In 2014, the NFL named three new referees as part of a quiet overhaul of its officiating personnel: Brad Allen, Ronald Torbert and Craig Wrolstad. That trio, along with veteran Ed Hochuli, will lead the four crews officiating the wild-card playoff games this weekend.
As former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira explained in his weekly column in The Sacramento Bee, officials are evaluated after every game and placed into three tiers at the end of the season. Officials in Tier I are eligible to work the Super Bowl or conference championship games. Those in Tier II can work in the wild-card or divisional rounds. Tier III officials are sent home for the offseason.
Allen, Torbert, Wrolstad and Hochuli are likely in Tier II, and thus won't be chosen for the Super Bowl. But they got a playoff reward nonetheless, and with the first set of games a day away, it's worth taking a closer look at them.
Remember, they won't have their regular-season crews with them. The NFL compiles "all-star" playoff crews based on regular-season grades to work the playoffs.
All penalty totals, via ESPN Stats & Information, include fouls that were declined and offset. Career records are culled from the game-by-game logs at Pro Football Reference. While the composition of each crew has changed, in the end, the referee always sets the tone for its approach.
No. 5: Oakland Raiders at No. 4: Houston Texans
Saturday | 4:35 p.m. ET | ESPN/ABC/WatchESPN | Game HQ page
Referee: Ronald Torbert
Raiders' history in his games: 0-1
Texans' history in his games: 1-2
Torbert will return to Houston, where he worked last season's wild-card playoff game between the Texans and Kansas City Chiefs. (The Texans lost 30-0.) ... His most notable 2016 moment came in Week 15, when television cameras caught him shadowboxing a goalpost and then screaming into the air in anticipation of working a game in minus-4 degree wind chill. ... He worked one Texans game this season, a 24-21 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Torbert's crew called 14 penalties in that game, including eight on the Texans. ... On the season, Torbert was particularly lenient in penalties involving behavior and roughness. He called a combined 18 penalties for unnecessary roughness, roughing the passer, unsportsmanlike conduct and taunting, the second-fewest in the NFL. For context, consider that league leader Jeff Triplette called more than twice that total (38).
No. 6: Detroit Lions at No. 3: Seattle Seahawks
Saturday | 8:15 p.m. ET | NBC | Game HQ page
Referee: Brad Allen
Lions' history in his games: 0-2
Seahawks' history in his games: 2-1
Allen worked two Lions games this season, a Week 2 loss to the Tennessee Titans and a Week 8 loss to the Texans. In the Week 2 game, he called a whopping 31 penalties -- including 18 against the Lions -- in a game in which the Lions gave up a 12-point fourth-quarter lead. ... That game was not an aberration; Allen's crew called at least 20 penalties in five games and finished the season with an NFL-high average of 18.4 penalties per game. ... In particular, his crew led the NFL with 62 offensive holding penalties and 30 for defensive pass interference.
No. 6: Miami Dolphins at No. 3: Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday | 1:05 p.m. ET | CBS | Game HQ page
Referee: Craig Wrolstad
Dolphins' history in his games: 1-5
Steelers' history in his games: 2-2
Wrolstad's crew called the second-fewest penalties per game in the league this season (13.5). Its conservative nature was reflected most noticeably in pass defense; it had the second-fewest penalties for either defensive pass interference, illegal contact or defensive holding (23) in the league. ... For context, consider there were three crews that called 53 or more such penalties. This is the kind of information that both teams' defensive backs could use to their advantage when preparing for Steelers receiver Antonio Brown and Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry, among others.
No. 5: New York Giants at No. 4: Green Bay Packers
Sunday | 4:40 p.m. ET | Fox | Game HQ page
Referee: Ed Hochuli
Giants' history in his games (since 1999): 9-7
Packers' history in his games (since 1999): 11-10
Hochuli fans won't get a chance to see the barrel chest or chiseled arms on Sunday. The forecast high in Green Bay is 15 degrees. ... This will be the second Giants-Packers game Hochuli has officiated this season at Lambeau Field. The first came in Week 5, when his crew called a combined 18 penalties in the Packers' 23-16 victory. Overall, the Packers are 8-6 in games Hochuli has called at Lambeau since 1999. ... His crew this season led the NFL in taunting penalties (five).