Certain penalties in the NFL are undeniable and must be called: false starts, delay of games, too many men on the field, etc. Are all calls any one of us fans could make.
Then there is the other set of penalties: the personal fouls, pass interferences and of course, holding, that are supposedly strict judgement calls.
We've all heard the complaint before that holding could be called on every down in the NFL. Even if it is a bit of an exaggeration, it's not too far off the mark.
Watch a game—any game—+paying particularly close attention to the line play and count how often holding occurs. I'd say even an untrained eye would see such a potential penalty on 25 percent of the game's plays.
Now what if I told you that a team could go an entire game without committing such an infraction? Would you believe it? Most likely, you would...or at least believe a team could go unpenalized for such (which is entirely different from not actually committed said foul).
But let's go several steps further. What if I told you that a team so far this season—13 games at this point—played in eight games in which no holding call was made against their offensive line. Would you believe that as being possible in the NFL?
You better believe it because it's true.
The Green Bay Packers have had only seven offensive holding calls made against their offensive line thus far in their undefeated season. Three of those holding calls came in one game, Week 2, against the Carolina Panthers. Otherwise in eight contests this season, the Packers haven't had such a call made against them.
That should not be possible, but here we are. So how have the Packers managed to do this?
Let's eliminate the "homer" excuse right now: it's not because the Packers offensive line is "disciplined." Watch a game—and I have—and you will see the Packers' line holding as often as any other team's. But the holding calls do not follow.
So if it's not discipline, and it's not that they aren't holding, what is the reason for the shocking lack of holding calls against them?
For myself, the answer is obvious: the NFL is ordering its referees NOT to call the Packers for holding. The league wants Aaron Rodgers to break passing records. It wants the Packers to at least enter the playoffs undefeated. These are marketing tools the NFL can employ to create greater fan interest and thus make the league, its TV partners and their advertisers more money.
Officials are employees of the NFL. They do what their paymasters request. Allowing the Packers' line to get away with holds does two things: it protects Rodgers (yes, I know he gets sacked, but so does every quarterback) and it doesn't bog down their high-powered offense with many 1st-and-20 situations.
The league dictating to its officials to look the other way gives the Packers more breathing room with which to work. This gives them a greater chance of success; the results of which are seen each week on the scoreboard.
These non-calls are perhaps more manipulative than actual penalties. They go completely unseen (just ask yourself if you realize how often any team is penalized for holding). No one complains about non-calls until they are right in your face such as in the Week 14 game between the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions when the final play featured an obvious face mask on the Lions that was not called.
If I'm not mistaken, the NFL has a rule book. The officials are there to enforce those rules. When an officiating crew is "letting them play out there," they are in fact not doing their job as they should. Therefore, penalties are called arbitrarily, meaning they are enforced if and when an official feels like enforcing it. Because of this, each and every game is open to manipulation.
What makes an official call a penalty on one play and not the next?
That is a question all NFL fans need to ask themselves. My answer is simple: they call (or don't call) penalties because of directives from league brass. This is similar to the accusations made by former referee Tim Donaghy against the NBA. Yet the more I watch the NFL, the more I witness NFL referees behaving in a similar manner to their counterparts in basketball: calling fewer penalties on "star" players and teams, simply to give them more room under which to operate.
And I believe this sort of behavior has assisted the Packers to remain undefeated to this point in the season.