Unveiling the Truth: Quantifying the Alleged Surge in NFL Penalties By Referees

The Impact of Increased Penalties on NFL Games

As avid football fans, we’ve all noticed the increase in penalties being called during NFL games. The game announcers themselves have even mentioned it, and it’s hard to miss the flurry of yellow flags on the field. But what do the numbers say? Are the number of called penalties actually going up? Let’s explore the statistics and uncover the truth.

Holding Penalties: The Numbers Don’t Lie

One type of penalty that has seemingly seen a rise is holding. Through the first five games of this season, the number of holding calls has indeed increased compared to previous years. However, the increase is not as drastic as it may appear when viewed from the comfort of our couches or seats in sports bars.

In the first five weeks, NFL officials have already called 218 offensive holding penalties. This represents a significant jump compared to the past three years. For the entirety of the previous season, there were a total of 555 holding penalties called, averaging just over two per game. Extrapolating the data to five weeks, that would only amount to approximately 173 holding calls. Hence, we can conclude that there has been an average increase of nine holding calls per week across all games this season.

Considering that there are 14 games played each week due to bye weeks, this means less than one additional holding penalty per game. However, when looking at the season as a whole, we can expect over 150 more holding calls compared to last year. This follows a trend of an 80+ increase in holding calls from the 2017 season to the previous one.

Defensive Pass Interference: The Blood-Boiling Call

When it comes to penalties that frustrate fans the most, defensive pass interference often tops the list. It’s a call that referees can easily miss or make, depending on which team you’re rooting for. Nonetheless, the numbers provide an unbiased perspective.

So far this season, referees have called defensive pass interference 69 times in the first five games. That amounts to an average of 1.8 calls per game. While it may seem like more, especially in intense moments, the statistical data aligns closely with the past three full seasons. During those seasons, the number of defensive pass interference calls through the first five games were 71, 73, and 79, respectively. Therefore, we can conclude that this year has actually seen a slight decrease in defensive pass interference flags with 69 calls.

The Evolution of Penalties in the NFL

An interesting perspective to consider is the long-term trend of penalties in the NFL. Over the past decade, there has been a gradual increase in the number of penalties called. The most penalized teams in a year averaged around 130 penalties, with the 2011 Raiders setting a record high of 163. However, in the previous decade from 2000 to 2009, the average was approximately two penalties less per game.

Looking at the overall picture, we observe that between 2000 and 2019, there has been an average increase of 2.2 penalties assessed per game across all teams and conferences. This slow but steady rise signifies the changing landscape of the sport.

Understanding the Complaints: Slowdown and Replays

With the increase in penalties, it’s only natural that complaints from those involved in the game have grown louder. However, it’s essential to recognize that the rise has been gradual and primarily driven by a focus on player safety.

One predominant complaint revolves around the impact of penalties on game pace. Penalties have always been a part of football, but what has changed is the introduction of increased replay reviews. While the penalty itself may not take five minutes or more to assess, the replay certainly can. Over the past three years, more opportunities for penalty replays have been added, contributing to a perceived slowdown in the game.

Additionally, commercial breaks play a role in this equation. Networks have started utilizing split screens, showing the referee reviewing the on-field monitor on one side while airing a truck commercial on the other. The introduction of more replays creates additional opportunities for commercial sponsorships, leading to potential interruptions in the flow of the game.

Ultimately, while penalties are a necessary part of maintaining fairness and safety in the NFL, the recent increase, coupled with the impact of replay reviews and commercials, has given rise to higher levels of fan frustration.


In conclusion, the number of penalties called in the NFL has indeed seen an increase in recent years, with notable spikes in holding calls. However, it’s important to emphasize that the rise has been gradual and largely driven by an emphasis on player safety. Defensive pass interference, often a source of contention among fans, has remained relatively consistent compared to previous seasons. Understanding the underlying reasons for these trends allows us to better navigate the ever-evolving landscape of the game we love.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are there specific rules governing the application of penalties in the NFL?

Yes, the NFL has a comprehensive rulebook that outlines the different penalties, their specific criteria, and how they should be enforced. Referees undergo extensive training to ensure consistent application of these rules throughout games.

2. Can teams challenge penalties through the replay review system?

No, the replay review system does not currently allow for challenges on penalty calls or non-calls. It is strictly limited to reviewing specific game-related situations, such as scoring plays or turnovers.

3. Do penalties disproportionately impact certain teams or players?

Penalties can affect any team or player. However, it’s worth noting that teams with more aggressive playing styles or certain individuals with a reputation for rule-breaking may be more prone to penalties. Discipline and adherence to the rules are crucial for avoiding unnecessary penalties.

4. Can penalties be overturned or reversed after the game has ended?

Typically, penalties cannot be overturned or reversed after the game has concluded. However, if there is clear and irrefutable evidence of an officiating error, the league may take corrective action, such as releasing a statement or implementing rule changes for future games.

5. Are penalties an essential aspect of NFL games?

Yes, penalties play a crucial role in maintaining fairness, integrity, and player safety in the NFL. They ensure that all teams have an equal opportunity to succeed and create an environment where the game can be enjoyed by both players and fans alike.

Doug I. Jones

Doug I. Jones

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, cons the all tetur adiscing elit