The Cowboys are looking to bounce back in a big way after losing their first game of the year to the Cardinals. While they get to play this next one in the comfort of AT&T Stadium, their opponent is no easy match, as Bill Belichick and the Patriots come to town. On top of that, the Cowboys draw a familiar face in head referee Scott Novak.
Novak is in his fifth season as a head referee, and has quickly developed a reputation as a home team killer. Over the last three years, Novak has consistently called more penalties on the home team than the road team, with a near 53/47 split last year. So far this season, Novak is up to a 56/44 split, though it is still very early in the year.
Unlike last week’s referee assignment, Novak’s crew is not necessarily flag-happy but rather just more strict on the home team. So far this year, Novak’s crew is in the bottom third in total penalties called and has generally been near the middle of the pack in that category, with the exception of the 2021 season when he called the fifth-most penalties of any crew.
In a similar manner to last week’s crew, though, Novak is a stickler for pre-snap penalties. He’s currently in the top three in false start calls, and has been the last two years as well. He’s also been in the top five in defensive offsides calls every year aside from his first as a head referee, even leading the league in those calls in 2020. The Cowboys, of course, drew four costly offsides penalties a week ago.
Like all crews, Novak’s crew calls offensive holding more than any other penalty. That said, Novak’s crew is one of the most lenient with holding calls. Only two crews have called holding less this year, and Novak’s crew has never been in the top five in holding calls any of their prior seasons. That bodes well for the Patriots, who lead the league in holding calls after three weeks.
Novak has also been very stingy about delay of game penalties. While he’s only called one so far this year, his crew has ranked in the top three in delay of game penalties every year aside from his first season as a head referee. The Cowboys and Patriots each have just one delay of game penalty so far this season, but it’ll be something to watch for in this one.
As for Novak’s reputation as a home team killer, it’s not just because of how he disproportionately calls penalties on the home team. Since becoming a head referee, the home team is 25-40 in games that Novak calls. So far this year, the home team is 0-3 in Novak-called games, and that included both the Vikings (6.5-point favorites) and Jaguars (8-point favorites) getting upset at home by the Buccaneers and Texans, respectively. It’s worth noting that the Cowboys are currently 6.5-point favorites at home.
Novak has called four Cowboys games since becoming a head referee, and they are 2-2 in those games, with a 1-1 record as the home team. The first game with Novak, coincidentally, came against the Patriots on the road during the 2019 season. Dallas lost that one in a game that featured very rainy conditions. The next game was Cooper Rush’s first career start, coming on the road against the Vikings after playing the Patriots during the 2021 season. That was, of course, a win for the Cowboys.
Since then, the Cowboys have had two home games called by Novak. The first was against the Cardinals during the 2022 season; Dallas lost that game, and was penalized 10 times. The next one was a home win over the Giants, though the team was called for 13 penalties. In fact, the Cowboys have been the more penalized team in all four games that Novak has called, regardless of whether they were at home or on the road.
In short, this does not bode well for the Cowboys. Novak’s crew is notoriously strict on home teams, so much so to the point that it’s had an impact on the final score. The Cowboys would be the first home team to win under Novak this year if they can beat the Patriots. Even if they do pull that off, the smart money is on the Cowboys having yet another high penalty count in this one after being one of the least penalized teams in the league through the first two games.