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Super Bowl LII officiating guide: Ref's record suggests there could be lots of flags

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Bruschi doesn't expect a tentative Gronk on Sunday (1:43)

Tedy Bruschi talks about Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and the difference he makes in the New England offense. (1:43)

MINNEAPOLIS -- We have nearly completed the process of dissecting every angle of Super Bowl LII, from the matchups to personal stories of key players to the ratio of Starbucks to Caribou Coffee shops in the host state. But one thing remains, and it's pretty significant: the officials who are in position to impact the outcome of the game with their calls, judgment and administration of the festivities.

(Process completed. You saw what I did there.)

Gene Steratore will lead a seven-man crew of officials; each of whom has at least 15 years of experience and was rated in the top tier at his position during the regular season. Steratore was responsible for one of the worst officiating visuals in 2017 when he used an index card to confirm a first-down measurement. But generally, these officials represent the NFL's best chance to have an accurately-called and administered Super Bowl.

It's also reasonable to hope that they give us a good chance at a game decided by players and coaches rather than flags. As in previous years, NFL officials have called penalties with much less frequency during the 2017 playoffs compared to the regular season. After an average of 15.8 penalties per game over the regular season, including those that were declined or offset, there have been 9.5 per game in the postseason, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Eagles and Patriots have been especially clean in the playoffs. Over two games each, New England has received seven flags and Philadelphia has totaled eight. Regardless, both teams have undoubtedly performed an exercise similar to the one below.

What follows is a scouting report on the tendencies of each Super Bowl official during the regular season, based on penalty types typically assigned to his position per the NFL Football Operations site.

Regular-season crews usually develop significant tendencies over the course of 17 weeks, which is part of the reason the NFL scrambles them for the playoffs. As a result, Steratore will have only one member of his regular-season crew with him Sunday. In looking at each member of his Super Bowl crew, we've given special attention to how strict (or not) they were about contact between receivers and defenders -- always an important part of how a game plays out.


Referee: Gene Steratore

Steratore led one of the NFL's most active regular-season crews. It averaged 17.1 flags per game, tied for second most among the 17 crews. His first playoff crew, which worked the divisional-round game between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints, threw 14 flags. Those are numbers to keep in mind when projecting how the Super Bowl might be called; Steratore's presence suggests more officiating activity than average.

On the field, the referee is responsible for fouls relating to the quarterback. Steratore threw his flag five times for roughing the passer over the regular season, which equaled the median among all referees. (For context, three referees called at least 10 such penalties and the remaining 14 called between two and nine.) His regular-season crew also called 43 fouls for either defensive pass interference, defensive holding or illegal contact -- the fifth-highest total in the NFL.

Umpire: Roy Ellison

Regular-season crew: Steratore

You might remember Ellison's name from a one-game suspension he received in 2013 for directing "a profane and derogatory statement" at Washington Redskins offensive lineman Trent Williams. He remains, however, one of the NFL's top-rated umpires.

At his position, Ellison is responsible for monitoring the offensive line both pre- and post-snap, among other things. During the regular season, Steratore's crew called the fourth-highest total of false-start fouls in the league (36). You might not think that officials can affect something as binary as pre-snap movement, but the discrepancy between crews is high on an annual basis. In 2017, the range of false-start fouls per crew ranged from 19 to 41. In other words, some crews called twice as many as others did. Steratore's crew hit the median on offensive holding flags during the regular season (44). The range was 30 to 62.

Down judge: Jerry Bergman

Regular-season crew: Jeff Triplette

In his job, Bergman's responsibilities include monitoring contact between defensive backs and receivers. Triplette's regular-season crew tied for the sixth-most fouls against defensive backs (42) and the fourth-fewest calls for offensive pass interference (six) by pass-catchers.

Line judge: Byron Boston

Regular-season crew: Walt Anderson

Like the down judge, the line judge monitors action in the defensive backfield as well as pre-snap movement along the offensive line. Boston played a big part in Anderson's crew ranking near the average in penalties against defensive backs (37) and for receivers via offensive pass interference (seven).

What's notable and interesting is that Anderson's crew called the second-highest total of fouls for false starts or encroachment (61). The range in 2017 among crews was between 35 and 62. Those numbers tell the Patriots and Eagles that Steratore's Super Bowl crew overall could be exceptionally sensitive to pre-snap movement.

Field judge: Tom Hill

Regular-season crew: Brad Allen

The field judge monitors illegal use of hands and also watches for penalties in the defensive backfield. So it's worth noting that Allen's crew, with Hill taking a prominent role, led the NFL with 51 flags for either defensive pass interference, illegal contact or defensive holding.

Side judge: Scott Edwards

Regular-season crew: Ronald Torbert

As another official who keeps an eye on the defensive backfield, Edwards was part of a crew that called the fourth-most penalties for either defensive pass interference, illegal contact or defensive holding (45). But Torbert's crew called only six for offensive pass interference, which was tied for the fourth fewest.

Back judge: Perry Paganelli

Regular-season crew: John Parry

Paganelli worked on a regular-season crew that called 35 combined penalties for defensive pass interference, illegal contact or defensive holding, the fifth fewest in the league.