Change or be left behind.
The 20 teams out of the playoffs — even those with winning records — face serious challenges if they want to be playing deep into next January. Five of those teams, maybe more, must fill coaching vacancies, and some have holes in the front office. Others need to look at incumbent players at key positions and perhaps even the backups.
Here are some suggestions how to fix those ills, in projected draft order.
INDIANAPOLIS — Draft Andrew Luck, make sure Peyton Manning is healthy enough to get that $28 million bonus due March 8, and revamp the front office. Some heavy lifting must go on for a team that showed little perseverance, versatility or leadership in Manning’s void.
ST. LOUIS — Bring in a coaching staff that can retool a stagnant offense. Add a proven wide receiver or tight end, anyone who can be a prime target for Sam Bradford. The defense already has potential with Chris Long and James Laurinaitis.
MINNESOTA — Shore up the secondary, which is priority No. 1. Settle on a new stadium site is priority No. 2. Find a left tackle to pass protect. Keep a close eye on Adrian Peterson’s recovery from a serious left knee injury.
CLEVELAND — Bolster an abysmal offense that scored more points than only the Missouri teams. Eliminate all the drama that surrounded Peyton Hillis and Colt McCoy, who might not be the top choice at QB. Find a way to slow down opposing running games.
TAMPA BAY — The new coach has to rekindle the spirit of a team that didn’t seem to care or try particularly hard in recent weeks. With so many young players, the Bucs need a strong guiding hand. They also need to figure out how to stop the run and improve overall defensively.
WASHINGTON — Things aren’t as dire in the nation’s capital as elsewhere. Mike Shanahan wants a strong running game and has the makings of one with youngsters Roy Helu, Evan Royster and Tim Hightower. But is Rex Grossman the right QB? And they had two players suspended for violating the league’s drug policy, Fred Davis and Trent Williams. What to do with them?
JACKSONVILLE — New ownership promises changes, beginning with the coaching staff, and hiring a QB guru for Blaine Gabbert is essential. Boosting the offense around league rushing leader Maurice Jones-Drew is a must. The defense has a solid foundation.
CAROLINA — Ron Rivera has a defensive background, and now that the offense is in the extremely capable hands, arms and feet of Cam Newton, he can set about fixing his specialty. Boy, does it need fixing in just about every area, but a return to health by LB Jon Beason would help immeasurably.
MIAMI — Owner Stephen Ross would like to make a big splash in his coaching hire, which is why he reached out quickly to Jeff Fisher. Miami isn’t that far away from contention, but it has to get more takeaways and improve in the passing game on offense and defense. Is Matt Moore the quarterback to run the offense? More likely, he’s a better fit as the backup.
BUFFALO — Other than Chicago and Kansas City, no team was more devastated by injuries than the Bills. When versatile RB Fred Jackson went down, the offense stalled. Only New England forced more turnovers in the AFC, but Buffalo didn’t protect the ball well enough, winding up only plus-1 in turnover margin.
KANSAS CITY — This one is easy, once the Chiefs decide whether to keep Romeo Crennel as coach (they should). Getting back RB Jamaal Charles, S Eric Berry, QB Matt Cassel and TE Tony Moeaki will be a huge boost. The secondary could be among the league’s best with Berry back.
SEATTLE — Two straight 7-9 records under Pete Carroll won’t cut it, even though the Seahawks made the playoffs the first season and beat the Saints. Carroll has to solve the quarterbacking dilemma, but re-signing and then feeding the ball to RB Marshawn Lynch is essential.
ARIZONA — Here’s another team with QB questions, but in a nice way because coach Ken Whisenhunt believes both Kevin Kolb and John Skelton are winners. Finding another stud receiver to go with Larry Fitzgerald and getting more out of TE Todd Heap would help. The defense is coming on, but had only 10 interceptions.
DALLAS — It’s time to re-evaluate the talent in Big D, particularly on defense. The secondary needs revamping, and the front seven has declined, except for DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee. The Cowboys make too many errors, especially late in close games. Tony Romo needs to be more careful in those situations.
PHILADELPHIA — Finding cohesiveness, which seemed to happen as the Eagles won their final four games. Lowering expectations would help, too. On the field, the defense has to step up against the run and the Eagles can’t survive another 38 turnovers. Michael Vick has to stay healthy. The team might have to replace disappointing WR DeSean Jackson and CB Asante Samuel.
NEW YORK JETS — Rex Ryan should not change his personality or coaching style — players see through any phoniness — but he should tone down the rhetoric. A backup QB to push Mark Sanchez would help, and stronger leadership on offense would, too, particularly if LaDainian Tomlinson leaves. A pass rush less reliant on the blitz is needed, as are more reliable receivers.
OAKLAND — Fix the defense. Cut down the penalties; Oakland set a league record in 2011. Find CBs who can cover. Develop the young receiving corps. Find out if RB Darren McFadden can stay healthy for a full season. Oh, and hire a “football guy” to run the front office in the wake of Al Davis’ death.
SAN DIEGO — Now that Norv Turner is staying as coach and A.J. Smith remains as GM, the Chargers have to play more disciplined football. The Pro Bowl version of Philip Rivers must re-emerge at QB. Some balance is needed in the pass rush and consistency stopping the run.
CHICAGO — Upgrade the depth so injuries don’t destroy the next season. Watch for telltale signs of the defense getting older. Retool the offense, making it less complicated and more suited to QB Jay Cutler’s skills. Improve the secondary’s pass coverage.
TENNESSEE — With Chris Johnson on hand all season, the running game should produce. As Jake Locker takes over at quarterback, which is the right move, get him more familiar with his targets, particularly Kenny Britt, who returns from a right knee injury. Tighten up the run defense.