We have referee assignments for each of the four divisional games this weekend, via FootballZebras.com and former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira, and there is at least one connection to keep an eye on.
Referee Peter Morelli, whose regular-season crew called the fewest penalties in 2013, will handle Saturday night's game between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots. The Colts were the NFL's least-penalized team during the regular season, with 65 accepted penalties, and the Patriots ranked second with 68. Playoff crews are made up of regular-season all-stars, but between Morelli, the Colts and the Patriots, it's reasonable to expect a low penalty total at Gillette Stadium. (Morelli's regular-season crew had a total of two penalties accepted in a Week 13 game between the Patriots and Houston Texans.)
The other assignments:
Terry McAulay will handle Saturday's early game between the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks. McAulay's regular-season crew called the fourth-fewest penalties in 2013. The Seahawks, on the other hand, were the NFL's most penalized team and the Saints were tied for the 18th-most. That combination will test the theory posited after wild-card weekend, during which penalties totals dropped by about a third.
Carlton Cheffers has Sunday's early game between the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers. Cheffers ranked seventh in penalty totals during the regular season, but his crew called more offensive holding penalties (55) than any other. Morelli, for example, called less than half at 23.
Clete Blakeman has been assigned the late Sunday game between the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos. Blakeman's regular-season crew called the sixth-fewest penalties in 2013, but Chargers and Broncos receivers should watch out: His crew called the highest total of offensive pass interference (12) by far. The other 16 crews averaged 3.8 OPI penalties on the season.
As footballzebras.com and others have pointed out, the Super Bowl referee is usually culled from the divisional round of the playoffs. That means Morelli, McAulay, Cheffers or Blakeman will work Super Bowl XLVIII next month. Typically the announcement comes about five days before the game.