolstad and Ron Torbert, who were both promoted to referee in 2014, performing well as usual, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them maybe work a Conference Championship game. Pete Morelli has run an efficient operation as well and has earned a second-round game. Coleman would be the fourth official by virtue of his predicted Super Bowl assignment.
In the Wild Card round, it is tight, as there are some good referees that are all gathered in that second tier of grading. Some will get assigned alternates, but I see Tony Corrente, Carl Cheffers, John Hussey, and John Parry getting an on-field assignment.
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In the Wild Card round, Walt Coleman and John Parry have both had spotty playoff records in the last few years — Parry puzzlingly so since he is a recent Super Bowl official. Coleman has been a solid referee for many years and worked a conference championship early in the 2000s, but so far has not gotten the nod. Cheffers is an outstanding official who should make annual playoff appearances. Clete Blakeman went from Super Bowl 50, to nothing, then back into the playoffs. His crew had a shaky game or two this year, but he has earned a playoff assignment.
In the Divisional Round I have two usual suspects and two making a playoffs return. Walt Anderson has been absent from the playoffs this year, but with four referees ineligible this season and with Anderson having a good year, he’s earned an assignment. Pete Morelli is a carbon copy of Anderson. Tony Corrente is a playoff regular and has earned another assignment this year. Bill Vinovich will also call a divisional game … but this isn’t his last assignment this year.
In the Championship Round I have Craig Wrolstad and John Hussey. Both have worked championship games and Super Bowls at other positions. They and their crews had great years and earned a championship round. I think Wrolstad has an outside chance at the Super Bowl this year. If not this year, number 4 will get one soon. I also expect Hussey to toss the coin in the last game of the year soon.
For Super Bowl LIII, I think it will be Bill Vinovich. The NFL shows great confidence in him, assigning a whopping four Sunday Night Football games to him and his crew, and another two of his games were flexed into SNF. Not since the days of Jim Tunney in the 1970s and Jerry Markbreit in the 1990s have we seen a referee call so many marquee games in one season. He and his crew also had a solid year, handling several high-profile games without any raging controversy. Vinovich has earned the chance to call his second Super Bowl. I will also give my Football Zebras “kiss of death” Super Bowl crew prediction: U Paul King, DJ Tom Symonette, LJ Jeff Bergman, FJ Steve Zimmer, SJ Aaron Santi, and BJ Greg Meyer.
Once again, even with the four rookie referees ineligible for a playoff game, there are some good officials who will get left out. I looked over my picks and realized Brad Allen and Ron Torbert are missing. I’ll stick with my picks, but don’t be surprised at all if Allen gets a divisional or wild card game.
For the Pro Bowl, I have Jerome Boger. The NFL hasn’t assigned him an on-field playoff game since he called Super Bowl XLVII. While the Pro Bowl is nice, it is no longer in Hawaii and, compared to a playoff game, it is definitely a “kiss your sister” assignment.
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When it comes to narrowing down the referees and slotting them in playoff positions, it comes down to a lot of back and forth, switching and swapping, but still looking at the ones not including and wondering if you were wrong. This is not a game of who doesn’t belong; that is far from the truth.
In the wild card round, I have selected Brad Allen, Tony Corrente, Pete Morelli, and Jerome Boger. Corrente and Morelli both turned 67 in November and this has a potential to be one of, if not, the last postseason assignments for the two. I don’t want to speculate on that, but both have run tight ships this season and should see action during the playoffs in January. As a big Morelli fan, I hope and expect to see him bounce back from not receiving an on-field assignment last season to being on the field on Wild Card Weekend this year. Brad Allen is a strong referee who has really developed since his hiring in 2014, and has proven over the last few seasons that he belongs in the postseason. And yes, I am predicting that Jerome Boger will escape his slump of five seasons without an on-field playoff assignment, and with no major gaffes this year, he will re-enter the grand stages of January that are the NFL playoffs.
In the divisional round, I’ve penciled in Ron Torbert, John Hussey, and Clete Blakeman. Blakeman is coming off an AFC Championship and I expect him to stay on the playoff scene with a divisional round game. Hussey has worked big games this season, including the very first game of the season, and I expect him to receive his first divisional round assignment as a referee. Finally, Ron Torbert has been a strong official throughout his whole career, and has received a postseason assignment in every year of eligibility, and I feel he will continue this season.
When it comes to the conference championships, I’m looking for Walt Coleman and Bill Vinovich to get the call. Coleman, a 30-year veteran, has had a strong season and will close out his career with a well-deserved conference championship game. Vinovich has seen many primetime assignments this season, including six Sunday Night Football games, and these selections to officiate so many high-key matchups will transfer over to the postseason.
Finally, for Super Bowl LIII, I am sticking with my midseason prediction of Craig Wrolstad to don the white hat on football’s biggest stage in February. Wrolstad has been assigned to many big games this year, and I predict that he will emerge as the high-tiered contender among the new wave of referees for years to come. I was close to picking Coleman for this spot, but decided to go with my gut and stick with Wrolstad for the final game of the 2018 season.
Finally, going off of the usual rule-of-thumb of the longest-tenured official who did not get a postseason assignment, who has had the longest Pro Bowl drought, I have chosen Carl Cheffers for the all-star game in Orlando.
|Ben Austro||Mark Schultz||Cam Filipe|
|Super Bowl||Walt Coleman||Bill Vinovich||Craig Wrolstad|
|Conference Championship||Clete Blakeman||John Hussey||Walt Coleman|
|Bill Vinovich||Craig Wrolstad||Bill Vinovich|
|Divisional Playoffs||Walt Coleman||Walt Anderson||Clete Blakeman|
|Pete Morelli||Tony Corrente||John Hussey|
|Ron Torbert||Pete Morelli||Ron Torbert|
|Craig Wrolstad||Bill Vinovich||Craig Wrolstad|
|Wild Card Playoffs||Carl Cheffers||Clete Blakeman||Brad Allen|
|Tony Corrente||Carl Cheffers||Jerome Boger|
|John Hussey||Walt Coleman||Tony Corrente|
|John Parry||John Parry||Pete Morelli|
|Pro Bowl||Walt Anderson||Jerome Boger||Carl Cheffers|