Pereira: NFC divisional playoff scouting report

Here’s a viewer’s guide to what you need to know about the referees and their crews who will be calling this weekend’s games on FOX, highlighted by the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks hosting the Panthers Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET, followed on Sunday by the Cowboys squaring off against the Packers at Lambeau Field at 1:05 p.m. ET. It’s the first time Dallas has visited Green Bay in a playoff game since the infamous 1967 Ice Bowl.

Historically, fouls have gone down in the playoffs. Not the case so far this season. The four wild-card games averaged 16.0 penalties per game, which includes those that were declined or offset. The average for the season was 16.05.

The officials surely didn’t back away from defensive holding. They called eight, which averages 2 per game. The regular season average was 1.3.

SATURDAY

CAROLINA (8-8-1) AT SEATTLE (12-4), 8:15 P.M. ET

BROADCAST TEAM: Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch and Pam Oliver

REFEREE: Terry McAulay. He came into the League in 1998 as a side judge and was moved to the referee position in 2001. He is a retired software programmer who worked for the National Security Agency. Prior to joining the NFL, McAulay officiated in the ACC and was the referee in the BCS National Championship game at the Orange Bowl in 1998. He has also refereed three Super Bowls: 39,43 and 48.

BEST OF BIG D

McAULAY’S CREW: As most of you know, I’m not wild about mixed crews . . . and this one is clearly mixed. None of the seven officials have worked with each other this season. So, it’s really not relevant to talk about any trends that McAulay’s regular season’s crew called.

CAROLINA NOTES

The Panthers were pretty good when it came to foul totals this season. They were called for the sixth fewest in the league. Carolina was also called for the fewest defensive holding calls in the NFC. Carolina was tied for the fewest offensive holding calls in the NFC with New Orleans. 

However, the Panthers were called for 11 fouls in their playoff win against Arizona last week, which included five offensive holding calls. Panthers head coach "Riverboat" Ron Rivera challenged seven times in replay and won three. His three wins came in Weeks 16 and 17, when he went 3 for 3. Coach Rivera did not challenge last week.

SEATTLE NOTES

The Seahawks were called for the eighth-most penalties in the League. The only category they led the league in was not good — false starts. Could that be an effect of the 12th man?  They were tied for the second-most defensive holding calls in the NFC. Coach Pete Carroll was 2 for 7 in challenges this season.

SUNDAY

DALLAS (13-4) AT GREEN BAY (12-4), 8:15 P.M. ET

BROADCAST TEAM: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews and Chris Myers

REFEREE: Gene Steratore. He lives in Pittsburgh and is a graduate of Kent State. He came into the NFL in 2003 and became a referee in 2006. He has not worked a Super Bowl.

STERATORES CREW: Another mixed crew. None of Steratore’s crew members have worked together this season. There is Steratore and then one official each from Walt Coleman, Pete Morelli, Bill Vinovich, Jerome Boger, Brad Allen and Carl Cheffers’ crews.

DALLAS NOTES

The Cowboys are the 22nd-most penalized team In the League. They have been called for 7.63 fouls per game. They also lead the NFC in defensive holding and defensive pass interference calls. They weren’t called for any last week, but should have been called for at least one of each . . . and they just happened to be on the same play. I don’t think I don’t have to remind you it was a play that caused a lot of discussion this past week — the pass interference penalty that was first called against the Cowboys’ Anthony Hitchens, who was defending the Lions’ Brandon Pettigrew, and then picked up. Coach Jason Garrett is 4 of 7 in replay challenges. He did not challenge last week.

GREEN BAY NOTES

The Packers have been called for the second-fewest fouls in the NFL. They average 6.50 per game. Nothing really stands out in any one foul category. They are just pretty low in all of them. Coach Mike McCarthy is still looking to win his first challenge. He is 0 for 4 this season.