The officiating crew have been decided for both the AFC and NFC Championship games. Ed Hochuli will travel to Denver for the AFC matchup, while Bill Vinovich heads to Carolina for the matchup between the Panthers and Cardinals. The history between Hochuli and the Broncos has a few Patriots fans up in arms about this decision.
It's no secret that Patriots fans like to be cocky, and frankly I think they've earned that right with 10 AFC Championship appearances since 2001. However, when fans start making excuses before the game even starts, it definitely shows a little bit of anxiety, no matter how much you deny it.
After the deflategate debacle, it's easy to see how New England fans think the NFL has it out for them. I understand Goodell most likely does not want to hand Brady his 5th Lombardi, but I don't think they're purposely rooting against their most profitable team. If it were to happen, however, the refs would be the place to start, especially with all the controversy surrounding the officiating the last time these two teams met.
Since 2001, the Broncos have gone 6-0 when Hochuli is officiating the game (4-0 in Denver). Now, that might sound scary heading into an away game in Denver, but when you break it down, it's not as ominous as it appears. Of those 6 games, the Broncos were favored in every single one of them, so a 6-0 record doesn't seem too ridiculous.
During that stretch the Broncos didn't exactly have the toughest of schedules either. They beat a Kansas City team that was 2-11 at the time, and a Raiders team that ended up with a 5-11 record. Easy to see they were just taking advantage of the inferior teams in their division. 2 more of the wins came against the Cincinnati Bengals in a primetime game, and we all know what happens to that team when the spotlight is on.
The Patriots have seen Hochuli a few more times since 2001, putting up a 8-6 record while he is officiating. This record seems slightly less exciting than 6-0, but count your blessings they didn't land Bill Vinovich, who's officiating the NFC Championship game. Since 2001, the Patriots are 1-6 with Vinovich at the helm. Oddly enough, the one win coming in one of their most important games in franchise history; Super Bowl 49.
It's alright to be a little bit worried heading into this game. These are the two best teams in the AFC fighting for a spot in Super Bowl 50, and both teams will put forth their best efforts. If you are confident enough that the Patriots will win, there is no need to complain about who the officials are. Using the referees as a scapegoat is just setting up an excuse if New England were to fall in Denver. No matter who the officials are, the Patriots are good enough that the guys wearing the black and white striped shirts won't decide the outcome.
By Matt Watts