Super Bowl 54: Are San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills true contenders?

LANDOVER, MARYLAND - OCTOBER 20: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers scrambles against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on October 20, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MARYLAND - OCTOBER 20: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers scrambles against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on October 20, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

Sometimes a win feels like a loss — just ask the Bills and 49ers. Both teams escaped Week 7 with wins. Are either true contenders for Super Bowl 54?

In NFL Week 7, we saw a revenge of the fallen, sort of. Were the very worst teams in the league not as bad as we thought? Were certain title contenders farther away than we believed? The NFL is a misunderstood beast of epic proportions in 2019.

The Buffalo Bills needed 22 fourth-quarter points to defeat the Miami Dolphins by 10. The Jacksonville Jaguars needed 18 in the fourth to defeat Cincinnati by 10. San Francisco managed just nine total points, all scored in the second half, when taking on Washington.

Miami, Cincinnati and Washington are arguably the three worst teams in the sport, and yet all three were in the game or even in the lead in the fourth quarter. Can we take anything away from these outcomes? Are the Bills and 49ers true title contenders?

Two brothers from New York, Dan Salem and Todd Salem, debate the NFL in 2019 in today’s NFL Sports Debate.

Todd Salem:

As much as I love attempting to group similar outcomes into one theme, these contests are probably each in their own grouping. The 49ers struggled to score points and Jimmy Garoppolo put up some ugly numbers, but a lot could be blamed on the weather. Their defense played as normal, finishing with a shutout and staking its claim as the best unit in the NFL.

Jacksonville encountered something different. For starters, the Jaguars aren’t really a playoff contender like San Fran. They were forced to turn the season over to Gardner Minshew and then dealt away Jalen Ramsey for draft picks. They also didn’t mount any type of spectacular comeback. It was more thanks to the Bengals’ ineptitude that a comeback occurred.

The Jaguars were down 10-9 entering the fourth when Cincy “took over.” What followed was poor tackling, an interception thrown well behind the intended receiver, an embarrassing interception on an attempted screen and a telegraphed interception over the middle.

So the Redskins and Bengals held firm in their grasp of being terrible teams. Can we say the same of Miami?

Buffalo considered itself a playoff contender and seemed to have the defense to back it up. Against the Dolphins, things didn’t hold serve like that. Coming off a bye, the team should have been more ready than ever to not overlook its opponent, but Miami put together multiple, long touchdown drives before being taken out by the Buffalo defense late in the game.

Looking at the long view of this trio of games between supposed playoff contenders and the worst of the worst, there is a sliding scale. San Francisco is no worse for the wear; Jacksonville isn’t a real contender after needing that fourth quarter from Cincy, but it might not have been before anyway; and Buffalo is the real loser of Week 7.

Even though the Bills won, to me, this week proved they are not among the AFC elite. The conference remains wide open after New England but the Bills are not ready to fill that void.

Dan Salem:

I couldn’t agree more about Buffalo, who’s only really impressive game came in a close loss to the Patriots. Victories over the Jets, Giants, Bengals, Titans and Dolphins are nothing to brag about. So who are the Buffalo Bills?

In what amounts to a bunch of slightly better than average teams, New England aside, the Bills are a Wild Card playoff team this year in the AFC. Every winning team besides the Patriots has a major flaw, including Buffalo. Letting Miami push them around simply exposed the Bills as not yet there, but getting close.

Jacksonville was never close, even if they had a defense and rushing attack that made us want to believe. Minshew is playing well, but he’s no Pro Bowl quarterback. The Jaguars have beaten the Titans, Broncos and Bengals. None are very good. This is another example of an early season resume “padded” with wins over bad football teams.

Imagine if Buffalo or the Jaguars had an early-season schedule that more closely resembled that of the New York Jets. Would either team have more than one victory? Would either be anywhere close to the playoff conversation? Jacksonville remains relevant because no one is running away with the AFC South. Good teams decimate bad ones. See the Monday night massacre by New England. The Jaguars are not decimating anyone.

Perhaps I’m in the minority, but even the 49ers are questionable right now. They have one impressive victory over a division rival who is not nearly the team we thought they would be. Every other victory has been against bad football teams.

San Francisco beat the Buccaneers, Bengals, Steelers, Browns, Redskins and the Rams. Now I must admit that being undefeated is itself impressive. The 49ers are a good football team and are winning the games they are supposed to, as well as every game so far. But are they truly contenders?

Games against Green Bay, Seattle and New Orleans will soon provide some answers. But considering how easy this team’s schedule has and will continue to be, they are a near lock for the playoffs.

Next. NFL Picks and Score Predictions for Week 8. dark

I don’t put much stock in San Francisco’s struggle because it was in torrential rain, but I’m also not on their bandwagon just yet. The Bills pushed me off their bandwagon after lucking into a win against the league’s worst team. We wrote a week or so ago about the top teams in the NFL. They remain constant, with fewer and fewer contenders of note.