We’re in for a treat on Sunday when the Buffalo Bills finally play host to the Kansas City Chiefs in Orchard Park, NY — and for the AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs no less. A lot of the talk this week has been the rivalry between quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen. That’s for good reason, given the epic clashes these two gridiron titans have given NFL fans in recent seasons.
However, one situation seems to be overshadowing even that matchup in recent days. It was announced that Shawn Hochuli will be the head official for Bills-Chiefs on Sunday, and plenty of people are wondering how he and his crew might affect the outcome. The question is, is the criticism/concern fair or is Bills Mafia overreacting?
Hochuli is currently in his ninth year officiating, and this is his sixth year working as a referee. His father, Ed Hochuli, was one of the most well-known referees of his time, thanks in part to his massive biceps. Like his dad, the younger Hochuli is no stranger to controversy, and much of it comes from earlier in the 2023 NFL season — and during a Bills game.
As such, fans have taken exception to Shawn Hochuli being assigned to this weekend’s game at Highmark Stadium. One of the immediate issues that’s been raised is that in games where he’s officiated, the Chiefs are 8-2 while the Bills are 1-3.
Hochuli’s most recent assignment that included the Buffalo Bills was for their game in Philly against the Philadelphia Eagles. Most remember the infamous call of Josh Allen being flagged for intentional grounding where it appeared he was the victim of a horse collar-variety tackle. There were numerous suspect calls throughout that game, but let’s not forget that Buffalo had an excellent chance to win during overtime if not for a miscommunication between Allen and wide receiver Gabe Davis. To further highlight the concern of some: In the four games with Hochuli, Buffalo has been flagged 40 times for 347 yards.
Per a series of tweets by Warren Sharp, it’s clear Shawn Hochuli and his team have made their mark, with Sharp pointing out:
“YES: Shawn Hochuli loves to play a villain - home teams are sub .500 last 5 yrs
YES: he loves to muck up games - unders are 45-34 (57%)
YES: KC has done well w him while BUF has not”
Shawn Hochuli led the NFL in calling roughing the passer penalties this season— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) January 18, 2024
expect more RTP calls w Josh Allen & Patrick Mahomes on Sunday
Hochuli calls above average defensive holding
the Chiefs offense ranked #1 in 2023 and #1 in 2022 at generating defensive holding
both KC & BUF are top-5 most penalized teams for offensive holding— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) January 18, 2024
the Bills defense generates a high rate of offensive holding penalties, esp in Buffalo
however, offensive holding was down 52% in the Wild Card round, as refs are trying to throw fewer flags in general
There are some positives from Hochuli and his crew leading up to Sunday’s game. This season, they’ve called the fewest defensive pass interference penalties. Think about the injuries that Buffalo’s currently facing in the secondary. The health of cornerback Rasul Douglas is yet to be determined and, as of Friday, Christian Benford has been ruled out for this weekend.
That means cornerbacks Dane Jackson and Kaiir Elam will be getting a lot of snaps in the secondary. It’s not terrible that they might get away more often with playing pretty physical, due to the percentages saying they’re not likely to be called for a flag. On the flip side, it could make life hard for Buffalo’s receivers, as the Chiefs have been tough on the back end of the defense.
The player to watch for is Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed who some say should have been an All-Pro this season. The fact is, Snead is in the top 3 for most penalized defensive backs in the league. Hochuli has officiated two Kansas City Chiefs games this season and both were on the road. In those two games, Sneed wasn’t penalized once. With Sneed likely lining up opposite Stefon Diggs, the advantage will go to Sneed if he is allowed to be extra physical.
Allen and Mahomes are two of the best quarterbacks in the league and with that title comes the luxury of getting some roughing-the-passer calls that some consider questionable. Hochuli’s crew led the NFL in calling such roughing penalties this season, which could be a blessing or a curse on Sunday depending on who’s on the receiving end of things. Something to note is that Buffalo led the NFL in unnecessary roughness penalties this season, which is the category that roughing the passer falls under.
How concerned are you with this crew on Sunday?