Wasn’t the NFL Draft a month ago? The 2023 season has flown by and the playoffs are here. Here are our guesses as to who will be the referees in the playoffs that start later this week.
You can see how we did in previous years, and feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below.
It is both a fun exercise and a dreaded task that I have put myself through to predict the referee playoff assignments. In order to do this properly, I must justify moving qualified referees down not because of performance but simply because there are only so many slots. In reality, this happens in an office on 345 Park Avenue in Manhattan, where grades that are separated by a thousandth of a point are moved up and down.
I will let the list speak for itself, but I will highlight that two referees have shown outstanding game management this season. Scott Novak was on the rise in my estimation last season, and the times I’ve seen him this year, he has displayed a very confident and cool demeanor under pressure. That is very hard to pull off consistently in the presence of a contemptuous small-city-equivalent population. Additionally, I have seen Adrian Hill provide a steady hand in his game management, improving especially over the past two seasons.
Although tempting to do so, I don’t think that the league would put two newcomers in both championship games. John Hussey was the white hat for the NFC Championship Game, which proved to be quite a challenge to maintain order from the very beginning and reaching a flashpoint in the late stages. I’m not sure any captain could have navigated those choppy waters any better, and it was a hard-earned paycheck. What I’ve seen of Hussey this year shows him at the same level he was last year.
I also will note that Brad Allen has been rising on my radar as well. I was tempted to plant him on the Super Bowl line just to counter the professional rumormongering of an alleged “downgrade.” That may be a step too far, but I do see Allen at least as an upper-middle tier official, and certainly worthy of a divisional playoff.
One who is no stranger to the top tier assignments is Bill Vinovich. I pointed out last year that he is more than in the top tier, he is the top tier. Last year was the second time since 2014 that he was not in a Conference Championship game or Super Bowl, and those two instances were still Divisional Playoff games, which could very well be that he was slotted out in a statistical dead heat those two years. It would be great to see a first-time referee in the Super Bowl, but to do that, you have to beat the king of the mountain. Vinovich will be collecting his second Super Bowl ring in five years and his third overall.
Once again, the playoffs are difficult to predict this year. There will be several good referees that will miss out on an on-field assignment. More and more, a playoff assignment is a big honor for all officials.
I predict Brad Rogers, Craig Wrolstad, Adrian Hill, Scott Novak, Tra Blake and Land Clark will call a Wild Card Game. Rogers, Blake and Clark will call their first playoff games on the field as a referee. That’s a lot of first-time officials calling a playoff game, but everyone has to call their first playoff game some day. The games will be in good hands with all the officials.
In the Divisional Playoffs I predict John Hussey, Shawn Hochuli, Shawn Smith and Clay Martin working on the fields. All four officials have extensive playoff experience and will do well. All Super Bowl officials work in the divisional round. Martin is becoming an excellent white hat and I expect him to be in the playoffs for several years. A Super Bowl is in his future after a few more years of seasoning. In fact, I think all of my divisional picks are worthy of a Super Bowl assignment.
For the Conference Championship round, I predict Bill Vinovich and Brad Allen will call the games. Contrary to hot take artists, Allen is a good official, he’s had a good season and has earned this assignment. Vinovich has been a near regular in the championship round (when he hasn’t been assigned the Super Bowl). That streak continues.
For many years, I’ve predicted John Hussey for the Super Bowl. One of these years I’ll be right. Maybe this year?
It never gets easier to make these choices. We seem to always be surprised by at least a handful of assignments each year. Starting at the top, I think Clete Blakeman will push through and get his second ring this season. Since Walt Anderson began his reign, he has relied on veteran talent to lead the top crew for the league’s biggest game. Blakeman is a solid official who always has control over the game, and has Super Bowl experience that proves he is up for the challenge. Perhaps he’ll get a more competitive game this time.
Shawn Hochuli and Bill Vinovich will officiate the Conference Championships. I believe the officiating department is high on Hochuli, as he’s made his own name for himself after stepping in his father’s shoes 6 seasons ago. (Already?!) Vinovich is a perennial choice in the top-tier, and after missing out just barely last year, I’m sure he’ll make a return.
Summarizing the first two rounds, my repeated top-tier choices of John Hussey and Ron Torbert — my two favorite white hats in today’s NFL — are only grading into the Wild Card Playoffs. These were the two that I was most nervous about slotting there. Either one could very well ascend to the top. Watch Land Clark to break in with his first postseason assignment, and Scott Novak push into the Divisional Playoffs for the first time since his promotion in 2019.
Cam is hoping for a threepeat in the playoff predictions after a close win last year.
|Super Bowl LVIII
|Wild Card Playoffs
Super Bowl selections are shown in parentheses in the Divisional Round.
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, and 1 for three rounds (ties broken by the number of correctly slotted referees, then by scores in each round in descending order).