Longtime NFL reporter Rick Gosselin knows an interesting stat when he sees one. Hang on, Purple faithful, because you're not going to like this one.
"Goose," who's a G.O.A.T. in this profession, passed along a nugget this week that is guaranteed to unsettle paranoid Vikings fans who already think every NFL official is out to get their beloved Purple, especially when they play the hated Green and Gold.
As Gosselin noted, and the excellent NFL site Pro Football Reference details, the officiating crew headed by referee Shawn Hochuli has called nine games this season. The home team is 1-8 and riding an eight-game losing streak.
Next up for Shawn and the gang?
U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday. Home team: Vikings (4-5). Visitors: Packers (8-2). And the only thing riding on the outcome is whether the Vikings trail the Packers in the NFC North by 2 ½ or 4 ½ games with seven to play.
Uh … oh.
But wait. Before we storm Shawn's hotel and stuff him in a light rail car bound for the airport, let's add some context.
The home teams in those nine games were penalized only two more times overall (63-61) for 24 fewer yards (557-533). So the flags have been fairly distributed.
Of the eight road winners, half of them — Patriots at Jets, Bengals at Lions, Saints at Seahawks and Eagles at Broncos — were favored to win. So they did what they were supposed to.
In each of the four road upsets — Chargers at Chiefs, Cardinals at Rams, Eagles at Panthers and Steelers at Browns — the home team lost the turnover battle, combining for a minus-8 turnover differential (10-2). Officials don't force turnovers.
Also, four of the eight home losers went down by 23, 19, 17 and 17 points. That's too many points to start pointing fingers at the officials.
The other four home losers were felled by one-score decisions.
In the Saints' 13-10 win at Seattle, Hochuli himself, as referee, called roughing the passer to negate a key third-down sack by the Seahawks. Eleven plays later, New Orleans kicked the game-winning field goal. One should note, however, that Hocholi's crew also called offensive pass interference on the Saints' decisive drive.
To be fair, Hochuli also called roughing the passer on the Steelers in the closing minutes of their 15-10 win at Cleveland. It gave the Browns the ball at the Pittsburgh 24 with 2:57 left, but Cleveland couldn't capitalize.
All this gets one to wondering whether head coaches study the officiating crew to which they're assigned.
"Yeah, every week. Every week," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "Whether it's a high-penalty-calling crew. What their team does. Who's their penalty makers? What the crew is looking for."
Are there a lot of differences?
"Yeah, there's some," Zimmer said. "Some look for more taunting and roughing the passer. And some look for more DPIs [defensive pass interference] and illegal hands to the face. They're different, so we try to talk to [the players about them] every week."
"Like last week [against the Chargers] was one of the …" Zimmer said before pausing and looking over to Bob Hagan, his PR chief. "I don't know if I should be saying this …"
"Probably not," Hagan advised.
Zimmer ignored the take sign and swung away on the crew that nailed his team with 10 penalties for a season-high 118 yards.
"Last week, going into the game it was one of the lowest-calling-penalty crews in the league, and there were some ticky-tacky [calls] there," Zimmer said. "The pass interference on [Bashaud] Breeland. You know. So, they called quite a few more than they we anticipated them calling, yes."
Hochuli's crew averages 13.78 penalties for 121.11 yards per game. That's 1.02 more penalties for 9.95 more yards per game than the league average.
It has called 50.81% of its 124 penalties on the home team. The league average is 48.8%.
And the biggie, of course, is the home team's winning percentage of .111 in games called by Hocholi's crew. The league average is actually below .500, at .490 this year. But that's still .380 higher than Hochuli's crew.
Not than any Vikings fans would ever blame the officials, right?