New England Patriots Favored by Refs? Think Again


Jan 20, 2013; Foxboro, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) complains to a referee after not being able to convert on a fourth down during the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

People are quick to say that the New England Patriots and Tom Brady in particular are favored by the refs, by why? Perhaps it stems from the infamous “tuck rule” that helped the New England Patriots defeat the Oakland Raiders en route to their first Super Bowl victory back in 2001. The call had been previously unheard of and Raiders fans were livid. The tuck rule plus the whole “spygate” incident combine for two reasons people are quick to critique the Patriots and the integrity of their play. The word “cheaters” is now thrown at the Patriots often, particularly when certain calls on the field go their way.

Then there was Tom Brady’s injury which led to a rule change in the NFL about defenders hitting opposing QBs below the knees. The rule was designed to protect quarterbacks from potential season-ending injuries, since it is a quarterback driven league and losing star QBs like Brady, Peyton, or Brees for a full season hurts NFL viewership dramatically. Ever since then, rival fans whine that Brady draws flags from the refs every time he gets touched. Finally, it may simply be that the Patriots win the vast majority of their games and every rival fan has suffered defeat, often at a regular basis, at the hands of Brady. This breeds animosity and rather than rationalize the loss by saying the Patriots were the better team, opposing fans sometimes blame the refs.

Oct 20, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick argues a personal foul call against his team by officials which ultimately led to a New York Jets game winning field goal during overtime at MetLife Stadium. The Jets won the game 30-27 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Is this actually true, though? According to, no. In 2010, the year Brady returned from his injury, the Patriots ranked 8th fewest for beneficiary flags (87), meaning that flags benefited the Patriots and the penalty was called on the opposing team. That same year they ranked 5th fewest for beneficiary yards, meaning that those 87 flags called on opponents only gave the Patriots 722 yards (the highest was Oakland with 1161 yards). This site also breaks down each penalty, and shows that Roughing The Passer was called FOR the St. Louis Rams the most often in 2010, meaning their opponents hit Sam Bradford and drew flags. The Patriots were not on that list.

In 2011, the Patriots actually did have the highest number of beneficiary penalties (130), but who was number two? The Super Bowl Champions that year, the New York Giants with 128 penalties, just two fewer than the Patriots. The Giants actually gained even more yards than the Patriots did from the penalties called in their favor; the Giants gained 1069 yards while the Patriots got 1019.  That same year, the Patriots only had personal fouls called in their favor twice all season and just one roughing the passer call. The Panthers and the Broncos benefited the most from roughing the passer calls (.313 called per game) while the Patriots were the smallest beneficiary (.053 per game), meaning Brady didn’t get “babied” the year they reached the Super Bowl for the fourth time.

In 2012, the Patriots only received two roughing the passer calls in their favor and one personal foul. Obviously there are more penalties than these two, but these are critical ones that indicate that Tom Brady is not babied by the refs. In conclusion, the Patriots do not receive special treatment from the NFL or the referees, contrary to popular opinion. If you don’t believe me, check out for yourself and see.