The NFL has officially announced the two officiating crews that will be working the AFC and NFC title games this weekend, and if there are any conspiracy theorists out there who also happen to be Rams fans, they're probably not going to like the decision the league made for the NFC Championship.
The lead referee in the Rams-Saints game will be Bill Vinovich, who also happened to be the ref when the two teams met earlier this season. Back in Week 9, Vinovich and his crew basically kept their flags in their pockets during the Saints 45-35 win over the Rams. There were only six accepted penalties in the game with four going against Los Angeles and two against New Orleans.
One reason the Rams might not be thrilled to see Vinocvich is because they always seem to struggle when he's officiating. Of the Rams' three losses in 2018, Vinovich was the referee in two of them, including that Saints game. They also have an ugly record over the past six year with him, which you'll see below.
Stream the AFC Championship Game on CBS All Access and the NFC Championship Game on fuboTV, try it for free. And it's never too early to look ahead to the Super Bowl (Sunday, Feb. 3, 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS, stream on CBSSports.com or the CBS Sports app which is available on most connected devices).
Vinovich started his NFL officiating career as a side judge in 2001 before being promoted to referee in 2004. Although Vinovich has been a ref for 10 seasons, he spent five years on medical leave (2007-11) before returning to the NFL in 2012. Here's a look at how the Rams and Saints have done since 2012 when Vinovich served as the ref in one of their games (stats via Pro Football Reference).
- Rams: 0-8 (including 0-2 in 2018)
- Saints: 5-3 (including 1-1 in 2018).
This will be the first time Vinovich has served as the ref in a conference championship since the 2016 season, when he officiated the NFC title game between the Packers and Falcons. For the game, he'll be joined by umpire Bruce Stritesky, down judge Patrick Turner, field judge Tom Hill, line judge Rusty Baynes, side judge Gary Cavaletto and back judge Todd Prukop.
In the AFC Championship, the referee will be Clete Blakeman.
Blakeman started his NFL officiating career as a field judge in 2008 before being promoted to referee in 2010. Here's a look at how the Patriots and Chiefs have done when Blakeman served as the ref in one of their games (stats via Pro Football Reference).
- Patriots: 3-5 (including 0-1 in 2018)
- Chiefs: 6-2 (including 1-1 in 2018).
Blakeman actually played a pretty extensive role in Deflategate, which you can read about here.
This will mark the the second year in a row that Blakeman has officiated a conference championship game as he was also on the field for last year's AFC title game between the Patriots and the Jaguars. Blakeman was also the official for Super Bowl 50. For the game, he'll be joined by umpire Bryan Neale, down judge Dana McKenzie, field judge Terry Brown, line judge Kent Payne, side judge Brad Freeman and back judge Greg Meyer.