The virtual lock for this weekend is not the New England Patriots, though they're close. Nope, it's the Catch Rule. Guaranteed, there will be an interpretation of it that few understand and almost everyone contests.
So what's new? Since the 2010 ruling on an apparent Calvin Johnson touchdown, nobody gets what constitutes a catch anymore -- including the guys qualified to interpret it.
Case in point: When an apparent Kelvin Benjamin score was overruled in New England three weeks ago, former NFL officiating directors Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino each challenged the call -- saying the league office (i.e., Alberto Riveron, the NFL's senior VP of officiating) got it wrong.
So how can the NFL correct a rule that is bound to come under fire again this weekend ... and throughout the playoffs? Pereira, now an officiating analyst for FOX Sports, has some ideas, and he shared them with us on this week's Talk of Fame Network broadcast.
"Here's the way I feel (about catches), and that is to treat them all the same," he said. "Two things to me: Treat the catches the same, whether you're on your feet or going to the ground. So, if you get control, two feet ... or a body part, other than two feet ... and you're on your way to the ground, and you perform an act -- you performed a football move -- on your way to the ground, then you've completed the process of the catch. And so Jesse James' play in the Pittsburgh-New England game ... that becomes a touchdown.
"I mean, he got control, he got a knee and then he turned and lunged and reached. And to everybody -- everybody except those who know the rules inside and out and the replay officials -- it looked like, smelled like, felt like a catch ... and a touchdown. To 50 drunk guys in a bar, it felt like a catch to them. To the official who was covering the play, it felt like a catch to him. He signaled touchdown. But we're in this day now where the rule that has this going to the ground ... that the ground trumps everything, and you have to hold on to the ball.
Replay has got to get the hell out. Replay has got to review the factual part of the play.
"I even argued with Dean Blandino, who works with me and whom I have great respect for, He said they made it this way to make it more consistent for the officials on the field. Well, wait a minute ... and I say to him, 'If that's the case, why did they call the Jesse James' play a touchdown on the field? And why did they call Dez Bryant's play with Dallas a catch? And why did they call Calvin Johnson's play back in 2010 ... one signaled a touchdown and the other guy came in kinda sheepishly and went, 'Incomplete.' And then they stayed there.
"It's not logic. So my thing is control, two feet and a football move -- whether you're on your feet or going to the ground -- you've completed the process.
"And the last thing ... and most critical thing ... replay has got to get the hell out. Replay has got to review the factual part of the play. So if replay wants to look, and say it's got control and two feet ... replay can look at that, and that's fine. But the subjective element of time that the officials see and rule on ... it needs to stay with them. And it shouldn't go to replay and have them look at it at a different speed and impose a different standard."
He brings up a good point. Once upon a time, replay was simple. Or at least it was supposed to be. But now there are so many interruptions to review replays -- both in college and the pros -- that there's no flow to games. Instead of making quick decisions on "clear and obvious" mistakes, replay is parsing every play, second by second, much to the detriment of the game.
"Back in my days (when Pereira officiated), it was so simple," he said. "The rule itself was so simple. Of course, it was before instant replay. But the rule basically said, 'If there's any doubt rule it incomplete.' That's what the rule said. I mean, it was literally that simple. Make the rest of it the same, and I think we have a much simpler and cleaner and understandable play to deal with. "(But) you're almost going into neutral looking at replay when you're supposed to go into the hood, and say, 'OK, we're not going to change it unless it's clear and obvious.'
"I go back to (broadcaster) Mike Patrick, and the first year he said of replay, 'If you go under the hood, and the first time you see it's wrong, reverse it. But if you have to run it back and, forth frame-by-frame. then leave it! If it's that close of a call, then leave it the way it is.' But we've certainly gotten away from that standard."