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Conference title games referee scouting report: From one extreme to the other

Barnwell previews championship Sunday (3:17)
Bill Barnwell speaks with Scott Van Pelt about the high-level play from both Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan heading into the NFC Championship Game and what the Steelers need to do to upset the Patriots for the AFC title. (3:17)

The NFL’s conference championship weekend will be officiated by two experienced referees whose regular-season tendencies put them at the opposite ends of the penalty spectrum.

Terry McAulay, who will work the AFC Championship Game, called the league’s second-highest number of fouls per game in 2016, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. Bill Vinovich, who has the NFC Championship Game, called the fewest.

Between the two of them, McAulay and Vinovich have worked four Super Bowls and a total of 20 postseason games since the start of the 2001 season. Neither will officiate Super Bowl LI — that honor will go to Carl Cheffers, it was reported this week — but both remain in high NFL regard.

Let’s take a closer look at what their regular-season numbers tell us about them. Remember that their postseason crews are made up of officials who graded well during the season, and thus are different in some positions. In the end, however, the referee sets the tone for any crew.


Sunday | 3:05 p.m. ET | Fox | Game HQ page

Referee: Bill Vinovich

Packers’ record in his games: 3-4

Falcons’ record in his games: 6-3

Vinovich’s regular-season crew called 12.5 penalties per game in 2016, 31.7 percent fewer than the league leader (Brad Allen, 18.4). This was not a new development for Vinovich. In fact, his regular-season crew has called fewer than the NFL average number of fouls in each of the five seasons since he returned to the field in 2012 after recovering from a heart issue. … This was especially notable in the area of offensive holding, where his crew called exactly half the number of fouls (31) as the league leader (62). He also called three fouls for roughing the passer, a fourth of the league leader (12), and had the second-fewest combined calls for taunting and unsportsmanlike conduct. … He did eject two players, the only referee other than Jeff Triplette to disqualify more than one this season.

Sunday | 6:40 p.m. ET | CBS | Game HQ page

Referee: Terry McAulay

Steelers’ record in his games: 15-8

Patriots’ record in his games: 9-2

McAulay missed three games at the beginning of the season because of a health issue and thus officiated only 12 games rather than the usual 15. But in those 12 games, his crew averaged nearly as many foul calls (18.3) as did Allen. That included a 34-penalty game in Week 8. … Most notably, his crew led the league with 4.7 offensive holding penalties per game. … As fans watch Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, they should know that McAulay called three roughing the passer penalties all season. The league high was 12. … McAulay’s crew also called an average of one offensive pass interference foul per game, the highest average in the league.

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