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Penalties for Potential Playoff Teams

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At Football Outsiders, we've collected all penalty data through Week 14 in a really big spreadsheet that allows us to tweak this information in just about any way you could imagine. With the season winding down, I thought it might be instructive to take every team who's either clinched a postseason berth, or has a reasonable shot at the playoffs, and see who's on the high and low end of the NFL's five most frequently called infractions. First, the 17 teams involved:

Total Penalties

TEN - 108
DAL - 106
BAL - 104
ARI - 101
NYG - 92
MIN - 92
CAR - 91
TB - 90
PIT - 89
SD - 89
NYJ - 84
CHI - 82
MIA - 79
IND - 78
PHI - 78
DEN - 76
ATL - 68
NE - 54

The Patriots have amassed the NFL's fewest penalties this season by a pretty healthy margin. Again, this data goes through Week 14, but their 54 is so far behind the 66 racked up by Seattle and Buffalo, I'm not worried about contradiction. On the other side of the equation, it's not surprising that aggressive defensive teams like Tennessee are up top, though the Titans, Dolphins and Seahawks are the only NFL teams with more defensive than offensive calls this year.

False Start (Most)

CAR - 27
DAL - 22
CHI - 20
BAL - 19
IND - 19

The Panthers have four false starts by left tackle Jordan Gross and right tackle Jeff Otah, but their real transgressors are the tight ends -- Jeff King has been flagged for three pre-snap flinches, and Dante Rosario has six -- that is the most by any non-lineman. The Panthers love to run power with King and Rosario at the line, which has something to do with it. Tackle Flozell Adams leads the Cowboys with six - no surprise there. Josh Beekman leads the Bears with four, and Ryan Diem has five of Indy's 19.

False Start (Fewest)

PHI - 11
MIN - 11
DEN - 11
NYG - 10
NE - 8

Seven different Pats have crossed the line too soon, and only right tackle Nick Kaczur has more than one. Vikings guard Steve Hutchinson continues his reign as one of the NFL's cleanest players -- he's not had a penalty of any kind called this year, and he's had entire seasons like that before.

Offensive Holding (Most)

BAL - 22
MIN - 18
TB - 16
PIT - 16
MIA - 15

Tackle Jared Gaither, who also leads his team in false starts, has the most holds among the Ravens with five. (Jacksonville's Tony Pashos and New Orleans' Jammal Brown tie for the league lead with seven).

Offensive Holding (Fewest)

PHI - 12
SD - 10
ARI - 10
IND - 9
NE - 9

Receiver Sam Aiken has three of New England's holds, and they're all on special teams. New England's offensive line has been called for a total of four holds all year, an incredible number.

Defensive Offside (Most)

TEN - 17
MIN - 16
DAL - 15
ARI - 14
CAR - 10

The Titans are very aggressive up front, and they'll take the four offsides calls attributed to end Jevon Kearse and tackle Tony Brown each as a side effect of that style of play. End Ray Edwards leads the Vikings with five. DeMarcus Ware leads the Cowboys with six, but again, you'll take that when a guy's blowing through the opponent's left tackle half the time. Three of Ware's flags came in a Week 8 win over Tampa Bay.

Defensive Offside (Fewest)

PIT - 5
TB - 5
ATL - 4
NYG - 4
NE - 1

New England's only offside call through Week 14 came in Week 3 against linebacker Mike Vrabel, and it was declined. Atlanta had a one-yard penalty in Week 8 against the Eagles, when end Chauncey Davis was busted at his own two-yard line.

Unnecessary Roughness (Most)

TEN - 9
TB - 9
BAL - 8
NE - 7
CAR - 7

Well, here's where New England stands out, and it would be no surprise to anyone who's seen defensive tackle Vince Wilfork jawing with opponents, and handing out the occasional extracurricular hit, that he's the team's only two-time offender. And Albert Haynesworth doesn't lead the Titans, as you'd imagine - he has one call, while cornerback Cortland Finnegan, safety Chris Hope, and offensive lineman Davis Stewart each have two.

On other penalties in this category: The Giants lead the NFL with seven face mask calls, and the Eagles and Cowboys each have four. The Bears, Bucs, Steelers and Ravens each have only one. Tennessee's' defensive aggressiveness comes into play again with their league-leading five roughing the passer penalties - the Bucs and Panthers each have four.

Unnecessary Roughness (Fewest)

DEN - 3
DAL - 2
ATL - 2
NYJ - 2
MIA - 1

Are we surprised that Joey Porter is Miami's only offender? Didn't think so.

Defensive Pass Interference (Most)

MIA - 9
TEN - 6
PIT - 6
DEN - 5
IND - 5

Teams need to be careful with this one -- last year, the Packers were hurt by their secondary's physical reputation. Miami's Andre Goodman leads his team and the league with four interference calls. Tennessee's Chris Carr leads his team with three, and he's second in the league, tied with many others, with three, Pittsburgh's Ike Taylor has the most PI penalty yards with 81 -- he's had 39-, 23- and 19-yarders.

Defensive Pass Interference (Fewest)

DAL - 4
NE - 3
ATL - 3
CHI - 3
TB - 2

The Bucs have a defensive backfield that knows how to stay clean -- they haven't had a PI call since Week 8. Ellis Hobbs has two of New England's three. Anthony Henry has two of Dallas' four -- there's one from a fellow by the name of Pacman, but he's out of the picture.

When the playoffs come around, officiating crews break into all-star units, which is why we haven't discussed trends among individual crews. Still, the team penalty numbers merit remembering, just to see how in line they are when the games count more than ever.

By Doug Farrar  |  December 16, 2008; 2:11 AM ET  | Category:  Statistics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Could any one out there please explain to me how there hasn't been an offensive holding call against an opponent of the Pittsburgh Steelers since their game against the Redskins on November 3d,which covers six games ! That is the most unbelievable stat I have seen this season.I mean you are talking the Number one defense across the NFL board,and no one has tried to hold one of them on that pass rush ? Almost too hard to believe,isn't it ?

Posted by: lgwalter | December 19, 2008 8:33 PM

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