First look ahead to next season

The season is over, so you know what that means. The first wave of predictions for the 2013 season have hit the streets.

Check out this Insider post that predicts next season’s playoff field and records for all teams. Not surprisingly, the Atlanta Falcons are the only NFC South team to make this playoff projection.

Despite what happened in the NFC Championship Game, Atlanta sure looks like a playoff team. There undoubtedly will be a few tweaks to the roster, but the nucleus of a playoff team is in place.

You can’t say the same with any degree of certainty about the other three NFC South teams right now. But this projection has two of those teams on the cusp of the playoffs. It has the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints both going 9-7 and just missing the playoffs.

I could see that and I could also see either one of those teams doing better than that and making the playoffs. But it’s too early to get a strong read on either team. We know New Orleans will have a strong offense and coach Sean Payton is back, but we still don’t know what the defense will look like or who will be running it.

Carolina has plenty of talent on its roster and a quick turnaround could come if the Panthers can win some of the close games they lost this past season. But the Panthers have major salary-cap problems and I want to see what this roster looks like when the team gets under the cap before even thinking about what next season’s record will be.

The projection also has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers going 7-9, the same record they posted in 2012. I think something close to that is possible. But I think the Bucs, who were 6-4 at one point last year, could climb into the playoff race if they can fix their defensive secondary.