Minnesota Vikings (11-5)
For the first time since 2009, the Minnesota Vikings find themselves at the top of the division come playoff time. Coming off his year-long suspension, running back Adrian Peterson led the league in rushing for the third time in his career, while Teddy Bridgewater made major steps in his development. The real story of this team though is their defense. Behind Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr, and Harrison Smith, the Vikings finished 6th in points allowed making it much easier for a young offense to score. As the season progressed, one of the key moments was the emergence of rookie Stefon Diggs. A timely player, Diggs made a number of plays down the stretch. With a Week 17 victory over the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings clinched the division and host the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round.
Green Bay Packers (10-6)
Taking an early hit with the loss of Jordy Nelson in the preseason, the Green Bay offense was very different from previous years. With an overweight Eddie Lacy and weakened receiving corps, the Packers started off slow on offense, but moved to a quick 6-0 start. James Jones was brought back onto the team after a few years away, and James Starks found himself more involved. Two key players on the defensive side of this team were Clay Matthews and Haha Clinton-Dix. Matthews found himself involved all around the defense, becoming a more versatile player. Finishing in the top ten among safeties, Clinton-Dix totaled 100 tackles on the season. The team did struggle with losses at times, losing three in a row during the middle of the year, and ending the season with two losses as well. Traveling to Washington for the Wild Card round, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers regroup after a Week 17 loss to try and make a run at the Super Bowl.
Detroit Lions (7-9)
An interesting team, the Detroit Lions were one of the best teams in the NFL over the last ten weeks of the season. Despite starting 1-5, the Lions finished the season 6-4 including a loss on the last play of the game against Green Bay. With six wins in their final eight tries the Lions proved they could win close games and give hope to the future. Young back Ameer Abdullah did not provide ground-breaking stats, but proved he could be a reliable back for the future alongside Joique Bell. On the defensive side, Ziggy Ansah made a huge leap in his pass rushing ability, finishing as one of the league leaders at 14.5 sacks. Likely losing veteran superstar Calvin Johnson, the Lions will have large shoes to fill on the outside, but the core looks to be in tact for a run at the division in the next couple of years.
Chicago Bears (6-10)
Following the five losses to close out last season, the Chicago Bears opened up the 2015-16 season with another three losses. Playing the entire season without rookie receiver Kevin White and Alshon Jeffery playing only nine games. Mid-way through the season, Matt Forte went down with a sprained MCL, and rookie Jeremy Langford took over. In a stroke of good luck, it appeared that the Bears found their future bell cow knowing that the veteran Forte will likely be somewhere else next season. Although the season was not a glaring success, three of the Bears wins did come against future playoff teams. Behind young defenders Christian Jones and Kyle Fuller, the defense is developing; however off-season moves will need to be made in order to produce a stronger pass rush. There are still a number of moves to be made, but the Bears seem to have an aura of a good next few seasons.
*Images from NY Times, USA Today, the Packers, and the Sun Chronicle