The main purpose of an NFL referee is to oversee and control the football game and to signal for any penalties. They ensure that there is proper formation along the lines, the snap and motion in the backfield is legal and ensure that during the course of the play no infractions occur. If they see something, they signal a penalty.
But how often during an NFL game are the referees calling a penalty? We decided to take a look at each game since 1991 to find out and highlight some trends.
How many penalties are called in an average NFL game?
In an average NFL football game, the officials will call around 12-13 total penalties per game. During the 2013 NFL season, the average game say 12.25 penalties called.
Since the 1991 NFL season, each year has seen more offensive penalties being called than defensive penalties. Typically, there is 2-3 more offensive penalties called per game than defensive penalties.
However, during the 2013 NFL season, the spread between offensive penalties per game and defensive penalties per game reached it's lowest level at just 1.35 more offensive penalties per game (6.80 offensive penalties per game vs. 5.45 defensive penalties per game). Contrast this to the 2005 NFL season, when there were 3.65 more offensive penalties called per game (9.09 offensive penalties per game vs. 5.44 defensive penalties per game).
Here is a complete breakdown of total penalties called per game, offensive penalties per game and defensive penalties per game:
Average Penalties in an NFL Game Visualized:
Offensive vs. Defensive Penalties Per Game in the NFL Visualized: