Panthers season prediction: 9-7

Center Ryan Kalil didn't take out a full-page ad in the local newspaper predicting a Super Bowl victory as he did last season, and I'm not going there, either.

Despite four wins to close out 2012, too many uncertainties remain to call this a playoff team. The biggest question: Can quarterback Cam Newton cut down on mistakes and inconsistent passing to become a winner, as new general manager Dave Gettleman insists must happen?

Newton has thrown for more yards than any quarterback in his first two NFL seasons, but his record is a mediocre 13-19. He has to find a way to win with his arm and head the way he can with his legs.

The key word that keeps surfacing is leadership. New offensive coordinator Mike Shula likes what Newton has shown in practice, but it all comes down to results. A 2-12 record in games decided by seven or fewer points the past two seasons must be reversed. With the uncertainty of running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle), unproven wide receivers outside of Steve Smith, question marks in the secondary and the league's toughest schedule, Kalil was smart to keep quiet.

Predicted finish in NFC South: second