Here’s the concern with Carl Cheffers reffing Super Bowl LVII with Chiefs-Eagles
There is a legitimate concern about the referee assigned to work Super Bowl LVII.
But it’s probably not the one you have.
Maybe they’re in the same family, but different branches of the tree.
Carl Cheffers got the gig, which we learned before the knowledge that the Chiefs and Eagles would be in Arizona along with him. That name brings about certain feelings in Kansas City. And if the crack in his voice in October was any indication, the feeling might be mutual.
But let’s get this out of the way first: The perception that Cheffers is out to get the Chiefs is lacking the sufficient data. The Chiefs are 8-2 in games in which he has refereed in the Patrick Mahomes era. That’s an .800 win percentage.
Mahomes career record is 64-16. That winning percentage? An even .800.
OK, so what’s the concern then?
Well, his games are not exactly tidy. In fact, they’re often a mess.
The question of whether a referee crew is fair and whether a referee crew is good are two different questions, and the question of whether it is good for the game falls into an entirely different bucket.
The latter is the worry.
Cheffers’ crew led the NFL in penalties this season, throwing 214 in 17 games (12.6 per game), according to NFLpenatlies.com, which tracks every flag. He won’t be bringing his entire crew with him to the Super Bowl — only side judge Eugene Hall — but he will run the show.
The Super Bowl referees are forms of all-star crews — the league grades every official and places them into one of five tiers. Only those in the highest tier are eligible for the biggest game of the season, along with some other qualifications. According to Football Zebras, not even all officials are completely aware of how they’re selected — or, for most of them, not selected.
So the Cheffers crew that threw more flags than any other is not the entire group headed to Glendale, Arizona, for the Chiefs and Eagles.
But that was the optimistic view last time — when Cheffers also received the big-game assignment for Chiefs-Buccaneers in Tampa Bay two years ago — and the Chiefs broke a Super Bowl record with eight first-half penalties totaling 95 yards.
Which means for all of the unknowns within the game itself, perhaps the safest prediction is the expectation of penalties.
Awarding Cheffers the Super Bowl is the equivalent of announcing to the rest of us they want to see some flags.
I sure don’t.
Cheffers is refereeing this game for the second time in three seasons — the rules prohibit receiving the assignment in back-to-back years, and he’s the first guy in more than three decades to get it in two out of three years, per the research at Football Zebras.
That illuminates a vibe that suggests to his peers that, hey, if you miss a call, at least err on the side of throwing a flag. And, man, he’s taking it to heart. Cheffers’ crew led the league in penalties in 2022, led in 2021 and was second in 2020.
This is like getting Mark McGwire to participate in the home run derby in his prime.
When you hang one over the plate, Cheffers doesn’t miss. Problem is, he’s connecting with some pitches well off the plate, too.
That’s not an education anyone in this city needs, but for the fun of it, a few recent examples:
• In that 2020 Super Bowl, the Chiefs indeed set the record for first-half penalties, most notably a defensive holding call that wiped out a Tyrann Mathieu interception and two pass interference flags that marched the majority of the steps in the Bucs’ TD drive before halftime.
• In October, Cheffers negated a Chris Jones’ sack fumble with an inexplicable whistle for roughing the passer, and that flag came out of his own pocket. The response was as hot as we’ve seen Andy Reid on the Chiefs sideline in a decade here. Cheffers himself seemed a bit frazzled by the constant boos at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, his voice cracking as he announced a subsequent penalty — which, come on, remains the funniest moment of this Chiefs season.
• In December, a Cheffers-led crew whistled the Chiefs for a season-high 10 penalties for a season-high 102 yards in Houston. After that game, two defensive players were so puzzled by a couple of the flags that they asked me what the replay showed. That’s not a humblebrag — they were ready to ask anyone who walked through those locker-room doors.
Those are Cheffers’ past three appearances in Chiefs games, by the way.
The Chiefs are the seventh-least penalized team in football. Both times Cheffers was in charge this year, though, they were penalized more than the average outing for the most-penalized teams in the NFL, averaging 87 yards in penalties.
But among his calls in the two Chiefs games, you know the biggest issue? The length of time to make them. Or to decide not to make them.
Twice, after lengthy huddles among officials, there were flags picked up. Neither came with an explanation of how the crew arrived at the final decision.
And in one second-half sequence, which would eventually be a turnover, there was a 150-second break in the action — longer than a commercial — between the end of a play and the determination to invoke a challenge.
The issue for me isn’t a theory that he’s anti-Chiefs, though he’s made some calls that haven’t exactly favored the Chiefs recently.
It’s that the game has a high probability of little pace and, at times, even less clarity.
And it’s the game most deserving of both.