There’s no question that the NFL replacement officials are having a tough time on the job. It’s hard to fault them entirely–these guys are in over their heads, are under-trained and are being bullied by players and coaches.
But just when I was about to feel sorry for the replacements, unabashed bias is now being called into play, with the story of avid Saints fan Brian Stropolo being pulled from officiating the Saints/Panthers game after his enthusiasm for the team was discovered via his Facebook page. Now LeSean McCoy is alleging that one of the refs in his game against the Ravens pleaded that he needed him for Fantasy production!
As the analogy has been made, these replacement refs are like substitute teachers, and the classrooms are going wild with players and coaches taking advantage of the less-than-confident enforcers. So aside from trying to personally influence players to perform for them, how are these refs effecting the world of fantasy football?
First, according to ESPN, there have been 43 defensive pass interference calls in the first two weeks–the most since 2003. Drawing defensive pass interference calls can be a strategic way for a team to advance downfield under tight one-on-one coverage, but your fantasy team isn’t getting any credit for it.
Second, surprisingly, for every one of these pass interference incidents that were called, it seems the refs have missed a holding or interference call. Cornerbacks are taking advantage of refs who don’t know where to look, tugging at jerseys and keeping your receiver a couple steps behind a big play he might have made.
Third, the uncertainty about penalties and ball spotting and the intervention by the NFL administrators is diminishing momentum and taking away any advantage the successful no-huddle offenses have. Each time the clock stops during a fast-paced drive, the defense has the opportunity to catch its breath and set up properly, when the quarterback would’ve preferred to keep them on their toes and surprise them with speedy plays.
Finally, with much more cheap shots being taken on sidelines and in scrums, the games seem to be getting chippier and chippier each week. Frustrations are running high, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or more players get ejected or benched by their coach for unsportsmanlike conduct, if the physicality of the game continues to escalate at this rate.
Where does this leave you as a fantasy owner? Well, it’s hard to predict how it will effect each individual game, so I wouldn’t bench a regular starter for the sole reason of shoddy officiating, but if you’re choosing whom to start between two otherwise equals, keep this in mind:
— Opt for sturdy, big-target slot receivers (like Danny Amendola) over speedy, coverage-busting wide-outs (DeSean Jackson).
— QBs and receivers in what were more “balanced” offenses (ie, Cincinnati, Houston) may begin to cede fantasy points to their talented rushing teammates.
— To the extent possible, choose receivers with matchups against teams that play zone defense vs. tighter man-to-man coverage.
— Avoid games that could get exceptionally hot-headed (division rivalries) and matchups against teams that are getting a reputation for their chippiness (Detroit, St. Louis, Tampa Bay).
All I know is, if I see Ed Hochuli’s smiling (er, stoic) face on my tv again by late November, I will have something to be truly thankful for!