You aren't going to find many NFL fanbases who think the referees actually like their team, and the officials may be the most unanimously unpopular people in the league (or at least the most unpopular people not named Roger Goodell).
One of the biggest issues is the ridiculous inconsistency in officiating. There are crews that, year-in and year-out, throw a ton of flags, and others that keep the flags in their pockets. Neither one of these approaches is inherently wrong, but the fact that a game can go entirely different directions depending on which random referee assignment a team gets is very frustrating.
The Week 1 assignments are set for the kickoff of the 2023 NFL season, and the Browns-Bengals game draws Clete Blakeman. Let's take a look at what that means for the game.
Browns vs. Bengals Week 1 Referees
Lo van Pham
Clete Blakeman has been a head referee for 14 of his 16 seasons, and only Carl Cheffers (16 years) and Bill Vinovich (15 years) have longer tenure as leaders of their crews.
Blakeman also has an unusually large number of seasoned vets on his crew, with Dana McKenzie, Julian Mapp and Terry Brown all hitting at least 15 years of service.
There are also a couple changes to Blakeman’s crew for 2023. Rookie Scott Campbell is in at umpire, and Jonah Monroe comes in at back judge after serving as the side judge on Jerome Boger’s crew in 2022. Former umpire Tab Slaughter is gone, moving over to Alan Eck’s crew.
That's all well and good, but those names probably don't mean much to the average fan. The real question is how Blakeman and co. will impact this game. So let's look at the stats over the last few years.
In 2022, Blakeman’s 5.82 flags per game on home teams was the third-highest among all officials.He didn’t rank quite as highly in flagging road teams, at No. 6 with 6.12 per game. That trend held up in 2021 as well, ranking No. 5 in flagging home teams (6.06 per game), but No. 8 for visitors (6.24).
As you can see, road teams tend to get flagged more in general, but Blakeman actually skews less strongly in that direction than the league average. One possible explanation? As a seasoned veteran, Blakeman is less easily swayed by home-town crowds.
I wouldn't go as far as to say that Blakeman's tendencies favor the Bengals, but it could certainly lessen the home-field advantage impact for Cleveland.
Blakeman's crew also just thrown a lot of flags in general, ranking above average in both 2021 and 2022.
So ultimately, this isn't a spot for Browns fans to be very happy about. A potentially penalty-heavy game with a better-than-average outlook for the Bengals isn't a very fun way to kick off the season. Obviously a big part of the penalty calls will come down to team discipline, too, and considering Cleveland was the ninth-most penalizeed team while the Bengals were just the 23rd-most, that doesn't make the outlook any better in Cleveland.
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