NFC Championship: Chicago Bears Angle

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Jan 31, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; General view of the George S. Halas Trophy, awarded to the winner of the NFC Championship game, on display at the NFL Experience at the Phoenix Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 31, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; General view of the George S. Halas Trophy, awarded to the winner of the NFC Championship game, on display at the NFL Experience at the Phoenix Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports /

Sunday’s NFC Championship game between the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers pits the Chicago Bears past vs what might have been.

The Carolina Panthers have a lot of ties to the Chicago Bears.  It starts at the top with head coach Ron Rivera, who roamed the Bears sidelines as a player and a coach.  Rivera was a member of the infamous ’85 Bears although only as a reserve and special teamer.  He studied at the hand of defensive gambler Buddy Ryan, which may be where “Chico” developed his “Riverboat Ron” moniker.  Rivera served as Lovie Smith’s defensive coordinator from 2004 – 2006, but philosophical differences led to Rivera’s termination from Lovie’s staff after the Bears’ 2006 Super Bowl season.

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The Panthers offense is reminiscent of Bears offenses from the tail end of the Lovie Smith era, with not a lot of top wide receiver talent, but a talented pass catching tight end in Greg Olsen.  Olsen was drafted by the Bears with the 31st pick of the 2007 draft.  Olsen’s talent as a pass catcher was always evident and when Jay Cutler joined the Bears in 2009, the connection was almost immediate.  The only problem was that offensive coordinator Mike Martz had no use for a talented pass catching tight end, (he wanted a 6th offensive linemen to block), so Olsen was shipped off for a third round pick before the 2011 season.

Rivera runs a 4-3 defense with a lot of Bears elements.  Luke Kuechly moves like Brian Urlacher in his prime and Thomas Davis plays the Lance Briggs role perfectly (minus the crashed up cars!).  The Bears shipped Jared Allen off for a late round pick and veteran Peanut Tillman inked a deal to finish out his career in Carolina Blue.  Allen and Tillman are busted up and won’t play Sunday, but if you’re looking for a reason to root for the Panthers, those are the most prominent.

Next: What Might Have Been

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