Detroit Lions fans know all too well how significant a referee assignment can be in determining the outcome of a game. The Lions have been on the wrong end of countless questionable calls over the past few decades, and the NFL has literally had to establish new rules based on referee decisions that have gone against Detroit.
This Sunday, the Lions will host the Los Angeles Rams in their first playoff game in 30 years and the NFL has assigned Craig Wrolstad to the game. The NFL uses mixed officiating crews for the playoffs—taking the best, most consistent officials from the pool of options—but with Wrolstad in charge, there’s optimism for an efficiently called game.
“Craig Wrolstad is the referee, who is in his 21st season and 10th as referee,” Football Zebra’s wrote in their preview of referee assignments for the Wild Card round of the playoffs. “This is his 14th postseason assignment, including 7 Wild Card Playoffs, 4 Divisional Playoffs, 2 Conference Championships, and Super Bowl XLVII. His Super Bowl assignment was as a field judge.”
Wrolstad is the second most experienced referee available in this year's Wild Card playoff round and tends to keep his flag count low. On average, he and his crew throw an average of 9.94 flags per game, which is under the league average of 11.42 per game. The yardage amassed on penalties is also lower than the league average under Wrolstad’s watch, resulting in roughly seven and a half fewer penalty yards per game.
That‘s good news for the Lions because a consistent referee who keeps flags in their pockets can level the playing field. The Lions are in the middle of the pack when it comes to committing penalties—around 5.7 per game—but they are in the bottom of the league when it comes to forcing their opponent to take penalties. Meanwhile, the Rams are slightly better when it comes to committing penalties—averaging 5.2 penalties per game—and are near the top of the league in forcing opponents to commit penalties.
While Wrolstad has not officiated a Lions game this season, he has seven times in the past, including two games in 2022. Against New England, Wrolstead’s crew threw 13 flags, seven against the Lions and six against the Patriots, while there were only eight flags in the Jets game, though six went against Detroit.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, Brad Allen was not assigned a game this week.